For over a year now, I have regularly enjoyed exercising at the Armory on the University of Illinois campus.
The area in the Armory where the track is located is a cavernous and drab place where people come to burn calories. From my time spent there jogging, I’ve discovered that people in this community are highly creative when it comes to their methods of staying fit!
Beneath the high, curved ceiling, with sunlight filtering murkily in, the Armory plays host to a myriad of activities that go on all day, every day, during any season. Frisbees get tossed; soccer balls get kicked; baseballs are thrown; hopeful track and field athletes sprint, long jump, shot put, and hurdle with admirable determination.
There’s much more at the Armory, too. I’ve seen riders on unicycles navigate the track next to middle-aged women simply walking. Jugglers finds space to juggle. During the summer, the Armory hosts the University’s basketball camp. It’s interesting to jog in sweltering heat as dozens of basketball hoops loom over the track as if standing guard, waiting for a new youngster to come in and take some shots.
Many groups use the Armory as a place to practice, to refine their skills. Batting cages are set up on occasion; running clubs use the Armory during cold winter months; cheerleaders are sometimes there to hone their routines, as are various African-American dance clubs; lancing lessons can be seen every single weeknight at the Armory; and despite what may sound like a circus-like atmosphere, yoga is practiced at the Armory on a routine basis.
The point is, the Armory is like an indoor playground where people – people of all ages, incomes, races, sexes, and interests – can come to enjoy themselves. And like an outdoor playground, they don’t have to pay a fee or go through turnstiles to do so.
I’d hate to see the Armory become an institutionalized gym, as the University’s Board of Trustees has proposed.
Usually the Armory is mostly empty, but I’d miss the spontaneity and freedom of the place when it’s filled with people, which would all but vanish if regular community members had to pay a fee to use the Armory. My wish: let the Armory remain as it is – free for everybody.
On a recent Sunday afternoon visit I witnessed a young man acting as a mentor for a younger child. They were hitting tennis balls in the batting cages. “Are you having fun?” asked the mentor. “Yeah!” came the enthusiastic response from the child, who promptly whacked another tennis ball into the net of the cage.
Next week it might be Frisbee football or a game of soccer. Whatever free activity is going on, it certainly makes the Armory an interesting place to jog.