The energy was magnetic last Thursday at Eaglewood Resort and Spa, host resort of the 2014 Fittest Loser Challenge Finale. While the space was perfect for networking and nibbles, the evening belonged to the competing corporate and community teams and the five contestants in the main competition who waited to learn if they were indeed the Fittest Loser.
After 12-weeks of puffing and panting in one-on-one sessions with their Push Fitness personal trainers, in Saturday workouts with boot camp boss Brad Parotto and involved in any number of exercises on their own, the contestants looked more alive, alert and alluring than ever before. And they should have. Combined, they lost a whopping 285 pounds, including 42 inches from their waists!
In addition to having access to professional trainers during this time, they also received medical monitoring by Dr. Anthony Auriemma, medical director of Alexian Brothers Weight Loss Solutions.
"We chose five people who knew what they wanted, but not how to get there," explains Push owner Joshua Steckler, who along with his team provided contestants with nutrition and fitness expertise.
Amid streaming "before" videos and warm chants of support from family and friends at the event, the now-lean competitors walked confidently down the center aisle of the Red Oak Ballroom to music of their choosing, and perched proudly next to their trainers who spoke highly of them.
The Daily Herald's M. Eileen Brown, assistant vice president and director of strategic marketing and innovation, kept the sold-out audience rapt as she announced that John Bohanek of South Elgin was the 2014 Fittest Loser.
John Bohanek Trainer: Michelle Amsden
Upon hearing the news, Bohanek's entire face grinned; and he wasted no time in grabbing trainer Michelle Amsden and giving her a big, happy twirl.
Finding it hard to hold back the tears, the 46-year-old front-office clerk at Jewel Osco told the audience: "When you have a goal, it's really about the journey, and this has been the most incredible journey."
Indeed, Bohanek started the competition in February at 361 pounds. Over 12 weeks, he shed 87 pounds, or 24.1 percent of his original body weight.
During the challenge application process, Bohanek brought in pictures of himself during his slimmer days. He spoke passionately about getting back to that point. Yet, he was convinced the selection committee didn't buy his story. He was shocked to learn that he had been selected. "When my friends and a neighbor encouraged me to apply, I never thought I would be picked," he says. "It was sort of a dream."
Thus, imagine how Bohanek -- now a mere fraction of his former self -- reacted to the news on Thursday night that he won the contest. This day, the man who once found it difficult to climb a flight of stairs without being winded and regularly downed 10 to 12 cans of cola a day no longer resembled his former self, in body or spirit.
Support from friends, family, trainers and even the other competitors, he says, made the difference. "Anybody you can touch," he admonished others, "do it. Any kind words help and go a long way."
Bohanek should know; he's learned to take lemons and make lemonade throughout this process. As part of the competition, he finished a 5K run valiantly, although he tore a ligament in his leg near the finish line. But that didn't stop him from completing the race. Once diagnosed with rising blood pressure and cholesterol numbers, he now no longer needs blood pressure meds. He also boasts that he sleeps better these days, and no longer has caffeine headaches.
More importantly, he managed to give up his beloved "4 Bs" of "bacon, butter, buffets and bread" in the process. Now Bohanek speaks of the joys of using Greek yogurt and experimenting with a bounty of veggies. "I don't live to eat anymore," he says, "I eat to live."
Allie Monroe Trainer: Wade Merrill
Allie Monroe of Schaumburg is the youngest person in the competition this year. Having shed 70 pounds over the past 12 weeks, the 29-year-old actuary took second-place honors in the competition.
When she began the challenge, Monroe weighed 334 pounds and had high cholesterol and triglycerides levels. Yet, those numbers have shown a notable improvement with time.
In fact, the former athlete has now comfortably regained her stride, and on Thursday night, she glowed with excitement and a sense of genuine achievement.
Among her biggest take-aways from the challenge? Learning to eat properly and to exercise fearlessly. She's determined to make it work. "I have to now make up my own schedule with working out which will be a little bit harder," she confesses. "But I want to stay on the same eating schedule, so I will still focus on that and plan my workout days in advance."
Tim Lange Trainer: Steve Amsden
Somewhere along the path of life, Tim Lange, 57, of Algonquin lost bits of himself. Yet, the occupational therapist managed to fill those voids in years past with empty pounds.
Upon entering the challenge, the married father of five had hoped to regain some of the strength and endurance that vanished with time. After weeks of hard work during the competition, not only had he done that, he leveled out his blood pressure and cholesterol numbers in the process. He also managed to reinvent himself, losing 49 pounds or 20.8 percent of his original body weight.
It's hard to believe that the guy who once regularly ran in marathons wasn't sure how to regain his mojo. But with the help of Push trainer Steve Amsden, he found it, and is now back on track -- literally. Lange has already signed up for a triathlon this fall and plans to continue to work out with Amsden.
"I think to keep this going you need new challenges in life," he says. "You have to be motivated, which I hope I can do."
Cheryl Seibert Trainer: Lindsay Vigna
Cheryl Seibert of Joliet felt as if she hit the jackpot when she was selected for the fitness challenge, and she admits that she felt like it following her 12-week loss of 43 pounds, or 16.3 percent of her original body weight.
A firefighter and paramedic with the Schaumburg Fire Department, Seibert found that it was a true challenge to balance a strenuous workout schedule along with her duties as a civic professional, wife to another firefighter and mother to a young set of twins.
But somehow she fought through a diagnosis of gluten intolerance, shift work sleep disorder and other maladies that slowed down her weight loss along the way. Yet undeterred, she worked harder and found a way to reach her goals and rekindle her desire to live a healthy life -- no matter what.
The fact that she had support from family, friends and her firehouse buddies didn't hurt, either.
The last boot camp session, she says, was especially bittersweet. "It was great when Brad [Parotto] had each of us grab a weight representing how much we lost. Sometimes the number [we lost] didn't seem like much, but grabbing a 45-pound weight really put it in perspective," Seibert says. "I never want to carry that with me again."
Chris Kalamatas Trainer: M. Brodie Medlock
Chris Kalamatas, 63, of Lake in the Hills knew many factors might be stacked against him in this competition. The retired Chicago Public Schools principal was the oldest contestant in the group this year. Although an avid athlete and Marine in decades past, his life more recently had become sedentary, especially following his 2009 retirement. He had knee surgery several times, too, and suffered from arthritis.
But he wasn't about to let any of that stop him. He worked hard to do his best weekly during the competition, and vowed to stay away from his favorite fast food: pizza. The result was a much cleaner bill of health and a total weight loss of 36 pounds, or 13.7 percent of his original body weight.
"I have started down this path dozens of times in the last 15 to 20 years but never made it past two or three weeks," he has said about past weight-loss efforts. Family support, and the firm push of his trainer, M. Brodie Medlock, whom he will continue to work with, kept him going and focused on his mantra of taking each day, one day at a time.
John Bohanek, 46, South Elgin
Starting weight: 361
Current weight: 274
Total weight loss: 87 pounds, 24.1 percent
Allie Monroe, 29, Schaumburg
Starting weight: 334
Current weight: 264
Total weight loss: 70 pounds, 21 percent
Tim Lange, 57, Algonquin
Starting weight: 236
Current weight: 187
Total weight loss: 49 pounds, 20.8 percent
Cheryl Seibert, 40, Joliet
Starting weight: 263
Current weight: 220
Total weight loss: 43 pounds, 16.3 percent
Chris Kalamatas, 63, Lake in the Hills
Starting weight: 262
Current weight: 226
Total weight loss: 36 pounds, 13.7 percent