Participating in races, like the recent DuPage Human Race 5K Run may be old hat for some, but for the five contestants in the Fittest Loser Challenge it was a secretly dreaded, though inevitable event.
It had been decades since some of them last ran. Others never had tried. There was fear and trepidation leading up to the day, although careful preparation had gone into getting everyone in tiptop form for it.
"It was important for the contestants to strive for goals that may have been recently unattainable; and a 5K was just that," explains Brad Parotto, the Push Fitness running coach for the challenge. "It also was important to create an exciting opportunity to show how far they've come."
On race day, contestants sported their vibrant Push tees that matched the ones their trainers also wore alongside them during the race.
With nice weather and familiar supporters nearby, contestants' fears quickly gave way to optimism as they gathered at the starting line.
Chris Kalamatas of Lake in the Hills admits he wasn't so sure how this was going to turn out.
"I was a bit anxious about doing a 5K since the last time I ran over three miles was in the Marines more than 35 years ago!" quakes Kalamatas.
He says he really doesn't like to run but appreciated the "feeling of accomplishment" he had as he approached the last quarter-mile of the race.
"I said to myself, 'I'm gonna do this,'" he recalls as he realized that he would complete the race successfully.
He says he couldn't have done it without his fitness mentor M. Brodie Medlock.
"Running with Brodie definitely helped, as he did what he always does: pushes me just a little farther. I probably would have stopped running and walked more often if I was running alone."
Dressing the part, Kalamatas said, also helped. "The Brooks shoes from Dick Pond are great. It does help to have comfort when you're running."
The race was also a bit emotional for him. "When we first embarked on this journey over 10 weeks ago, I circled the 5K date as a point in the contest when we would all be doing something together, with less than two weeks to go," says Kalamatas. "I am very proud of our whole group, trainers included."
For Allie Monroe of Schaumburg, the 5K marked a significant turn.
"I wouldn't say this was the run of my life, but definitely one that I wanted to do in order to have a benchmark for future runs," she says. "I want to work on improving my time going forward."
Knowing that she wasn't in this alone was a big plus for Monroe.
"I really liked that both the contestants and trainers were doing (the race) together," she says. "Plus, you had many people pushing you and supporting you through the whole thing. It was a lot easier to push myself when there was so much support behind me."
But that didn't mean that there were no challenges.
"Running up hills is rough and then the downhill part was harder on my ankle trying to brace myself," she says.
Yet, she had very capable help: her trainer Wade Merrill.
"He motivated me to keep pushing myself as hard as I could go, but he also gave me reachable running-distance goals throughout the race," she says.
The fact that she finished, she says, was momentous.
"I am always scared to run since it's not something that has ever come easy for me and usually causes me a lot of pain and anxiety," Monroe says. "But I let a lot of that go while running with everyone else. It took a bit of the pressure off the run, and I just did the best that I could do."
With just two weeks left in the competition, Monroe says there's still room to achieve more.
"I have a newfound confidence that I seemed to have forgotten about in the last few weeks," she says. "I had a couple of slower weeks; and so this run has helped me regain motivation to work the hardest I ever have."
Tim Lange of Algonquin found something he thought he had lost forever: a will to run.
"I have been a runner for most of my life, and I must say this run was the start of my new life as a runner," he says. "Before, the weight crept up, my motivation went down and I didn't see myself as a runner anymore."
But now Lange says his motivation tank is filled, thanks in large part to the 5K run and the competition as a whole.
"I didn't really have a fear with the run, just a lot of nervous energy," he says. "And Steve (Amsden) my trainer was great at providing me with instruction from the start to the end. It was only at the end when he said to catch my breath because we're going back to run with everyone else that I thought, 'Crazy Army guy.'"
Cheryl Seibert of Joliet said she has never enjoyed running.
"Honestly, I would rather spend an hour on the StairMaster machine than to spend 20 minutes running," she quips.
But the group run may have changed that.
"This race was probably the most fun I have had running," she says. "Running with my trainer Lindsay Vigna pushed me to keep running and to run faster than my usual pace. It also helped to have other contestants just ahead of me to keep up with."
Seibert learned a bigger life lesson as part of the day's events as well.
"The night before the race, I was in the emergency room with my sick daughter and didn't get home until 2 a.m.," she says. "The old me would have found that to be a great reason not to go to the race. But the new me decided that I still needed to get there and give it my all."
That's what she did, and Seibert's glad that she put forth the effort.
"Once I arrived, the atmosphere was fun and certainly provided me the energy boost I needed," she recounts. "I am proud to say that I completed the race in my best time. Participating in this really showed me that I can accomplish things even when life could easily provide an excuse not to."
"If you told me 10 weeks ago I would be competing in my first 5K, I would not have believed you," says John Bohanek of South Elgin. "This was the run of my life."
The race wasn't simply a challenge for his body; Bohanek says it was emotionally charged, too.
"When I turned the second to the last corner of the race, it was a little emotional as I was thinking, 'You're going to do this,'" he says, almost in disbelief.
But he only could, he says because of the awesome support network on hand.
"My trainer Michelle (Amsden) was an inspiration the entire way," he says. "It was also heartfelt when Tim (Lange) and Steve (Amsden) jogged back to meet Michelle and me. Tim said, 'I'm here for you and will run at your pace. At Push, we stay together; nobody's left behind.' Then when I rounded the last corner and saw the crowd cheering us on -- what a feeling."
The day was almost perfect, but just before the finish line, Bohanek tore a ligament in his knee. He could have stopped, but didn't. Still wincing from pain, he completed the race. "Nothing could stop me," he recalls.
Slowly, his dreams for a better, stronger body were becoming a reality.
"I would like to run in the future. I was under 42 minutes and now I have a goal to beat," he says. "I am looking to finish strong and even after the competition, reach my goal of 210 to 220 pounds. I am just worried that my knee will not allow me continue to do my extra cardio that has helped with my weight loss. I will keep pushing to the end."
That's the spirit that running coach Parotto and the other trainers were hoping to ignite.
"It turned out to be a beautiful day, better than expected with everyone finishing the race alongside their trainers," Parotto says of the group's 5K participation. "I was proud of each of them. Everything they have done up to this point paid off."
Weigh-in time, by the numbers
John Bohanek, 46, South Elgin
Starting weight: 361
Current weight: 291
Weight lost this week: 4 pounds
Total weight loss: 70 pounds, 19.4 percent
Chris Kalamatas, 63, Lake in the Hills
Starting weight: 262
Current weight: 229
Weight lost this week: 3 pounds
Total weight loss: 33 pounds, 12.6 percent
Tim Lange, 57, Algonquin
Starting weight: 236
Current weight: 198
Weight lost this week: 1 pound
Total weight loss: 38 pounds, 16.1 percent
Allie Monroe, 29, Schaumburg
Starting weight: 334
Current weight: 277
Weight lost this week: 8 pounds
Total weight loss: 57 pounds, 17.1 percent
Cheryl Seibert, 40, Joliet
Starting weight: 263
Current weight: 226
Weight lost this week: 4 pounds
Total weight loss: 37 pounds, 14.1 percent