Fittest Loser contest helps us move the needle


That was an eye-catching lead staff writer Jessica Cilella wrote about the South Elgin man who won our Fittest Loser contest. John Bohanek, she noted, "regularly fell victim to 'the four B's.' Bacon. Butter. Buffets. Bread."

Self-deprecating humor aside, the 46-year-old Bohanek -- who lost 87 pounds, one-quarter of his original weight -- had some important things to say in an emotional acceptance speech Thursday night. He talked about the weight-loss journey, how he wants to continue it (his goal is to get down to his high school weight of 210 pounds), how he bonded with his trainer and the other contestants.

Bohanek also talked about celebrity. He works at a grocery store, and mentioned that "hundreds" of people recognized him from the Daily Herald's extensive coverage of our sixth annual weight-loss contest. He mentioned this, though, not out of ego gratification, but to point out how much help a support network can be. He was buoyed by the encouragement, and when he was crowned the 2014 Fittest Loser champion, he encouraged others to do the same for anyone trying to meet a goal. "Any kind words you can say to them, help them and support them. You don't really know how far that goes," he said,

That might be the most significant accomplishment of our contest, which, of course, has its share of bombast and theatrics: We hold the event at a nice banquet hall (Eaglewood in Itasca), provide food and drink, sell raffle tickets, award prizes, set up vendor tables, show videos and photos of the contestants and pump up the DJ-operated music during the awards ceremony. The crowd of about 350 people were as enthusiastic an audience as you could ask for.

We have more winners than ever, too, after establishing for the first time this year a corporate category, allowing people to enter as a team and lose weight collectively. All told, almost 200 people entered the contest, and what's inspiring is that "the good spreads," said M. Eileen Brown, our director of strategic marketing and innovation,

"I had more than one person come up to me and say, 'I lost 40 pounds, too,'" she said.

So, who knows for sure how many people lost weight because of a fun contest. Or got healthier. Three of our five finalists were prediabetic when the contest started. After their 12-week fitness regimen, their blood work was normal.

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The Fittest Loser is just one of many special events we hold each year as a way to interact with readers, to provide a bigger bang for their subscription buck. But we also tried this week a new participatory event: At the urging of the Chicago Community Trust, we hosted five On the Table sessions, drawing together community leaders and readers with an interest in the program to discuss ways to make our communities better. We wrote spot news stories on the sessions, and all of us who hosted them compared notes the day after and discussed whether our groups achieved the goal of coming up with an "actionable" project.

The jury's still out on that, but at a minimum we shared numerous ideas and heard of several things that will make excellent stories or potential features for the paper. The sessions also provided the spark for the editorial you see at the top of this page.

No, we didn't solve our nation's obesity problem, nor are we likely to fix some of the challenges our On the Table groups illuminated. But I'd like to think we moved the needle ever-so-slightly in the right direction.

And, sometimes, that's all you can do.

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