A front-line infantryman isn't worth much without a network of supporters supplying him with beans and bullets. And a military veteran trying to shed pounds and get into shape via the Fittest Loser Challenge often depends on family, friends and co-workers to keep going.
That has never been more true in the 2017 contest than for James "J.D." DeBouver. The 33-year-old Army veteran's mother has virtually become his main trainer in the second half of the contest, because a series of injuries have left DeBouver unable to do the normal workouts. And his mother, Susan Swanson, happens to be a certified Pilates teacher.
DeBouver hurt his back during a tough Saturday-morning boot camp, then slipped on ice and hurt it again during a March snowstorm. Since then he has missed some of the official Fittest Loser workouts and boot camps, and has done others using less-strenuous modified exercises. But his real workouts have been arranged privately between him and his mom.
"My mom is the owner of Pilates Plus and she has been taking time out of running her business to provide me with 1-on-1 Pilates sessions since Week 4," he said. "We focus on strengthening my core and my stabilizing muscles to reduce strain on my back."
But DeBouver said his family back home in Schaumburg also has been "extremely supportive."
"I live with my wife, daughter and two dogs. My wife, Jennifer DeBouver, helps pick up the slack with all things involved in taking care of our daughter and maintaining the house and chores. She also has been very supportive with the dietary changes and eats what I can have most of the time."
Jennifer also has benefited from that new food regime, he added. "We haven't tracked her weight loss, but she has shrunk one or two jean sizes."
Contestant Penny Brown, a 37-year-old Navy veteran from Fox Lake, said she lives with her husband and their two children, 11-year-old Hayden and 9-year-old Payton. And she says her husband often pays the price for her Fittest Loser activities.
"My husband works nights so ever since the challenge has started, he has been going with little to no sleep so I can make it to my workouts and obligations," Brown said. "He has to get up to get our boys from school and their various after-school functions."
Early in the contest, she said the kids still were often eating fast food. But "we have been grilling out more now that the weather has gotten nicer and they have been making healthier choices" about what they eat, she said. And Payton does four hours of karate and jujitsu a week.
"Unfortunately there hasn't been any weight loss for them," Brown said, while she has lost 30 pounds -- including eight in the past two weeks -- and is below 200 for the first time in 14 years.
Brown, who works in the cafeteria of a school, said that "the four ladies who work with me in the cafeteria know about the contest. They have all been really encouraging and supportive, especially my friend and co-worker Sonia. She's one of my biggest supporters and she helped me make the ultimate decision to do the challenge.
"We work around food all day long at work, and when there are potatoes on the menu, they help make sure I'm not giving into my temptation to eat them because potatoes are my weakness," Brown said.
Contestant Tony Wiszowaty, a 68-year-old Marine Corps veteran, lives in Schaumburg with his wife, Bonnie, and her brother George, who has had heart and kidney transplants and is suffering from cancer.
"Bonnie and George are not following the diet but that does not affect me at all," Wiszowaty said. "Bonnie gives me emotional and vocal support and encouragement."
"I do a lot of cooking in the house," says Wiszowaty. "So I cook for me and for them. My wife recently had shoulder replacement surgery. Neither of them exercise nor have they for years."
Co-workers also can help keep contestants stay on the straight and narrow.
Wiszowaty said that in his work as a Realtor in Schaumburg "all my co-workers know about the challenge and support me and encourage and give me moral and emotional support. Many of them want to lose weight, but don't have either the time or the will to do what it takes to lose the weight.
"Many of my friends and past clients have seen the articles in the paper and have called me to congratulate me and encourage me," Wiszowaty said. "All my sisters and nieces and nephews and my aunt know about the challenge and encourage me. My sisters have all asked me to help them lose weight and to give them tips on how to do it.
Contestant Russ Page of Antioch, a 60-year-old Air Force vet, said his effort has been made much easier by having a wife who is also following the Push Start eating plan and applies effort and imagination to its foods.
"We cut out carbs and glutens -- wheat and pasta -- in January, before the challenge began, and it made a difference," Page said. "My wife, Diane, is an imaginative cook. She does things with vegetables that make you not miss what you have cut out. She makes baked brussels sprouts and baked cauliflower and salads with a lot of ingredients, such as coconut oil, that make them interesting."
Page said he and Diane end up consuming much of their "fat" food group items in the form of nuts. And for extra protein to flesh out five meals a day they sometimes use a commercial but organic protein powder made from plants or the "whey" part of milk.
The importance of veterans' families was brought home to Page at a recent event. Page said hearing from the two Gold Star mothers at last week's Challenge 22 event underlined that "we need to remember to thank the spouses, sons and daughters who also serve … often in silence, in a strange place and alone while the service member goes about their task.
"All too often as soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are called away, they wait in quiet service. So remember their service too."