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updated: 2/13/2013 11:02 AM

Fittest Loser challenge starts for 6 Daily Herald readers

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  • Video: Greg Moehrlin

  • Video: Karen Castillo

  • Video: Joe Gundling

  • Video: Megan McCarthy-Cook

  • Video: Mike Paulo

  • Video: Marianne Costales-Roman

  • Introducing the 2013 Fittest Loser Challenge contestants: Joe Gundling, left, Mike Paulo, Greg Moehrlin, Megan McCarthy-Cook, Marianne Costales-Roman and Karen Castillo.

      Introducing the 2013 Fittest Loser Challenge contestants: Joe Gundling, left, Mike Paulo, Greg Moehrlin, Megan McCarthy-Cook, Marianne Costales-Roman and Karen Castillo.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

By Gerry Alger

The focus has shifted for six Daily Herald readers, from looking back on a lifelong struggle with weight to looking ahead to a new way of life.

The 2013 Fittest Loser Challenge kicks off this month and today you'll meet the three men and three women who were chosen from more than a hundred applicants to compete in the 12-week weight-loss journey.

Embracing this year's challenge is a diverse group including a college softball coach, a mom, a science teacher, a high school social worker, a retail manager and a student. They range in age from 18 to 58 and in weight from 206 to 294 pounds. But they all have one thing in common ... a desire to get healthy.

This is the fifth year the Daily Herald and Push Fitness in Schaumburg have worked together to offer this opportunity. Each contestant is paired with a personal trainer from Push Fitness and over the next three months they'll learn to eat healthy, work out regularly and change their mindset.

Last year's winner, Michael White of West Dundee, lost 84 pounds and set a record for the highest percentage of weight lost in the history of the competition at 26.3 percent.

Now, let's meet the six competitors hoping to be named the 2013 Fittest Loser:

Marianne Costales-Roman

Sitting alone at home late one night while her family was asleep, Marianne Costales-Roman, a 37-year-old high school social worker from Carol Stream, made a decision. She would apply to be a Fittest Loser.

"I had this overwhelming feeling that this opportunity was destined to be for me," she recalls.

Like many people, Costales-Roman's life is full to the brim. Juggling both full- and part-time jobs, her roles as wife, mother to two daughters and caretaker for her disabled mother and autistic brother, she wondered how she could possibly arrange her life to fit caring for herself into the schedule.

She certainly isn't alone in that dilemma. However, the price of not taking the time for herself, was already evident. Diagnosed as prediabetic and on medication for high blood pressure, Costales-Roman needs to be healthy.

"I want to start living my life actively, not just existing. I want to be around for my two daughters, my mom and my brother. I want to share a lifetime with my wonderful husband, Ramiro."

And there's her 20th high school reunion coming up in June.

"I want to look hot!"

Joe Gundling

With a beautiful girlfriend and her senior prom just a few months away, 18-year-old Joe Gundling is motivated to make some changes.

"No girls wants to bring a lazy, fat guy to prom," he says.

Enter Push Fitness and the Fittest Loser Challenge.

"My grandma showed me the story on the computer and encouraged me to apply," Gundling recalls. "After looking at the past contestants and how awesome they looked, I wanted that to be me. I realized then and there, I needed to change."

Other than looking good in a tux come prom night, Gundling has another goal.

"I would really like to finally be able to see my toes."

Megan McCarthy-Cook

"It's time to change my life," says 33-year-old Megan McCarthy-Cook of Hoffman Estates. "I need to do it for myself and for my family.

"My mom, who is battling lung cancer, wants nothing more than to see me healthy."

Her family is certainly a great motivation. So are the numbers.

"I'm borderline everything," McCarthy-Cook says. "Prediabetic, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and I found out my triglycerides are twice the number they should be.

"All of these can be improved with diet and exercise," she says. "I plan on changing those numbers drastically."

As for goals, McCarthy-Cook has something in mind.

"I'd like to be able to run a mile without stopping. I've never been a runner, but I'd like to be able to do that."

Greg Moehrlin

Greg Moehrlin of St. Charles has set his sights on a number: 200. The 39-year-old science teacher at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights weighed in at the start of the competition at 245 pounds.

"I'd like to get back to my college weight," Moehrlin says.

With his wife, Laura, and daughters, 8-year-old Emily and 6-year-old Maddy cheering him on, he has built-in motivation.

And if that's not enough to spur him on, Moehrlin needs only look back a couple of years.

"I have had a pacemaker since 2010 after being diagnosed with heart arrhythmia. Being at a healthy weight will prevent me from other cardiac risk factors."

Karen Castillo

At 36 years old, Karen Castillo of Carpentersville hasn't yet faced many of the risk factors associated with being overweight, but she is feeling the effects of carrying 206 pounds on her 5-foot-4-inch frame.

"I get winded when I walk up stairs and can't even run a mile on the treadmill without stopping to walk," she says. "I love outdoor activities like rafting and rock climbing, but my body isn't on the same page."

Castillo's motivation for participating in this year's competition is simple.

"I'm sick of being fat."

Mike Paulo

When watching a sporting event, have you ever noticed the coaches on the sidelines? The teachers and leaders who are in charge of shaping and challenging athletes to be the best they can be? Mike Paulo has. He's one of them. But at nearly 300 pounds and on three medications to control high blood pressure, he's aware he's gotten away from practicing what he preaches.

Paulo, 58, is the head softball coach at Elmhurst College and father of four daughters. In September, the first of his girls is getting married. His goal?

"I'd like to be at my wedding weight of 31 years ago, 225 pounds.

"As a former athlete and now a college coach, I do know the benefits of hard work and dedication," Paulo, of Woodridge, says.

Game on!

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