When the Fittest Loser Challenge began 12 weeks ago, the six contestants were eager to lose weight and improve their health. They were also a little wary of what their trainers had in store. Now that it's almost over, they can all say they've accomplished most of their goals and tapped into inner reserves they didn't realize they had.
As we anxiously await the announcement of the winner on Wednesday, May 1, at Victoria in the Park in Mount Prospect, the competitors talk about what they've learned and what they're taking away from the experience.
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Greg Moehrlin, a teacher, has learned some valuable lessons of his own.
"Very early in the process, I realized that I'd been telling myself lies for a long time about my nutritional habits," Moehrlin says.
As he looks back on his pre-competition diet, Moehrlin recognizes he used being "too busy" as an excuse way too much. He would leave the house before eating a nutritious breakfast and instead take the time to stop and pick up a breakfast sandwich at a fast-food restaurant on his way from St. Charles to work at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights. Now he takes a few minutes in the evening to prepare a few healthy meals he can take with the next day.
"Too busy" was also the reason he didn't work out consistently, not realizing the value of taking care of himself.
"As a husband and father of two," Moehrlin says, "I would make sure I had time for everything and everyone else in my life. What I realized during the Fittest Loser experience is that I'm a better father, teacher and husband when I make time and put in the effort to be healthy."
This 33-year-old mother of two from Hoffman Estates found an athlete inside. Over the last 10 years Megan McCarthy-Cook says she'd lost sight of her.
"I've learned so much from my trainer about how to eat right, exercise and never give up," she says. "I'm taking away so much knowledge of how to live a healthy lifestyle. It's exciting to let people know I lost weight just by eating right and exercising."
And she's not done yet.
"I plan to keep the weight loss going," McCarthy-Cook says. "I still want to have personal training sessions with my trainer, and I've discovered a love for boxing classes. I enjoy workouts that don't keep me on the treadmill for 45 minutes."
As the oldest competitor among this year's Fittest Losers at 59, Mike Paulo learned that it's never too late to change. Between the training and diet changes, Paulo says it's been as tough as anything he's ever been through.
"It took a tremendous amount of hard work, focus and planning," he says. "I've changed many old habits and handled some tough obstacles in the last three months that I know will make me stronger down the road."
"I am not going to forget that I can truly accomplish my goals when I put dedication, time and persistence into it," says Marianne Costales-Roman. "I lost sight of my ability to be successful."
Today, success is clearly within sight and the old excuses are a thing of the past.
Between work and family responsibilities, Costales-Roman's schedule is daunting but she's learned some valuable lessons.
"There's no such thing as not having enough time, it's just an excuse," she says. "I learned that my family is adaptable and they want me to be healthy so I can be around for years to come."
At the beginning of the competition Joe Gundling had a goal, and 12 weeks later, "mission accomplished," he says.
"I can see my toes," Gundling says. "Better than that, I can see my toes and run 11 miles!"
The 18-year-old not only credits his trainer with showing him how to lose weight, but also a completely new lifestyle.
"Eating fast food and playing video games until 4 a.m. is a thing of the past," Gundling promises.
"I have made great improvements in my eating habits, enjoy working out and look forward to continuing to challenge my body to work harder, perform better, run fast and further improve my strength," says Karen Castillo.
With the support and encouragement of her trainer, Castillo has learned much about what she's capable of.
"She has taught me that I can be pushed to overcome the burn, pain and muscle cramps to complete the task at hand."