It might've been close to impossible for the members of the 2014 Fittest Loser Challenge to imagine reaching their fitness goals without the steady guidance of the personal trainers they've been paired with at Push Fitness in Schaumburg.
Week by week, these dedicated fitness enthusiasts have assessed the contestants' personal goals and limitations, discovered more about their lives, and worked out meticulous fitness and nutrition plans to ensure success.
Here, they offer a sneak peek behind the scenes of the one-on-one time spent with the clients that each hopes will emerge as this year's Fittest Loser:
Michelle Amsden/John Bohanek
This is Michelle Amsden's fifth year with the competition. "Out of all of the contestants I've experienced, he seems to be embracing this new way of life with excitement and without a struggle," she says of South Elgin's John Bohanek, the contestant she was assigned to train.
Amsden calls Bohanek "delightful," adding that he "has everything it takes to be successful."
By that, she says he is realistic and understands that what she is teaching him about fitness and nutrition is for the long haul and not just the contest.
"He knows this is not a three-month diet; this is a new way of life," says Amsden, a marathon runner and certified personal trainer. "Everyone needs to know this is not impossible."
Amsden has learned a thing or two from him, as well. "In our two weeks together, John has already taught me how to be a chef," she says. "I love hearing about all the wonderful meals he is making. He is very impressive with changing his foods and being creative with his nutrition."
Her long-term plan is to capitalize on his passion and energy to keep him motivated. "I want to teach John the right way to start this journey and to keep it going for a lifetime," she adds.
Wade Merrill/Allie Monroe
Trainer Wade Merrill, who trained the 2012 Challenge winner, was excited to learn that his new contestant, Allie Monroe of Schaumburg, had such an "awesome" support system consisting of friends and family members and that she possessed such determination.
He has spent the past few weeks learning more than a thing or two about Monroe, who he says self-describes herself as stubborn.
"Allie is strong-willed, but that hasn't been a problem in our workouts because she has demonstrated a consistent attitude of humility," Merrill says. "Instead of fighting against my guidance and correction, she seems to apply her strong will toward listening and applying what she's learned."
Merrill admires that kind of response. "It tells me she doesn't just want a three-month quick fix," he says. "She's listening intently now to keep herself from going backward later on."
As time goes on, Merrill looks to see Monroe's stamina improve. "Her greatest struggle is fatigue, but going from 0 to 60 is tough for anybody," he says. "With each workout Allie's endurance increases, and she's getting more tenacious -- not to mention that her best workout so far came on the heels of the stomach flu."
Lindsay Vigna/Cheryl Seibert
Certified personal trainer Lindsay Vigna says she can tell that her contestant, Cheryl Seibert of Joliet, is enthusiastic about working out to "create a better lifestyle for herself and family."
In fact, Seibert has a lot of good qualities, but among her strongest, Vigna says, is her stick-to-itiveness.
"Cheryl is really good at following the plan. Whether it's the nutrition or the exercises to do outside of Push, she sticks to it and her results show," Vigna said.
As the competition progresses, Vigna looks for Seibert's experience level to improve.
"In another couple of months she will adapt and become familiar with the exercises, and her conditioning will improve," says Vigna, who will assist with this process by repeating workouts and retesting exercises to help her client become stronger.
Brodie Medlock/Chris Kalamatas
Personal trainer Brodie Medlock calls his contestant Chris Kalamatas of Lake in the Hills an inspiration. "He's in his 60s and has had his knee replaced, but he still focuses on what he can do, not on what he can't," says Medlock, a licensed chiropractor and NASM-certified trainer. "I really admire that in an individual. It's never too late -- never."
Kalamatas's determination to work hard impresses his trainer. "He takes the initiative to implement positive things in his life after receiving guidance," says Medlock. "And, he is more than willing to push himself into that uncomfortable place in a workout in order to get better, that place where change happens, not only in the body, but also in the mind."
Medlock expects Kalamatas to continue to improve and overcome hurdles. "He's making all types of changes to his whole life relatively quickly, and this is an uncomfortable time I'm sure," he adds. "He's done an excellent job pushing himself in the exact areas of his workout I need him to push. He is our oldest competitor this year and has been living 'his' way for a long time. It's sometimes a battle to know when he is reverting to his 'past thinking' habits instead of developing new habit possibilities."
Nonetheless, Medlock plans to keep him on track. "My strategy never varies: I keep them focused on the 'now,'" he says of clients past and present. "Too many worry about what will happen four, eight, 12 weeks from now, but none of that matters without the 'now.'"
Steve Amsden/Tim Lange
Steve Amsden, a NASM-certified trainer who trained the winner of the first Challenge, says his contestant this year is a hard worker who is willing to push hard.
He is speaking of Tim Lange of Algonquin. "He does whatever is requested of him without complaint, and he always has a good attitude when he comes in to train," says Amsden. "At the end of the day whether we are talking about exercise or life in general, I can tell everything I need to know about a person based on attitude, and Tim has a great attitude and that is why he is a winner."
Yet, there remains room for improvement. "We had a few moments in which he would stop the exercise before it was finished," says Amsden, adding, "but I didn't let him get away with that and got on him about quitting right away. Since then he has not disappointed. Tim has so much potential not only to win this contest, but to carry this healthy lifestyle into his future."
Overall, Amsden lauds Lange for a willing spirit. "Tim has taught me that there are still a lot of people out there with the right attitude and work ethic who just need the guidance and push to reach their goals and finish strong," the trainer says. "I am a firm believer in the mantra, 'It's not how you start the race that is important, it's how you finish.' I know Tim is a winner and will finish this contest as strong as has he started."
Brad Parotto, a NSCA-certified trainer, works with all contestants as the instructor of the Saturday morning boot camp sessions and as the instructor of the Challenge's upcoming run club.
"I have the privilege of being able to work with each client in the Fittest Loser competition. I see them once a week for Boot Camp as well as future running sessions preparing them for a 5K," he explains. "My ultimate goal through the upcoming weeks is to instill a sense of camaraderie and to have them push each other to new limits as a team."
Already Parotto said contestants have proved to be team spirited, always "ready to motivate each other when they need it the most."