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LIers go to boot camp in Farmingdale

Boot campers bear crawl across the football field

Boot campers bear crawl across the football field at Ellsworth W. Allen Town Park, following the directions of retired police academy instructor Manny Rodriguez. (July 1, 2012) Credit: Arielle Dollinger

In February 2008, Walter Priestley’s insurance broker told him that his life insurance rate would be higher because of his weight. Standing at 6-foot-3 and weighing 265 pounds, Priestley decided that he needed to make a change.

After losing 40 pounds over the course of a year, the chiropractor made it his mission to help others get in shape. So he and retired police academy instructor Manny Rodriguez started a free community outdoor boot camp last July.

“We just wanted to make it open for the community, for everyone to work out, whether they’re in shape or not, get them on the road, the path to fitness,” said Priestley, 49, of Farmingdale.

Sneakered feet set firmly on the ground, 22 people dressed in cotton and spandex stood in a row on the football field at Ellsworth W. Allen Town Park in Farmingdale on Sunday morning.

Rodriguez, 49, also from Farmingdale, instructs the group, which gathers weekly to participate in a military-style workout program.

The workout begins at 7 a.m. and involves stretching, push-ups and, mostly, running. In one exercise, participants run the length of the field, raising their knees as high up as they can, then they walk the width of the field. When they reach their starting point, they do 10 push-ups. Then they do it all over again -- nine more times. And with each lap, they do one fewer push-up, until they get to one.

“If society ever needed to stay in shape, it’s now,” Priestley said.

Massapequa Park resident Melissa Bonilla, 21, comes to boot camp with her sister Carina, 19, to stay fit.

“When you think it’s over, it’s not over,” said Bonilla, who ran track for Farmingdale State College. “I like how it just gets harder and harder, as the hour goes on.”

Rodriguez uses positive and constructive reinforcement to encourage participants.

“We call it boot camp, but you know what it is, it’s really a fit camp,” Rodriguez said. “Because, you know, there’s no negative reinforcement going on. Basically, you want people to come back every week.”

Priestley and Rodriguez are currently seeking renewal of the permit that allows them to use the park for their program. They expect to start up again on July 15.

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