It was the culmination of 12 weeks of hard work, waking up early, eating healthy and making correct choices -- and worth every bit of the pain.
So said 25-year-old Michael White of West Dundee on Thursday after losing a whopping 84 pounds, or 26.3 percent of his body weight, to win the Daily Herald's 2012 Fittest Loser Challenge.
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"I couldn't ask for anything more right now," White said. "I just feel so great."
Collectively losing nearly 400 pounds, the six men and women who dedicated 12 weeks of their lives toiling in the Fittest Loser Challenge received standing ovations and the celebrity treatment Thursday at the Doubletree Hotel in Arlington Heights with family, close friends, and roughly 300 Daily Herald subscribers cheering them on.
"We all worked very hard and we owe it to all you guys," White said. "The support I received from my family, my friends, co-workers and complete strangers is what helped me. My whole life, I never learned as much as I did in these 12 weeks. I ate more green vegetables in these 12 weeks than my entire life."
White and his wife, Lisa, will get to enjoy his grand prize win, a FunJet vacation for two to Mexico. He also won three months of personal training from Push Fitness of Schaumburg, whose trainers worked with the contestants as the premier sponsor, a $250 Jewel gift certificate, a pair of running shoes and insoles from Dick Pond Athletics, and a month's supply of protein supplements from Integrated Supplements.
White, who won the contest by a mere two-tenths of a percentage point, did so because of his passion for changing his life before starting a family, said his trainer, Wade Merrill of Push Fitness. As the winning trainer, Merrill received $500 worth of SPRI equipment and an overnight stay for two at Hotel Baker in St. Charles.
"He had injuries. He had struggles. I'm really impressed with the way he came in each time and took what he needed to do seriously," Merrill said. "Mike and I are both 25, and we're both looking forward to the future."
White started out weighing 320 pounds and finished at 236 pounds, yet runner up Matt Kramer, 47, of Elk Grove Village lost the most weight in the challenge -- 97 pounds -- starting out at 372 pounds and finishing at 275 pounds.
"I should have shaved my head," Kramer joked as he congratulated White on the win.
In the last four years, 21 contestants have participated in the Fittest Loser Challenge and have lost a collective 1,050 pounds, an average of 50 pounds per person, said Eileen Brown, Daily Herald assistant vice president/director of strategic marketing and innovation.
"This contest, we change peoples' lives," she said. "That's what we're all about."
That certainly was true for Lisa Notarnicola, a Hoffman Estates police officer who won the first Fittest Loser Challenge.
"I can't believe it's been four years since the contest," said Notarnicola, who was in the audience Thursday. "It gave me the ability to work out stronger and harder, and learn the exercises and endurance, and all the healthy eating. One of my goals is to run a half-marathon by the time I'm 50 in December. That's one of the keys to fitness, keep having those goals."