When Amy Raspiller moved to Nokomis, she worried about how to meet people while coping with a debilitating illness.

“I was walking with a cane and recovering from multiple sclerosis,” she says. But one day, while walking on Nokomis Beach, she discovered a group of women hula hooping on the beach.

“It looked so fun,” says Raspiller. She joined in and turned an interest into a passion that brought her not only new friends, but a new business.

“I just love hooping,” says Raspiller, who has dropped about 50 pounds and now teaches hooping to others at community centers all over town.

In an area filled with newcomers, finding a fun sport or hobby is not only a great way to meet people, it’s a fun way to get fit.

From joining a pickleball team to riding 30 miles with a biking group, you can find all sorts of activities to get your heart pumping and your muscles toned. We all know we need to work out to maintain good health and flexibility, but the key is taking the “work” out of workout, so it’s an activity you look forward to doing.

We talked to Venetians who love what they do to get in shape, and we scouted out some fun activities that you may not know about. Beyond the gyms and studios that offer a plethora of choices from TRX, barre and kickboxing to spinning and aerobics, we are lucky to have the great outdoors as our year-round gym, with dozens of options to up your heart rate along with your fun rate. If you’re stuck in that same-old treadmill routine, maybe it’s time to consider some of the varied activities that are just beyond your door.

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Image: Shutterstock

Biking with the Coastal Cruisers Bicycle Club

Enjoy camaraderie, peaceful rural routes and a killer quad burn with the Coastal Cruisers, one of the area’s largest bicycle clubs.

Burn Rate: A 30-mile ride burns around 1,000 calories

“It’s a wonderful way to experience the warmth, weather, and comfort of Florida,” says Hank Danielson, president of the 500-plus organization. “I’ve been doing it for about 10 years. It’s truly an aerobic exercise―good for your legs, lungs, and heart. I’m 70 years old and my doctors are amazed at how great my blood pressure is.”

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the club offers seven scheduled rides a week and events such as a two-day, 100-mile biking expedition on the Withlacoochee State Trail. Members travel overseas together, riding along the Rhone River in France as well as exploring routes in Italy and Amsterdam.

Danielson says safety, fitness and friendliness are the club’s top priorities. The average ride is 30 miles and lasts about 2.5 hours. Post-ride, it’s tradition for the cruisers to refuel their bodies and enjoy a meal at a local restaurant.

Beginners are welcome on Wednesday mornings. The club meets at 8:30 a.m. at Unity Church, 125 N. Jackson Road. Annual membership fee: $20. coastalcruisers.net

Frisbee Golf

Offering a more relaxed spin on the traditional game, this sport is for people who want to ditch the heavy clubs and enjoy a course more in tune with the trees.

Burn Rate: The combination of throwing and walking uses an average of 500 Calories during a 2-hour game.

“It’s just you and a couple of Frisbees in the heart of Florida’s wilderness,” says Venice native Luke Engle, 23. “Plus, the price is right” with this no “green fees” version of golf.

Disc golf is played much like traditional golf, but without the manicured courses. The goal is to complete the course in the shortest number of throws. Like choosing the right golf club, players must choose the right disc. You get three different types of discs―drivers, mid-range and putters.

Engle enjoys throwing the disc with his dad at Wellfield Park, a short but fun entry-level course that weaves through palm trees and sawgrass. There is no fee to use the Wellfield course. Bird Bay and Lakeview Park are two other good courses nearby.

“The hardest thing to master is accuracy,” Engle says. “Sometimes you’ve got to throw your disc straight; other times you’re trying to curve it around an oak tree. There will be moments when you’re spending a lot of time in the palm fronds looking for your Frisbee.”

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Pickleball at Foxworthy/By-Pass Park draws lots of players.


Don’t be fooled by its goofy name. Venetians are serious about pickleball.

Burn Rate: On average, a 30-minute game burns about 300 calories

 Our local government can’t build courts fast enough to keep up with demand for this popular sport. We have 20 around town, including six new ones. Despite the expansion, the courts remain packed most days.

Pickleball is played with a paddle and plastic ball, combining elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. As in tennis doubles, two-member teams volley the ball back and forth over a net until one side misses. The first side that scores 11 points and leads by at least a two-point margin wins.

Pickleball is easy to learn and, because it’s less stressful on the joints than tennis and racquetball, it can be a lifelong sport.

At the Venice Community Center. more than 100 players compete three days a week. The center offers classes so people can learn the basics. For more information, call the Venice Community Center, (941) 861-1380.

There are eight outdoor courts at Foxworthy/By-Pass Park, which also draws about 100 players in season. You’ll also find courts at Laurel Park in Nokomis, Woodmere Community Center in Venice, and the Salvation Army Venice Fitness Center. The Suncoast Pickleball Association organizes tournaments in Central Florida and the USAPA organizes national competition and promotes the sport. There’s even a pickleball TV network.

For regional competition, contact suncoastpickle-ballassociation.com.

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Longtime fencer Dr. Werner Meudt

Fencing Classes at the SKY YMCA

Want to develop the finesse of a dancer, the fitness of an athlete, and the mind of a chess player? Give fencing a go.

Burn Rate: About 300 calories an hour, depending on how quick you are on your feet.

Dr. Werner Meudt, director of the Venice Y’s Fencer’s Club, started fencing when he was 8 and is still doing it in his 80s. His enthusiasm for the sport is relentless.

“I’m from Germany,” says Meudt. “The two main sports are fencing and soccer. The soccer coach didn’t want me and my twin brother on the same team. So a fencer I became.”

In a fencing match, two fighters duel with rapier-style swords and are awarded points by making contact with their opponent. There are three different types of weapons: the foil, épée and sabre. Protective clothing and a mask are worn. The legs and arms get a vigorous workout and you develop speed and coordination. The mind works just as hard as the body, swiftly reacting to the opponent’s strategy.

“It’s an individual sport where you have to make decisions fast and execute the attacks with coordination. You are there to challenge each other. Everybody who fences has a different style and the trick is to figure your opponent out,” Meudt says.

Meudt cherishes the friendly atmosphere as much as the sport itself. “If you do well, you have a good friend. If you don’t do well, you still have a good friend,” he says.

Beginners are welcome to meet at the YMCA on Wednesdays at 4:30 p.m. and Saturdays at noon. Fencers are welcome to stay for up to four hours. Annual fees are $20 for YMCA members and $35 for nonmembers. Weapons, jackets and masks are provided.

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Paddleboard Yoga

Paddle away from the shoreline and devote the next hour and a half to a magnificently peaceful practice.

Burn Rate: About 250 calories an hour

Paddleboards add both natural beauty and more challenges to your workout. The unstable nature of the platform forces you to engage your core, work your glutes and hone your balance. A sensation of floating alleviates stress and helps you focus on your breath. Many kayaking companies also offer paddleboard yoga, and you almost always need reservations. It’s a fun, peaceful activity to do with a group of friends or to meet new ones.

Surfit is a well-regarded Sarasota company that offers SUPyoga–Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga in the Venice area with Yoga Alliance trained instructors. They also certify SUPyoga instructors, surfitusa.com. Also check out Tidal Bliss Yoga, Authentic Fusion, and yogawithelin.us.

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Hooper Amy Raspiller leads classes at several area venues.

Hula Hooping

Tap into your inner child with this vigorous workout.

Burn Rate: A half-hour class will burn about 250 calories

Hula hooping is one of the latest fun fitness classes to sweep the area. There are hula hooping classes on the beach and in community centers around town. You can’t use the plastic child’s hoops sold at discount stores, though―only the most adept hooper can keep those above adult hips. Even with the larger, weighted adult hoops, it takes a few attempts to keep the hoop twirling around your hips.

“When you get the hoop going around your body, it’s like you win,” says instructor Amy Raspiller. “You feel control over your body.”

Raspiller begins the class by warming up with weights. The hoopers groove in both directions, starting around the waist and expanding to arm hooping. Hooping works the arms, shoulders, core and glutes, and you’ll quickly work up a sweat.

Raspiller likes to play old-school pop music and encourages her class to sing along. Raspiller teaches in a variety of locales, including the Nokomis Community Center, and strives to create workouts that feel “joyful, soulful, and happy.”

She’s always teaching new hooping moves, varying the tosses and moving it on the body in different ways. For class times and locations, amyshoopcircle.com. For beach hooping, peaceloveandhoopiness.com. Classes are about $10-$15.

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Tennis at Hecksher Park provides good exercise for players of any age.


A tried and true way to develop friendships and get in shape.

Burn Rate: 250 calories in a doubles match. A singles match is nearly twice as rigorous, shedding around 550 calories.

Tennis has long been one of the region’s most popular sports, and Venetians are lucky to have myriad courts in public parks for league or pick-up matches as well as private clubs offering a variety of courts.

One of the most popular places to meet people and work up a good sweat is Hecksher Park, at the corner of West Venice Avenue and Harbor Drive, where you can arrange a free, pick-up tennis match. Players often walk or ride their bikes to the park beginning around 6:30 a.m. to put their names on the board. Matches are set on the six courts and the games commence. The welcoming spot attracts visitors, longtime players and newcomers to the community.

Another popular place to play is the Courtside Tennis Club at 512 Auburn Road. The full-service club has been around since 1977 and features 11 courts (nine of them knee-saving Har-Tru surfaces), league play, practice facilities and instruction. The Jacaranda West Country Club, 1901 Jacaranda Blvd., features eight Har-Tru courts, league instruction and other club amenities.

Pick-Up Basketball

Time flies when you find a great game of pick-up basketball.

Burn Rate: These games offer an intense cardio burn, upwards of 750 calories an hour

You’ll find plenty of friendly, competitive games around town. Hecksher Park downtown and Woodmere Park off Jacaranda Boulevard are the most popular places for games. Show up at 5:30 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on weekends to find some quality hooping. Both the YMCA and Laurel Park also have adult basketball leagues for those who want a regular game.

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Kayaking can take you miles away from the rest of the world while burning calories.


Paddle your way to a peaceful workout.

Burn Rate: About 280 calories per hour.

You couldn’t live in a better place to enjoy kayaking. Our region is crisscrossed by beautiful, calm waterways, perfect for this sport that engages your core and upper body and involves some 500 strokes per mile. You’ll release tension along with energy, as you take in views of spectacular scenery and wildlife.

You can enjoy guided tours with a professional taking you through the mangroves near Snook Haven, or you can rent or buy a kayak and launch it in a multitude of locations around the Venice area.

Enjoy saltwater kayaking in the Intracoastal Waterway or paddle in freshwater on the Myakka River. Rentals run about $25/an hour. Great launching locations include Higel Park, Marina Park and Boat Ramp, Snook Haven, Carlton Reserve, Caspersen Beach Park and Blackburn Park.

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Yoga on Venice Beach―a perfect setting.

Yoga on the Beach

People of all ages can get a good stretch at our favorite yoga studio―the beach.

Burn Rate: 350 calories in a one-hour class.

From Manasota Key to Nokomis Beach, dozens of yoga classes are offered, mostly in the morning and at sunset.

“You come as you are, no reservations necessary,” says Karen Harrison, co-owner of Seaside Beach Yoga, who teaches gentle yoga at Manasota Beach. People, sometimes as many as 50, begin arriving just before the 8 a.m. winter sunrise, staking their spot with a beach towel or sheet.

The soundtrack is natural: waves lapping against the sand, seagulls and the air blowing off the Gulf of Mexico. Harrison begins the half-hour class in corpse pose―people lying on their backs with palms up. She then guides people through about six minutes of stretching followed by a series of poses. Beach yoga attracts a mostly 50-plus crowd, and the stretching and tranquility that come with yoga carry forward in all aspects of life, Harrison says.

Many of her clients will walk, run or bike and then do the yoga class as the final part of a workout. Friendships develop among the yogis, with many heading to breakfast after class.

“It’s a great social resource,” Harrison says. The “studio’s” only downside is the unpredictability of the weather. During a recent cold spell, Harrison had one or two people in class. And when it thunders and rains, you can assume class is canceled.

Classes at Manasota Beach, 8570 Manasota Beach Road, Englewood, are Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m. On Venice Beach, check out yogawithelin.us.

Run with the Manasota Track Club

Keep your runs interesting and challenging by running with a pack.

Burn Rate: On average, an hour of running consumes 500 calories.

The Manasota Track Club schedules 17 runs a week throughout Sarasota County to link up runners of all levels. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, runners meet at 6 a.m. downtown in Centennial Park. They also train for races together.

For solo runs, Venetians are lucky to have hundreds of miles of paved and unpaved trails. For the most serene sights, check out Venetian Waterway Park, Oscar Scherer State Park, Sleeping Turtles Preserve, Wellfield Fitness Trail, Legacy Trail, Jelks Preserve, Carlton Reserve and Deer Prairie Creek Preserve.

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