It took time, money and lots of community effort to make the campaign a success. In the end, each of the Daily Herald's 2013 Fittest Loser challenge sponsors carried their weight in gold.
More than a dozen businesses donated their products and services or offered financial assistance to this year's Fittest Loser challenge, a 12-week campaign for healthier living. The campaign featured six contestants who battled to lose weight through exercise and healthy eating. Along with the six contestants, more than 100 other individuals competed, in teams of five, representing their local park districts.
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"I just want to thank every one of the sponsors because without them, I wouldn't be here," says Marianne Costales-Roman, who was crowned this year's champion after losing 60 pounds, or 27 percent of her original body weight, over the course of the campaign.
Each of the six contestants was paired with a trainer from Push Fitness in Schaumburg. Since the very beginning, Push Fitness has provided personal trainers for all contestants during the five-year history of the contest. Joshua Steckler, who owns Push Fitness, says that contestants worked with his trainers at least three times a week and participated in a boot camp on the weekends. His staff also provided nutritional advice and diet tips to the contestants.
"It was a way for us to showcase what we can do," Steckler says.
Push Fitness specializes in one-on-one personal fitness training, rapid weight loss, muscle toning, core training and nutritional counseling.
Aside from trainers, the contestants were also monitored by a medical professional to ensure that their rapid weight loss was moving along at a healthy pace. Dr. Anthony Auriemma, medical director of Alexian Brothers Weight Loss Solutions in Schaumburg and Bartlett, donated his time and medical expertise to monitor the contestants during the course of the campaign, as well as conducting pre-evaluations at the beginning of the contest.
"I enjoy seeing the changes we can make to their quality of life," says Auriemma. "The stories of how they are changing their lives makes you want to work harder to help them."
Another sponsor, Whole Foods Market in Schaumburg, provided the contestants with free consultations about nutrition and awarded them with gift cards totaling $1,500. Anna Hanna, marketing and community relations specialist for Whole Foods, says that the contestants also received tours of the Schaumburg store during which they learned about nutrition and healthy substitutes for certain foods.
"This is in line with our mission to promote healthy eating," she says. "It's been great and it's really cool to see the transformation of the contestants."
A sponsor that took particular interest in the contestants' physical transformation is the Deer Park Town Center in Deer Park, which arranged for image makeovers. In addition to receiving haircuts and services at the Avalon Salon & Day Spa, each contestant received a $300 gift certificate that could be used at any one of the town center's 70 retail stores. Plus, the town center hooked up each contestant with a personal shopper.
"We're happy to support people that are working so hard for their well-being," says Regina Verdico, Deer Park's marketing director.
The challenge wasn't easy. Most people probably can't imagine what it was like to walk in one of the contestants' shoes -- except for perhaps the folks at Dick Pond Athletics. The shoe store, which has multiple locations in the Chicago area, gave each contestant a free pair of shoes.
"I couldn't be more happier with my new workout shoes," says Megan McCarthy-Cook, a Fittest Loser contestant. "I never had to worry about blisters, or my feet being sore during a workout, or run/walk."
Several other businesses showered the contestants with gifts to help them stay motivated in their quest for better health. Muscle Maker Grill, with locations in Rolling Meadows and Glenview, provided gift certificates for healthy meals. Integrated Supplements in Algonquin gave each contestant a care package that included supplements like whey protein, magnesium and green detox.
"I think the integrated protein shakes are awesome," says Karen Castillo, a Fittest Loser contestant. "They really boost my energy and help my muscles recover."
Quarter Circle Seven Ranch in Marengo, or "Q7 Ranch" as it is commonly known, introduced the contestants to its all-natural, grass-fed beef and pasture-raised poultry. Katie Bloomfield, one of the owners of Q7 Ranch, says that each contestant received a gift certificate.
"(The Fittest Loser campaign) fits with our program," says Bloomfield. "Grass-fed beef and poultry is very good for you. No growth hormones, additives or antibiotics. If somebody is looking to lose weight or to eat a healthy diet, then grass-fed beef and pasture-raised poultry fit right into that."
Wyatt Austin Jewelers in Schaumburg designed a unique pendant for each of the Fittest Loser contestants as well as the winner of the park district challenge.
Though not personally involved with the contestants, a few sponsors made financial contributions to the campaign because they liked the healthy lifestyle it promotes. They include Biofortis Clinical Research in Addison, College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn and Assurance in Schaumburg. Biofortis is a clinical research site places special emphasis on cholesterol management and conducts trials in clinical nutrition, obesity, diabetes and other conditions.
Laurie Jorgensen, director of marketing and creative services at the College of DuPage, says that the Fittest Loser challenge was a natural choice for the college to sponsor.
"We have a huge set of health care programs and we thought it was a good fit for us to sponsor something that promoted a healthy lifestyle," she says.
Melissa Zimmer, manager of marketing and communications at Assurance in Schaumburg, says that a part of the insurance brokerage firm's philosophy is that a healthy workforce can lower the cost of health insurance and improve overall company results.
Another financial supporter of the campaign was Porte Brown certified public accountants, which has offices in Elk Grove Village, McHenry, Tinley Park and Chicago. The firm offered the contestants financial makeovers through discounts on tax preparation services along with an open offer for financial tips and counseling. "They need to stay financially fit, as well as physically fit," says Pam Metzger, director of marketing at Porte Brown.
While some sponsors focused on the contestants, others contributed to the event by offering their goods and services as raffle prizes or giveaways associated with the event. The Curves fitness center for women in Arlington Heights donated more than 10 gift certificates that entitled its recipients to a free three-month membership. Its owner, Michele Crown says "we love being associated with something that's done good for people and encourages a healthy lifestyle."
The Academy of Athletic Advancement in Schaumburg donated raffles for some of its services as well. In addition, the academy served as a weigh-in station for the contestants and provided them with metabolic testing.
The Fittest Loser challenge awards ceremony took place May 1 at the Victoria in the Park banquet hall in Mount Prospect. The banquet hall donated the use of its facilities for the event, as well as a healthy buffet of snacks for roughly 400 guests.
"It's so important for people to see how this event changes lives," says Krista Ray, marketing director at Victoria in the Park.
Other contributing sponsors include Chiro One Wellness Centers in Schaumburg and Novatoo Audio Visual in Carol Stream.