The man who came within one pound of winning Fittest Loser Challenge 2017 says he was inspired to join the contest by a photo of him on one of his boats, holding up his trophy after a fishing trip.

He was inspired not by the size of the fish but by the protruding human belly that was visible just behind his catch.

Russell Page, 60, of Antioch, was the contest's only "career" military member -- 21 years as an enlisted-rank electronics technician in the Air Force, followed by a career as a defense-industry marketing man. During that second career, he gained 90 pounds while jetting constantly around the world. He now works as a part-time business teacher at Northern Illinois University.

Assisted by his wife (and chief family cook), Diane, Page actually had started cleaning up his eating habits and walking five miles a day more than a year before the contest began. He had held an apparently insurmountable lead in losing weight just a week before the contest ended, but then came a huge burst of a finish-line effort by Tony Wiszowaty.

"Even before I saw the Fittest Loser ad, I had lost 30 pounds," Page said. Between the beginning of the contest and its end, Page dropped another 54 pounds, or 21.6 percent of his weight at the contest's start. He lost 6 inches each from his waist, hips and chest.

The improvements to Page's body were not just external, either. The triglyceride level of his blood plunged from 207 to 107. His "non-good" cholesterol went from 151 to 103. His percentage of body fat plunged from 40.3 to 27.7.

"By altering our diets and the menu, Diane and I have both been able to benefit," he said. "Diane is very inventive in substituting vegetables for rice or pasta products to great result."

He said Diane also lost weight. But, when asked how much, he said: "A gentleman doesn't ask."

His trainer and diet counselor, Push Fitness owner Josh Steckler, said Page was "a perfect client. He's a hard worker. He knows how to take orders. I'd tell him to do something and he'd say, 'How fast? How far?' "

"I plan on exercising every other day with the skills and workouts taught to me by Josh," Page said. "I also run five miles each day now" rather than just walking that far.

"I will not revert to my previous diet, but have relaxed some of the rules. We plan on staying with the diet, but will have the occasional 'cheat day.' "

"My work with Josh changed my life," Page said. "I feel refreshed mentally, and now physically."

Because the contestants all slimmed down and became stronger, "we all win," Page said.