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It's Wednesday evening at Lee District RECenter and Andrea McElvaine has arrived with two of her three children, 7-year-old Alex and 5-year-old Evelyn. Rather than just watch them take part in a RECenter fitness class, she's participating with them in Karate for Families. "I think it's a good way to spend time doing something active together," she said. Alex, now an orange-belt student, says taking the class was his dad's idea. "My dad asked me if I wanted to do it with him and I thought it would be pretty fun and it is," he said. It wasn't long before Evelyn wanted to try it, too, and now the whole family, minus the youngest who is still too young to take the class, enjoys training and getting fit together.

Karate is a martial art in which an attacker is defeated by kicks and punches. It is performed barefoot in loose, padded clothing with a colored belt indicating the level of skill, and it involves mental as well as physical training.

"For kids who take it, the benefits go beyond exercise," said instructor Murray Bloom, a 4th degree black belt. "It helps teach them that if you work hard to achieve a goal in steps, you can achieve tangible results, and that lesson applies to other areas of life, like school work. It's a good lesson for kids."

Paula BellNo one knows that better than Paula Bell, a black-belt student from Occoquan. She started taking Karate lessons with her family as a child, and she put her skills to the test in numerous competitions over the years, earning the rank of 3rd degree black belt. Now, decades later, she enjoys practicing her skills and staying fit in the classes at Lee. "Besides the exercise, it's fun and I enjoy the people," she said.

Barry BrownKarate skills can be learned by almost anyone at any age. Barry Brown, owner and chief instructor of Brown's Karate, which provides the instruction at Lee, remembers one student who started after retirement. "He was a 68-year-old grandfather and four years later, he was a 1st degree black belt," Brown recalled, "and two years later, at age 74, he was a 2nd degree black belt." Brown himself is a 74-year-old 8th degree black belt and has been training in karate since the 1960s, and he shows no signs of slowing down. "This is what keeps me around," he said. "I'm still sparring with my students."


The meaning of Color Levels in Martial Arts

Colored belts represent levels of progress, or ranks, for martial arts students. Colors vary between martial art disciplines, and they may also include ranks within colors. A black belt is the highest level of belt in judo, karate and taekwondo -- though there may also be levels of black belt, such as 1st Dan or degree or 2nd Dan or degree to indicate degrees of experience and proficiency. The black belt is the opposite of the white belt, signifying completion and maturity in the student. These are the colors/ ranks associated with the karate style taught at Lee.

Winter Wonderland

Usher in your holidays with Burke Lake Park's Winter Wonderland of games and activities for the whole family! All aboard for a train ride on the Holiday Express, enjoy a tour on the U.S.S. Reindeer, take a spin on the Caroler's Carousel, experience the Snowman's Wagon Ride, test your skills at the Gingerbread Man's Golf or warm yourself by the fire and cook s'mores. Visit with Santa, enjoy hot chocolate and spiced cider and of course, candy canes. The fun takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. December 5 and 6.


Dreamy Day Trips

Take a detour from your holiday rush and experience the magic of the season with a day trip to destinations like Colonial Williamsburg for an historic holiday experience, or chart your course for Wheaton, Md. for the glorious holiday light display at Brookside Gardens.

Music, Tea and Santa

Merriment abounds at lots of park locations. What could be more enjoyable than a horse-drawn hayride or a holiday concert or tea by candlelight or Christmas at the farm or visits with Santa at the mill or learning about Santa through the ages? For more information on these activities and more, see the Gardening, History, Events and Equestrian and Farm sections.

Golf Gifts Galore – Four Days to Save!

What could be a better gift for a golfer than a day on the links? How about a pass for multiple rounds at his or her favorite Park Authority golf course? Multi-round passes are on sale for four days only, Black Friday through Cyber Monday. Stop by the course to purchase passes, and while you're there, check out the pro-shop specials on name-brand sports apparel for men and women as well as golf clubs, golf shoes, balls, sunglasses and other essentials. Passes can also be purchased online.

Holiday Crafts and More!

Whether you're shopping for family, friends, teachers or the paper carrier this holiday season, many unique gift ideas can be found at Park Authority sites. Shop for one-of-a-kind, handmade gifts at artisan craft shows at Spring Hill RECenter on Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 27-29 and at Audrey Moore RECenter Dec. 5-6.

Gifts for nature lovers, gardeners, history buffs and children on your list can be found at the shops at Green Spring Gardens, Frying Pan Farm Park and Sully Historic Site gift shops. Toys, Books, CDs and DVDs are among the offerings as well as history-themed gifts for all ages. Best of all, there's no long wait in line!

Children's Holiday Shopping

Children's Holiday Shopping

Here's a great way to let children experience why it is indeed better to give than to receive! Children's Holiday ShoppingWith Children's Holiday Shopping at Frying Pan Farm Park, your children get to orchestrate their own secret gift-giving strategy and enjoy the thrill of surprising others with their thoughtful selections. Children arrive with their list, and volunteers help them check it twice as they select holiday surprises for the whole family. Parents can wait at the Old Floris Schoolhouse while gifts are selected and wrapped at the country store, ensuring no holiday surprise is spoiled before gift-giving time.

The event is one day only; Saturday, Dec. 10 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.


Gift Card

Park Authority Gift Cards

Can't decide what to get? No problem! You can pick up Park Authority gift cards at all nature centers, RECenters, golf courses and gift shops. Gift cards can be used to purchase classes, merchandise, golf rounds, camps, RECenter memberships and anything else offered at Park Authority locations.

4 Amigos

Four Amigos Reunite for Swimming Showdown

You may remember the four childhood friends who reunited at Oak Marr RECenter last Sept. to see how close they could come to swimming the 100-yard medley relay in their still-standing 1963 record-setting time of 58.4 seconds. At that time, they raced the clock, finishing in 1:10.04 – just 12 seconds off the record, and challenged each other to keep training. Their motivation – to race the current 11- and 12-year-old boys 100-meter medley team at their old, home pool: Vienna Woods Swim Club.

swimThis July, the intrepid foursome reunited again at the Vienna Woods v. Dunn Loring swim meet. Collectively the senior swimmers were stronger and 30 lbs. lighter, and they grinned broadly as the announcer introduced the final race of the day between "the Vienna Woods 11- and 12-year-old boys against the Vienna Woods 63- and 64-year-old boys," while Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" blared from the poolside speakers. This May- Dec. race was close, and the veteran swimmers were astonished that so many young swimmers stayed after their regular meet to cheer them on. "We had no idea that was going to happen," said senior backstroker Roger Russell who trains at Cub Run RECenter. "Swim team members hanging around like that after their meet is very unusual! It brought back so many memories, and the years just melted off. It was a really wonderful feeling."

You could say both teams are winners. The boys finished first, while the elder swimmers shaved seven seconds off their Oak Marr RECenter time, proving that anyone at any age can improve with consistent exercise. "It was a good race," said the the boys with admiration for their elder adversaries.

Healing Power of Exercise Helps Al Lamb Win Silver

Al LambFive years after Al Lamb suffered a debilitating back injury that left him barely able to climb stairs, he achieved what would have been at that time an unimaginable goal. In September, Lamb competed in the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics and turned in a silver medal finish in the 5k walk. "I was very excited because I didn't think I had done well," Lamb said.

The story of Lamb's recovery, "The Healing Power of Exercise," was featured in Parktakes in Fall 2014. He credits a hospital senior strength training class and the fitness benefits of his subsequent membership at Lee District RECenter for helping him regain his mobility. Today, the 74-year-old Alexandria man is pain free and remains committed to working out six days per week. He also inspires other seniors to tap into the healing power of exercise by sharing his story at senior center speaking engagements.

Discovery Trail Leads to New Bikes!

New BikesCassandra K. of Clifton, Frank Zhao of Fairfax and Mikala Moffatt of Centreville each receive a bicycle and a safety helmet donated by Spokes, Inc. after their names were selected in the 2015 Fairfax County Park Authority Discovery Trail drawing in Sept. Nearly 250 children were entered in the drawing after visiting at least 8 of 12 featured Fairfax County Park Authority sites this summer. The Discovery Trail Map program was co-sponsored by the Fairfax County Park Foundation.


Go Deep with Hydro Pilates

It's the total-body workout that's easy on the joints and big on benefits – Deep Water Hydro Pilates. The buoyancy of water reduces the "weight" of a person by about 90%, which means that the stress on weight-bearing joints, bones and muscles is similarly reduced. That's why water exercise is perfect for those who find certain movements on land, such as running, striding, kicking, leaping and even dancing, too jarring or painful.

HydroBente Waldron of Falls Church started taking the class at Providence RECenter three years ago. "I had weakness on my left side and balance issues," she said. "Now, I exercise three times per week and am able to maintain my balance."

Mary Jane Medeiros of Falls Church has experienced similar benefits since she started taking the class one year ago. "My core has strengthened over the year, my balance has also improved, and I also pay attention to how I do things," she said. "I'm a master gardener and I have to get up and down a lot."

"The testimonials go on and on, which is one of the major reasons it is such a joy to teach this class," said certified Hydro-Pilates instructor Jill Arvantis. "My students tell me they feel better from head to toe and have more flexibility, better balance and increased stamina, endurance and strength."

Arvantis says Deep Water Hydro Pilates involves non-impact strengthening and stretching movements that require precise breathing and muscle control. Flotation belts and other flotation devices are used while Pilates exercises in the pool initiate all the core-muscle movements from the abdomen, lower back, hips, and buttocks and flow outward to the extremities. "Practicing Hydro-Pilates develops trunk stabilization, helps correct posture, enhances muscle strength and relieves stress," she said.

Aside from the obvious fitness benefits, students say one other thing they love about this class is the scheduling flexibility you get with the Aqua Flex Pass. "It's so convenient to have," Medeiros said, "and the front desk staff tells you how many classes you have on your pass each time you visit the RECenter."


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