After weeks of grueling workouts, restrictive eating plans and even some injuries, the four participants in the 2017 Fittest Loser Challenge head toward the end of the competition.
Their final weigh-ins this past week will determine who will take home the 2017 Fittest Loser crown Tuesday, May 9. The winner is determined solely on the percentage of original weight lost during the 12-week competition.
In the final push, current weight-loss leader 60-year-old Air Force veteran Russell Page of Antioch might be at a slight disadvantage with his fellow contestants. Page had to weigh in early -- missing the official final boot camp and weigh-in May 6 -- because of his son Rusty's wedding that morning.
"On Wednesday, I turn into a pumpkin. That will have to be my final weigh-in," Page told his comrades at the second-to-last Saturday boot camp April 29. "On Thursday and Friday, I will have wedding things to do. So you guys will have a three-day advantage."
Could his days off be the opening a competitor needs to take the lead?
Maybe, but Page isn't making it easy for them.
"I've been running either in my neighborhood or on a treadmill" when not working out three times a week with trainers at Push Fitness, Page said. "I actually ran six miles straight the other morning. In fact, I did a 5K this morning before I came to the boot camp."
Marine Corps veteran Tony Wiszowaty of Schaumburg, 68, said he has been working out about three hours a day at home. "I'll go for an hour, then come back and do an hour, then come back and do another hour," he said, all while working around his real estate career. "And I've been swimming a lot."
All this exercise is a far cry from where the contestants started.
When Page, Wiszowaty and the other competitors -- Army veteran James "J.D." DeBouver of Schaumburg, 33, and Navy veteran Penny Brown of Fox Lake, 37 -- began the competition, their days of military boot camps were long past and hard workouts were a shock to the system. But now, after weekly drills, their trainers expect them to push themselves during boot camps at Push Fitness in Schaumburg.
"Everybody's squats should be perfect by now," Push Fitness trainer and Army combat veteran Steve Amsden barked at the April 29 boot camp. "Don't give me those little half squats … use your whole body! Exhale as you crouch. Go faster. Some of you look like you're in slow motion."
For the first time in weeks, DeBouver is doing almost all the same kind of exercises as the others. Early in the competition, he injured his back in a boot camp, then reinjured it a couple of weeks later falling on ice. So he had been doing less strenuous alternative exercises while working out at home with his mother -- a professional Pilates teacher.
"The injured man is working the hardest," Amsden said.
Wiszowaty joined the injured list recently after twisting his knee. As the others do jumping jacks while holding barbells, Wiszowaty lifts the weights but doesn't jump. As the fourth round of grueling calisthenics grinds on, he begins to move more slowly. Brown drops out of doing squats, exhausted. And while other exercisers are doing situps while holding barbells, DeBouver does only leg lifts.
No matter who is declared the victor, the contestants say they are amazed by their progress and feel their goals are within reach.
"I just want to make my goal -- losing 40 pounds," Brown said. "I still need eight pounds more. But when I started this, I didn't even think that would be possible."
The contestants have built a supportive camaraderie throughout the Fittest Loser experience. In addition to weekly workouts, they had other outings together, including participating in the Foodie 5K race at Cantigny; attending a how-to-shop-healthy tour of Tony's Fresh Foods in Arlington Heights; a visit to Savory Salads restaurant in Arlington Heights with tips on how to eat healthy while dining out; and getting free Brooks athletic shoes and insoles -- after a careful examination of how each contestant walks using video recording of them walking on a treadmill -- from Dick Pond Athletics in Hoffman Estates and St. Charles.
And they enjoyed a special reward outing this past week -- shopping for new outfits at Deer Park Town Center.
All three men chose to shop at the Jos. A. Bank store, while Brown picked White House/Black Market.
"I'm going to look for a dress," Brown said before her shopping spree. "Yes, I'm gonna be girlie" for the finale, she added.
After almost 50 pounds of shrinking, "I don't have any more clothes I can wear," Page said. "I grew out of my fat clothes and now I've grown out of my skinny clothes. So I need slacks and a couple shirts. Weight-wise, I'm back to 1995, when I retired from the military."
"I was a big man," DeBouver said. "When I started this, 2XL was big on me. Now I'm pretty close to XL. I have enough T-shirts so I'll probably break down and get a nice outfit. Whatever Jos. A. Bank sells -- I'm sure slacks and a button-down shirt."
"I used to wear Size 40 pants, but that was when you sucked it up and your stomach hung over," Wiszowaty said. "Now I'm down to a 36. I'll probably get a trucker suit."
In addition to their new outfits, the contestants will receive a hair styling at Avalon Salon in Deer Park.
So who will claim victory? Find out which veteran won, as well as the winning teams in the At Work Challenge, at the Fittest Loser grand finale, 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 9, at Chandler's Banquets at the Schaumburg Golf Club, at 401 N. Roselle Road in Schaumburg. Everyone is invited. Tickets are available for $15 at events.dailyherald.com/finale/.