The thought of rising before the sun once terrified Alison Magallon, whose daily routine kept her up hours after midnight.
Four months after starting boot camp, the spectacle of early morning sky is a comfort, easing the pain in Magallon's biceps, clenched in a chin-up on the monkey bars at Medford's Fichtner-Mainwaring Park.
"Look up," Magallon tells Lisa Weber. "Count the stars."
The 5:30 a.m. chill, dew slicking their palms and splintery wood chips under their backsides can't dampen the enthusiasm with which Magallon, Weber and 10 other women tackle an exercise program that hasn't just helped them shape up. It's changed their lives, they say.
"As a single mom with four kids, it's hard for me to find time for myself, so that's why I get up at that crazy hour," says Magallon, 42, of Medford.
Southern Oregon Adventure Boot Camp has lured Weber, 37, from Gold Hill into Medford every morning for the past seven months. The women-only camps each last one month, but Weber is among the approximately three-quarters of first-time campers who have returned again and again since instructor Jackie Auchard kicked off the program in January.
"I can't imagine what else I would do," Weber says.
Campers meet while Venus is still bright in the eastern sky. Guided only by the glow from a single vehicle's headlights and two camp lanterns, the group jumps rope and then crouches into 10 squats. A few minutes later, the pack heads off on a jog around the parking lot. Knees jab toward the sky as the women skip back and forth. Torsos twist as they "grapevine" across the pavement.
"Are you a seventh-grade gym teacher, by any chance?" one camper yells. "Because I'm having a nightmare."
The group only laughs.
It's for good reason the class conjures school-girl memories. Auchard, 36, taught physical education at Eagle Point High for four years, resigning a few months ago to lead boot-camp sessions full time. Twenty women attend Auchard's 5:30 a.m. class. Six more work out at 9 a.m. Given enough demand, Auchard plans to add a 5:30 p.m. session.
"It's not complicated, but it gets the job done," Auchard says of her program. "Anybody can do it."
Some activities, like games of Ultimate Frisbee and dodge ball, are straight off the playground. Clad in a black T-shirt, Weber sizes up the other five black-shirted campers on her team. Their mission is to kick over dozens of small orange cones dotting the parking lot while campers in white shirts try to set them upright again.
"I never knew I was really that competitive," Weber says.
Frequently fierce, competition remains wholesome. No foul language is allowed at boot camp. Violators must pump out 20 push-ups. The punishment is the same for eating junk food or drinking alcohol at any time that boot camp is in session.
"There's no HoHos or Twinkies involved in this class," Auchard shouts, as offenders — operating only on an honor system — lower their chests to the pavement.
Yet Auchard hardly resembles a drill sergeant, campers say.
"That's the idea; someone standing there with you saying, 'No, you can do it,'" Auchard says.
The boot-camp fitness trend took off about a decade ago in Southern California, where Auchard obtained certification in the program created by John Spencer Ellis. Auchard previously taught aerobics and other exercise classes in gyms but says she rarely worked out there. Adventure Boot Camp's focus on enjoying the outdoors was a perfect fit.
"I think people are tired of being cooped up in a room doing their exercise," Auchard says.
Memberships at three different gyms over the past few years couldn't motivate 29-year-old Meghan Schols, who says she wandered around the facilities just looking at machines. Loathe to pay more so a personal trainer could guide her through a program, Schols says Adventure Boot Camp's cost of $299 — $15 per day — is actually a savings compared with many gyms. And paying for the sessions up front spurs Schols to show up.
"I can't work out any other time of the day," says the stay-at-home mom of 2- and 4-year-old boys.
The hour also is perfect for 30-year-old Jacksonville resident Jill Hamilton, who hadn't exercised after having back-to-back babies, now 2 and 3.
"I was so ready for a lifestyle change," Hamilton says.
Stricken with postpartum depression, Hamilton was a size 16 and in "horrible" shape before she started boot camp six months ago. She now wears a size 8 and is so adept at Auchard's regimen that she demonstrates exercises for the entire class.
"It's fresh and fun," Hamilton says. "It's my favorite hour of the day."
All the campers' cross-training pays off on three group hikes, usually over the trails around Jacksonville, including the Britt Garden staircases, and up to Roxy Ann Peak. Over the summer, boot camp participants swam, hiked and kayaked around Applegate Lake.
Walking two miles with a co-worker was Weber's lunchtime routine four days out of the week. But Weber says she didn't realize how out of shape she actually was until she joined boot camp. After the first three weeks, she shaved almost two minutes off her timed mile run and doubled the number of push-ups she could do. Once too tired to go to the gym after work, Weber says she now has enough energy after morning boot camp to carry her through the day.
"The difference in how you feel is amazing to me," she says.
Magallon isn't the only one in her family who feels better after her morning workouts. Her children — ages 15, 14, 12 and 8 — benefit from their mother's brighter outlook and improved attitude.
"It's helped with raising my kids," Magallon says, adding that Adventure Boot Camp has sustained her through some recent family conflicts.
"I don't ever want to quit."
Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail email@example.com.