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Gym little used as smokers are booted from Oklahoma Capitol

It's not uncommon to see cigarette smokers lounging in their cars during the lunch hour after Gov. Mary Fallin shuttered the Capitol smoking room last summer. An expensive new fitness center opened down the hall is gaining traction, but there's still plenty of room for more users.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD Published: May 16, 2013

You can lead a state worker to the gym, but you can't make him exercise.

Thus is the lesson so far at the new Capitol fitness center, which opened in February in the basement of the government building.

It's not uncommon to see two or three employees, usually women, running the treadmills or working the elliptical machine in the small gym during the morning, lunch and evening hours, but for the most part the center is unoccupied.

And despite the closure last summer of the smoking room just down the hallway, it's not uncommon now to see state workers huddled together in smoke-filled cars in the Capitol parking lot or the occasional stray puffer hiding behind the bushes on the building's lawn.

Who's using it?

Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, said she's a regular runner who now enjoys the fitness center on rainy days or when she's stuck at work late.

Sometimes she sticks around after the House recesses and cross-trains in the fitness center while she watches the Oklahoma City Thunder play basketball on TV.

“To be honest, though, the saddest thing to me is I've never seen more than two people at a time use it,” she said.

Cindy Parker and A.J. Mallory, both of whom work in the governor's office, spent their lunch hour Wednesday running on the center's treadmills.

Parker, director of operations for Gov. Mary Fallin, said she works out in the fitness center at least three times a week and often sees two or three others in there at the same time.

“If we're going to try to encourage other people to do it, then we should be on board to do it, too,” she said. “And it really has been good for a lot of people; I know a lot of people who use it that really don't exercise otherwise.”

Fallin's spokesman, Alex Weintz, said the opening of the new Capitol fitness center is a statement on the importance of good health, especially in a state that ranks among the least healthy in the nation.

United Health Foundation this spring ranked Oklahoma 43rd in overall health factors for 2012 and 47th in terms of the number of smokers in the state.

“Reducing smoking and raising awareness about the dangers of smoking is one of the most important things we can do as a state government to improve the health of our state and our citizens,” Weintz said. “It was meant, among other things, to generate a conversation and serve as an example about the kinds of changes we hope Oklahomans make in their daily lives.”

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