Clermont - As Central Florida continues to become a destination for distance running and multi-sport events, and as races become more popular, athletes and locals reap the advantages of a healthy lifestyle, fitness, and the challenge of competition. Center to this community of athletes is Lake County, and with plans to build a multi-million dollar Olympic training center by 2025 is Clermont. Ten Olympians with ties to Lake County won Olympic medals in 2016, and athletes compete with the general public in races nearly every weekend to include 5K runs all the way to full triathlons. As the popularity of these events grows, they spill over to neighboring communities and racing series continue to gain popularity and draw large crowds in Polk County.
In Lakeland, the Lakeland Runners Club kicked off its 5K race series on June 8th, a three-race series that also includes a race in July and August. The Lakeland Runners Club, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was founded in 1974 and has continued to sponsor races from its inception, and thanks to websites like runsignup.com and race-find.com are guaranteed to draw crowds. However, many people can still be intimidated by these races, especially first-timers. Having participated in my first event just recently the Cool Sommer Morning Triathlon, Duathlon, and 5K run, I can tell you there is truly nothing to fear.
On June 1st, I raced in my first ever Duathlon as part of a three-race series this summer, a race that included a one-mile run, 11-mile bike ride, and a 5k. With two more to go this summer, signing up for a racing series is a perfect way to set a goal and see real results as you improve over the summer. These races draw people from every age group and fitness level and, at the sold-out 5K run on June 1st, I saw athletes running their races under 20 minutes all the way to walkers, and even people pushing strollers.
A 5K, at a relatively short distance of 3.1 miles, is a perfect distance for beginners to start.
Running is not only one of the most efficient exercises, at 800 calories burned per hour, but it’s also a perfect way to spend quality time with friends and family and to even meet new friends. Fellowship is at the heart of groups like the Lakeland Runners Club who states their mission statement as, “To promote running and fitness for runners of all ages and abilities in the community through fellowship, education and formal & informal running events.” Yes, doing a 5K is tough and it can be intimidating the first time you do it. But the health benefits are worth it and running with a local club could be a perfect way to get out of the house this summer.
About the Author: Adam Lincoln is an Operation Iraqi Freedom Combat Veteran and current journalism student. A born and raised New Englander, he enjoys discovering Florida and its warm weather.
Haines City - Have you ever faced a task that, at first, seemed completely impossible but, after a while, you realized that you were actually good at it? Well, that happened to me on June 17 when I decided to give painting a try.
You see, my parents and my niece were coming to visit me for two weeks and while trying to come up with ideas to help them have a great time here in Central Florida, I decided that we were not going to do the typical amusement park trips, as we always did in the past. I wanted them to do something different and that's when I decided to give Paint Party a try and, oh boy, what a surprise I received when I was able to actually complete a painting all on my own... painting that looked good and not like it was done by a newbie like me.
Paint Party is a small business in Polk County owned by a Navy Veteran whose main goal is to provide its clients the opportunity to improve their painting skills in the company of friends and family. I have to say that, when I started my painting, I had no idea what I was doing, but after a while, I couldn't believe how easy it was for me to complete the drawing and to apply the colors... as a matter of fact, after finishing the painting, we had a judge (aka my husband) decide which painting was the best, and guess what? I won! And no, it wasn't favoritism as my niece seems to think (wink).
Are you interested in giving your artistic side a try? I invite you to schedule a paint party with Paint Party. I promise you that you and your family and friends will have an amazing time.
Winter Haven - Beach volleyball is the fastest-growing NCAA sport in the country, and has started to emerge in high schools all across the nation, especially in Florida. In only its third season as an official Sunshine State Athletic Conference sport, the 2019 beach volleyball season saw 58 participating schools, one being All Saints Academy.
All Saints Academy is a small, private Episcopal school located in Winter Haven, Florida. The school’s beach volleyball program started in the spring of 2018 and did not see much success at all. With barely enough girls to form a whole team, they lost all their regular-season games, as well as all their district games. Although they did not see any success in their first season, the team kept their heads up, hopeful for the next.
Sooner or later, the underdog wins, right? This was the mindset the girls went into their second season with. They loved being the underdog. There were no expectations, no bars set, the only way to go was up.
This mindset allowed them to come in second in the regional championships, ultimately qualifying them for the 2019 State Championship. No one expected a school with a losing streak to win all their district qualifiers, and even less to go to State.
When asked how they did it, Faith Satterfield, member of the ASA beach volleyball team for both years and a rising senior for All Saints, explained that they “had nothing to lose, so we just gave it our all. Being the underdog really paid off because none of the other teams expected us to do better than we did last year.”
Although they did not end up winning the state championships in Tavares, Florida, they became the first sport in their school’s history to make it to State in only its second year of being an actual program, which resonated heavily both with the team and the school.
The good part is that none of the girls were seniors this year, which means that they will all return next season, but this time with the bar set only higher and ready to give a fight for the State Championship.
Haines City - Are you or your friends looking for a new place to visit that is away from the craziness of the theme parks, but with a touristic vibe? Look no more. We invite you to visit a hidden gem in the heart of Haines City called The Balmoral Bar and Grill. The Balmoral Bar and Grill, located at 124 Kenny Blvd, Haines City, FL is a poolside bar and grill that will meet the high expectations of even the most demanding guests. This amazing outdoor seating bar is well-known among vacationers, but barely known or visited by locals, who tend to go to less touristic places. But one thing locals are missing out on is that, by allowing the Balmoral Resort name to trick them into thinking that this bar is another tourist only eating place, they are actually missing out on a beautiful venue to enjoying a nice lunch or evening meal with their friends and family. The Balmoral Bar and Grill offers a full bar with TVs and features a menu of shareable appetizers, fresh salads, delicious sandwiches, and much more. Give them a try... you will not be disappointed.
Haines City - Are you in need of a delicious, almost reviving chicken soup to nurse your soul? Look no more, Sabrosura 718 has the best chicken soup in town. Sabrosura 718, located in 2300 Deer Creek Commerce Ln Davenport, is a Florida restaurant with a New York Touch, whose main mission is to bring delicious Latin food to the Polk County area. As a loyal customer, it's fair for me to say that they not only offer, what I call, the Gods sent chicken soup in the entire Polk County area, but they also offer many Latin dishes that will make you feel as if you just took a trip to the Caribbean. From their delicious mofongo with seafood to their mouth-watering arroz con gandules, Sabrosura 718 is here to help us feed that Latin food craving that we all have from time to time. What's missing in Sabrosura 718 to make the whole Caribbean experience a reality? A beach view with a couple of palm trees waving to the beat of the wind. But, since we can't have it all, for now, we will have to settle for the amazing food, good Latin music, and their excellent customer service. Who knows, maybe in the future they will bring the beach to us, or at least make us believe that we are sitting right by the beach with some beach artwork on their walls.
Hours of Operation: Monday to Friday – 7 am – 7 pm
Winter Haven - Harry’s Old Place is located at 3751 Cypress Gardens Road, and has been a favorite seafood restaurant in Winter Haven for 30 years. It has a casual and friendly vibe, offering delicious fresh seafood and steaks. They also offer a variety of yummy appetizers, as well as a full bar. What makes Harry’s a unique dining experience is that, while they have a menu that is pretty well constant, there are also menu boards that list the ever changing menu items, based on the freshest catch of the day. Portions are generous, and the prices at Harry’s are very reasonable too. I had a bucket of steamed mussels in a garlic wine sauce, which were excellent, the wahoo and swordfish were amazing, and the heavenly sauce, well it's heavenly; a friend loves the strawberry margarita. Be warned that parking is at a premium, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings, so plan accordingly. As a bonus, if you sign up for it, you can receive via mail a birthday card and coupon for a free entree to be used any time during your birthday month.
Harry’s Old Place on Lake Ned is open for lunch and dinner, a definite dine!
Lakeland - One of the hidden gems of Polk County is located in South Lakeland, and has become the go-to spot for teens and young adults who wish to sneak away to a tropical paradise. Tea Largo, which originally opened its doors in Lakeside Village, sells all sorts of healthy and fruity delicacies such as bubble tea, chia pudding bowls, and most famously, acai bowls. Acai bowls are a very tricky thing to master and are usually hit or miss at most places. Tea Largo, however, provides its customers with the perfect hand-crafted acaci, allowing them to choose their toppings in order to fulfill their tropical needs. It is very easy to be skeptical about places like this, because sometimes the hype is too much, and the products end up falling way short of your expectations. However, Tea Largo well exceeded mine. It is safe to say that this is the best place to grab a coffee before work, a snack after a workout, or even on a normal, hot summer day.
Let me be honest… as a Puerto Rican who spent 15 years serving her country, it bothers me when I hear people talking about if Puerto Rico should or shouldn’t be a state. My reason for saying that is mainly because the reactions and opinions that some people have about the topic usually come accompanied by insults and racist comments. So, as much as I want to be part of the conversation, I tend to disassociate myself from it to not allow people’s reaction to affect me.
But the question is still there and, whether I like to get involved or not, some people still want to get an answer. Does Puerto Ricans want to be a state? Well, that depends on who you ask. If you ask me, the answer will be yes. Why? Because, in my opinion, we need to put an end to the status quo that we have been living in and be able to finally hold our heads high and be treated as the U.S. citizens that we are.
But, again, that’s my humble opinion because, if you ask another person, the answer may be slightly different.
For example, if you ask a Puerto Rican athlete, or a sports fanatic if they want Puerto Rico to become a state, they may have a problem with it because our athletes and the people who follow them love the way our flag looks at the Olympics. And knowing that our athletes live and train for that moment makes it difficult for some people to stomach the idea of losing that privilege.
The truth is that Puerto Ricans are very proud of their flag and knowing that becoming a state will jeopardize their right to wave their “Monoestrellada” during one of the most important events in an athlete’s life will prevent them from making a nonemotional decision when it comes to voting for statehood.
On the other hand… If you ask the people that support independence for Puerto Rico, they will tell you no. Their argument is... how can someone tell me what to do in my own house? They believe that Puerto Rico and its people can be more successful with the ability to decide on their own what is better for them instead of having the U.S. controlling what they can or can't do.
So again, to answer the “should Puerto Rico be a State” question… yes, some people want Puerto Rico to become a state but, on the other hand, there are many who are against it. And, who can blame them? I mean, look how we are treated… like second class citizens. Even Puerto Ricans who spent the majority of their lives serving their country get treated like they had no business being in the U.S. Military.
Isn’t that horrendous? The way Puerto Ricans have been treated all these years? Like we don’t matter? Now, I ask you… what can we do about that?
For anyone who has worked in the industry or paid close attention, it’s no secret that the landscape of journalism has changed drastically in a very short time. That’s also true here in Polk County, especially in the county’s eastern parts.
The internet and social media have certainly played a role, but newsrooms are shrinking across the United States. For those who don’t know, I spent nearly five years as a reporter at The Ledger. The majority of that time was spent covering East Polk County to include cities of Winter Haven, Lake Alfred, Dundee, Lake Hamilton, Lake Wales, Frostproof, Eagle Lake, Davenport and my current place of employment, Haines City.
The Northeast Polk Gazette will bring another media outlet to Polk County – this time to the fastest growing area. In my mind, that can only be seen as a good thing.
The landscape of news in Polk County was much different than its current state as recent as 2016. At the time, The Ledger had seven full-time news reporters working primarily out of its News Chief bureau in Winter Haven and a much larger staff in the main building in Lakeland. Suncoast Media, at the time, had four weekly Polk papers in Bartow, Frostproof, Fort Meade and Lake Wales.
Those four papers consolidated into the Winter Haven Sun in mid-2016 and shifted its primary focus to East Polk’s largest city. The News Chief’s doors closed for news purposes in the summer of 2018, making the Sun the only news outlet to have reporters work primarily out of a newsroom in East Polk County – until now.
As news in America continues to evolve, that will also likely be the case in East Polk County. As a child growing up in the area, I can remember a time when Haines City had its own newspaper – the Haines City Herald. Even Tampa outlets like the Tribune had bureaus in Polk County. S.L. Frisbie, whose family founded The Polk County News and Democrat in 1931, once told me that there was a time when there were nearly 10 daily newspapers in Polk County alone.
With The Ledger and Winter Haven Sun in Polk County’s two largest cities, that’s where the majority of their focuses tend to be, also. The monthly Northeast Polk Gazette should be able to shed light on the happenings in an area that may sometimes stay in the dark.
For young adults trying to raise a family, work their way up the corporate ladder or find a way to balance work and school or other activities, staying informed on the happenings nationally, across the state or in larger nearby cities like Tampa or Orlando can sometimes be easier than keeping track of what’s happening in one’s own backyard. While social media is certainly a helpful tool, it often doesn’t provide history, context, origins, the entire scope or both sides of an issue.
During my time at The Ledger, I wrote about City Hall controversies, elections, efforts of individuals to make a difference, historical firsts, and closings of businesses that had been community staples and much, much more. With time, resources and the overall footprint at the largest outlets covering Polk significantly smaller compared to yesteryear, the Northeast Polk Gazette should be a welcomed addition to the area.
As news continues to evolve, it is my hope that more and more outlets pop up across Polk County. Barry Friedman, a former editor at The Ledger, has found success with his internet publication, LKLD Now, which focuses on the city of Lakeland. The Daily Ridge has recently mixed in original reporting outside the police beat to go with its fairly popular practice of publishing press releases from various private and public entities throughout Polk.
Polk County is certainly large enough for multiple news organizations to coexist. All the aforementioned outlets, in addition to the Tampa-area news stations that cover the county, tend to offer something a little bit different and all of them do very good work. But there's no reason to stop there. As far as I see it, the more access to information we have in the area, the better off we’ll be.
About the Author: Mike Ferguson currently serves as the public information officer at the Haines City Police Department. A native of Polk County, Mike previously spent nearly five years as a full-time reporter at The Ledger. Mike contributes to a number of outlets and has work appearing in the Associated Press, Yahoo, FoxSports.com, Athlon Sports and Sports Illustrated online among other publications. Mike earned his bachelor's degree from Florida State University in 2009. Mike and his wife Jennifer live in Davenport, Florida and with their two children.
A couple of years ago, I told a good friend of mine, who lives in Orlando, that I was moving to Central Florida. She was excited at the idea of me being close to her so we could do fun stuff together. In the middle of her excitement, she asked me "where in Orlando are you moving to?" When I told her that I was actually moving to Haines City, I could hear her excitement fade away and an "ohhh" right after.
At that time, I wasn't sure what that "ohhh" meant, but not allowing that to interfere with our plans of relocating to the Polk County area, my family and I packed up our belongings and headed this away on a beautiful day on June of 2016.
Fast forward three years, the Haines City that we moved to... the one that made my friend expressed the famous "ohhh" is no longer what it was. Along with us came a huge business boom and a wave of new economic development that made us to no longer be the Polk County's underdog. We are no longer the "joke" of the Polk County area. We are the new Haines City... bigger, better, and ready for what the future is throwing our way.
I'm not going to lie. After we moved, I never saw the reason for my friend's "ohhh" because, from day one, we fell in love with the area. We loved the neighborhood, the ambiance, the small city vibe... but mostly, we loved the people.
In the three years that we have been living here, we have met so many wonderful people. Starting from the lady who cut my daughter's hair at a beauty salon in Posner Park, to the guy who prepared for me the best chicken soup I have ever tasted in my life at Sabrosura Restaurant, to the staff at the chiropractic office who did everything they could to try to "fix" me after the motor vehicle accident that I was part of at the beginning of September of 2017. All these wonderful people made our move to the Northeast Polk area a more pleasant one.
The truth is that, as a military family, we were used to moving every two to three years not only to different houses, cities, states, but also countries but, in the 21 years that we spent moving from place to place, we never felt so at home as we did when we moved to Haines City.
This beautiful city became our new home and, to be honest... we don't see ourselves living in any other place.
Winter Haven - When Richard joined the Army on March 2005, at the age of 19, he didn't know what he was getting himself into... all he knew was that he wanted a better future for himself and the Army was offering it to him. After completing his basic training and graduating from the advanced individual training (AIT) course, Richard was stationed in a quartermaster unit as a 92W (water purification specialist). When it was time for Richard to reenlist, he requested to be put on terminal leave (the process that people who are getting out of the military go through while they wait for their end-of-duty orders) with the option to return to active duty, in case he couldn't figure out how to start again in the civilian world.
"The warrior transition unit command was way more relaxed than the quartermaster unit I came from," said Richard when I asked him which unit he liked better, the old one or the new one.
After being assigned to the transition unit, Richard returned home on terminal leave... and that was the moment when Richard's life turned onto a different path.
In February 2009, only weeks after returning home, Richard was involved in a horrific automobile accident when a 99 Dodge Ram t-boned him on the passenger side of a 2009 Pontiac G6 rental car, leaving him seriously injured.
After spending 17 days in a coma and on life support, Richard woke up to what, according to him, felt like "the worst hangover I had ever experienced," and as he shared during one of his public speeches... "I have been jamming with Jesus ever since."
I met Richard back in July 2018, when we both became members of the Vet Voices program, an art program sponsored by TheatreWorks FL, a theater company based in Davenport, FL.
After spending close to 35 weeks together in the program, which met every Saturday for 3 hours, Richard and I, in conjunction with six other Veterans, had the opportunity to present our creative work with the public in a two-show presentation called Breakfast in Baghdad. From day one, Richard became the "clown" of the group--keeping us entertained and making the process of dealing with strong emotions a less painful one. With his charismatic personality, he not only helped all of us in our pursuit of healing, but he also was able to use the experience for his own healing.
According to Richard, the Vet Voices program helped him in many ways, and even when his recovery gets slower and smaller as the days go by, he always has a great approach to life because there is one thing that keeps him going, and that's his strong faith. "For having the right half of my brain smashed out of my head, the spirit of God keeps me moving forward," said Richard when asked what keeps him moving forward.
For the past ten years, Richard has depended on friends and family for help with most of his needs. "I have developed a strong team of friends and family that help me on a regular basis as I progress through this life," said Richard.
When I asked Richard what his plans for the future are, he said... "I will never quit, I will never leave a fallen comrade behind, I will never give up, and I will never be forgotten."
For what it's worth, I want to tell Richard that he will never be forgotten. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever!
If you are interested in hearing more about Richard's recovery process, you can visit his YouTube page: Youtube/TRichardOttum
Davenport - On May 18 and 19, TheatreWorks FL presented a play called Breakfast in Baghdad. For those of you who missed the presentation, we have to tell you that you missed a great opportunity to meet a brave group of Veterans from the Central Florida area sharing their military life stories and heartwarming anecdotes from their military times.
Breakfast in Baghdad was the result of a year-long program created by our friends at TheatreWorks FL in which their main purpose was to bring men and women from the area, who have put their lives on the line to serve our country, to provide them a safe space where they could express their feelings and heal from their military injuries.
The Breakfast in Baghdad cast was composed of Richard Ottum, Liz Nussmeier, Cornelius Douglas, all from Winter Haven. Marielys Camacho- Reyes from Haines City, Robert Skillman and Darrell Shaefer from Davenport, and Dr. Anthony Sterling and Yolanda Sterling from Orlando.
At the end of the presentation, there was a Q & A session, and one of the questions that were asked was…"what made you guys stay committed to the program knowing that it was going to be a year-long program?" Even when the answers from the Veterans were, somehow, different, there was one answer that stayed consistent… “because we immediately became a family.”
TheatreWorks FL is currently in the process of relocating and has canceled all their upcoming presentations until the relocation process is over, but one thing they want you to know is that they are coming back, stronger than ever, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, if you would like to make a donation to their Vet Voices program, you can do so by visiting their website www.theatreworksfl.org/theatrecares.
We are not sure about you, but we definitely want to see what the Vet Voices team will do next.
Lakeland - Gianna Wegman is a typical teenager. She enjoys listening to music, playing lacrosse, and hanging out with her friends, but one thing that differentiates her from the rest of her friends is that Gianna is on her way to becoming a well-rounded young adult due to her extraordinary approach to leadership. She not only uses it to inspire others but also to try to make this world a better place.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Gianna, and this is what she shared with us:
NEPG: Which grade are you attending right now?
Gianna: I just graduated from high school and I am on my way to be a freshman at the University of Central Florida.
NEPG: What leadership position are you responsible for?
Gianna: My previous leadership positions include: Student Body President, Yearbook Editor, Class Vice President, Peer Counselor, Camp Counselor, Service Trip Leader, Youth Group Assistant, and Church Acolyte.
NEPG: What has been one of your most recent achievements as a leader in your school/community?
Gianna: I was recently awarded a $2000 student-athlete scholarship from Positive Coaching Alliance that recognizes students nationally who embody the characteristics of service, leadership, and athletics.
NEPG: Tell us about how your leadership approach has influenced others around you.
Gianna: My leadership approach relies heavily on empathy. I recognize that just because I am a leader doesn't mean I am any better than anyone It means that I should strive to understand those that I am leading and aim to help them grow and develop alongside me.
NEPG: What project are you currently working on, which will help you make a difference in your school/community?
Gianna: This summer I plan on volunteering as an assistant lacrosse coach at various camps around the state of FL, helping young girls grow in their confidence both on and off the field. I am also going to try and work as a camp counselor at Camp Gilead, helping students grow in their faith and discovering more about themselves.
NEPG: What would be your message for younger kids who are planning on taking a leader's role within their school/community?
Gianna: My message to younger students would be to believe in yourself that you can make a difference. Although it may sound cheesy, being able to be your #1 supporter and pushing yourself to be a leader and to understand those around you will not only change you for the better as a person, but you will also mpact so many lives along the way. There you have it. We have to say that it was an immense honor for us to be able to get to know Gianna better and we wish her all the best in this new chapter in her life. And before we go, we have a message for her:
Gianna, we are very proud of you. You represent what is great about our young leaders... keep up the good work, and we can't wait to be there with you when you.