While shopping at Sam's Club, Tony Wiszowaty was about to cheat on his diet with some free food samples. That's when a Daily Herald reader spotted him.
"She came up to me and said, 'I saw you in the paper. Are you supposed to eat that?'" he said, laughing.
It's that accountability from everyone -- including his Push Fitness trainer, Michelle Jeeninga, and his wife of 46 years, Bonnie -- which Wiszowaty credited for helping him win the Daily Herald Fittest Loser Challenge Tuesday night. It was one of the closest competitions in the contest's nine-year history.
Wiszowaty, 69, a former Marine sergeant and real estate agent who lives in Schaumburg, lost 55 pounds during the 12-week weight loss competition. He went from 247 to 192 pounds, dropping 22.3 percent of his body weight.
A grandfather of five, he jogged up to the podium when he was introduced during a reception at Chandler's the Schaumburg Golf Club. After being announced as the winner, he pumped his fists in the air and pointed to the sky, thanking God.
Wiszowaty said it was "a blessing" that he was chosen to be in this contest, having been at his heaviest weight ever and lacking energy to enjoy his time with his five grandchildren. He joked that he was going to celebrate by going out for a salad with vinaigrette, hold the croutons and cheese.
He also thanked his fellow competitors for being truly great people. The group plans to keep in touch.
"If they're a true representation of what our military's like, our country is in good hands," he said.
The other three contestants, all military veterans, also lost impressive amounts of weight.
Air Force veteran Russell Page of Antioch lost 54 pounds, Army veteran J.D. DeBouver of Schaumburg lost 42 pounds, and Navy veteran Penny Brown of Fox Lake lost 33 pounds.
Writer Dave Gathman, who chronicled the challenge and also participated, lost 17 pounds.
Additionally, there were 80 at-work teams, with 450 participants -- the biggest year yet for the annual challenge -- who lost a combined 2,176.5 pounds. The winning team was RDI Group. Second place went to Giacomo's Italian Ristorante and third place to Mike Turco Team 1.
The female winner was Anna Maria Zito, of Giacomo's, who lost 31 pounds, or 16 percent of her body weight. The male winner was Walter Bremer, from the Salvation Army Heavy Hitters team, who lost 45 pounds, or 22 percent of his body weight.
The challenge was sponsored by the Daily Herald and Push Fitness in Schaumburg. There were several other partners, including Amita Health and Heart of a Marine Foundation, a charity that helps local military families.
The night began with a speech by Medal of Honor recipient Allen J. Lynch, an Army sergeant, who himself has struggled with his weight. He stressed to veterans the importance of taking care of their health.
"We live for those who never came home, and that's important," he said. "You've got loved ones who are counting on you to be around."