They came. They saw. They witnessed a transformation.
Roughly 400 people flocked to the Daily Herald's 2013 Fittest Loser awards ceremony on May 1 to see how six people from the Chicago suburbs have conquered their battle with weight loss.
For the past three months, these six contestants have undergone a physical transformation -- losing a combined total of 266 pounds through diet and exercise. The crowd watched video footage of each contestant at the beginning of their 12-week campaign. It cheered wildly and watched in awe when the contestants made their way to the stage. In all cases, their physical transformation was visibly obvious.
"It's amazing to see some of the changes they've gone through," said Dr. Anthony Auriemma, medical director of Alexian Brothers Weight Loss Solutions, which co-sponsored the event.
Auriemma provided medical monitoring to the contestants during the campaign. Another co-sponsor, Push Fitness in Schaumburg, paired each contestant with a trainer for the duration of the campaign.
"They came from all walks of life, but they all have one thing in common -- the desire to lose weight," said Josh Steckler, owner of Push Fitness.
Marianne Costales-Roman of Carol Stream was crowned the event's champion after losing 60 pounds -- that's 27 percent of her original body weight -- over the course of the campaign. This was a record for the highest percentage lost by any contestant during the five-year history of the event. The other five contestants in this year's competition were Joe Gundling of Hanover Park, Megan McCarthy-Cook of Hoffman Estates, Mike Paulo of Woodridge, Greg Moehrlin of St. Charles and Karen Castillo of Carpentersville.
Besides the six contestants, the contest had a new Community Challenge component this year. More than 100 people participated, in teams of five, representing their local park districts. Cheers and applause erupted when the Schaumburg Park District's Waist Management team was announced as the winning team. Collectively, the team lost 133.6 pounds, or 15.02 percent of its total body weight.
The ceremony, which took place at the Victoria in the Park banquet hall in Mount Prospect, was peppered with prizes and giveaways. More than a dozen local businesses helped sponsor the event. Guests mingled under crystal chandeliers, snacked on a healthy buffet of foods and soaked up the lively atmosphere.
"It was a great event and I was surprised to see so many people," said Michele Crown, owner of the Curves fitness center for women in Arlington Heights, another event sponsor. "We had a very busy booth, talked to at least 100 women."
Besides being a sponsor, Crown was delighted to find herself in another role. Upon arriving at the event, she purchased a few raffle tickets. It turned out to be a good investment. Crown won the grand prize raffle drawing -- a week's stay at the Biggest Loser Resort-Chicago located at the Eaglewood Resort and Spa in Itasca (a package valued at roughly $3,000).
In the end, the Fittest Loser campaign pulled its weight. According to Eileen Brown, Daily Herald's director of strategic marketing and innovation, 27 contestants have lost a total of lost 1,386 pounds in the past five years. That's a pretty hefty sum.