The City Council recently agreed to install a $35,000 elevator there to help regular walkers like Warren get to the track without having to use the stairs. The addition will help Warren and others like him who struggle to climb the 24 steps to the track but walk to maintain their health.
“It’s great once you get up here,” Warren said Monday from a platform at the top of the stairs. “The obstacle is the stairs.”
At the top of the stairs is a short walking track that encircles the basketball courts on the first floor of the community center. It has a custom-made maroon and grey walking surface with built-in guides and corners that slope up and out so runners can get good traction.
The quiet of the track in the early morning, its smooth surface and the moderate temperature inside the building attract older adults to the center, said Janice Burns, director of the Parks and Recreation Department. Over time some regular walkers developed a social connection and decided together that the elevator would help those who want to walk on the track but have a hard time with the stairs.
“It’s something you don’t really think about unless you’re in that position and need it,” Burns said. “There is a need and we want them to be able to maintain that quality of life.”
Warren is one of several senior adults who use the track six days per week, walking each day except Sunday. Many said they walk for health, but their walking ritual is about more than exercise.
“We’re like a family,” said Betty Williams, 78, who said she began walking after having a stroke.
The exercise keeps Williams’ blood pressure and cholesterol down, and the company keeps her motivated to return six days per week.
On Monday, Williams circled the track with Myrtle Casey, who at 94 is the oldest member of the unofficial group. Wearing tennis shoes, day slacks and a pink button-down shirt with a rhinestone pin at the collar, Casey said she walks, in part, because of the “good fellowship.”
She said she’s been walking regularly since before her son was born; he’s now 64. The steps don’t trouble Casey, but Warren said he had her, and a few others, in mind when he began petitioning for the elevator.
Williams said she, like Warren, is one of the regular track-goers who has a hard time climbing the stairs.
“If your knees are already tired, that cuts down on your walking,” Williams said. She added that after her stroke her knees became weaker and climbing stairs became more difficult.
Employees at the Jacksonville Community Center said that including Warren, Williams and Casey, about 40 people regularly come to the facility to walk before 9 a.m. After several weeks of discussion at public meetings, city officials decided that number was high enough to merit the installation of the new elevator.
“We are really just doing it because of the number of people who walk that track,” said Jacksonville Mayor Johnny Smith. “It’s not much per-year for them to be able to have that exercise.”
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.