Record setting year for At Work Challenge

In its fifth and biggest year, the At Work Challenge saw 80 teams start the competition from 75 suburban businesses. The 400 contestants came from a wide variety of companies - park districts, hotels, schools, a police department, restaurants - to name a few.

Each company formed five-person teams, who were weighed-in at the beginning and end of the 12-week challenge. More than 2,000 pounds were lost in this year's Fittest Loser Challenge.

The team that had the most to celebrate at the finale banquet was the RDI Rovers from RDI, who came in first place for the At Work Challenge, with team captain Janet Graczyk and team members Mike Hanson, Dan Aparicio, Jose Vargas, Brandon Grens and Rich Falbo.

The five-man team lost a total of 154 pounds, or 13.32 percent of their beginning total weight. The team dedicated themselves to routines that worked for each individual. For most of them, the RDI fitness center was visited every day, along with adhering to a healthier diet. "We are both excited and in awe that we won the competition," RDI captain Janet Grazcyk said. "The guys didn't really think they stood a chance of winning though they worked very hard for the past 12 weeks."

Winning team member Brandon Grens, who lost 20.17 percent of his weight, gave a nod to a lesser-known diet he followed throughout the challenge, "What I found most helpful was adjusting my diet in a way that made it incredibly easy for me to eat at a caloric deficit and take the weight off, while still maintain the energy to function at work and at the gym. That was a ketogenic diet (low carbohydrate, moderate protein, higher fat) and the more time I spent sticking to this way of eating, the more I learned about the numerous additional health benefits in addition to the fantastic results of weight loss."

The team was awarded $2,000, half from Assurance and the other half from the Daily Herald. These funds will be donated to the Special Olympics Illinois Far West Suburban Area 2, a local chapter. The organization holds a concert fundraiser once a year and the monies raised "go to the many families that cannot afford to pay for therapies and medical bills, let alone sports for their loved ones."

Members of the winning team also received $100 Deer Park Town Center gift cards, athletic shoes and insoles from Dick Pond and wireless sports earbuds from Assurance.

In a close second place came Giacomo's Ristorante Italiano with team captain Anna Maria Zito and team members Giacomo Zito, Diane Labahn, John Arciszewski and John Abbinante. Their team, TopGuns, lost an incredible 12.46 percent of their beginning total weight.

"It is possible to eat healthy in an Italian restaurant," Zito said after the winners were announced. "There are healthy things on the menu, people just don't think to order them."

She gave up the meatballs and cheese for sautéed spinach, grilled seafood and gluten-free pasta, she said.

Finishing off the top spots in the challenge, and in a very strong third place, was team Spin to Win from Mike Turco Roofing. Team captain Sue Turco with team members Carol Kowal, Jaime Keller, Celeste Guadango, Kathleen Guadango and Renee Dicaro eliminated an impressive 9.08 percent of their original total weight.

Anna Maria Zito, the fearless leader of TopGuns from Giacomo's, was honored a second time during the finale by taking the title of top overall female participant. She lost a whopping 15.98 percent of her body weight. An emotional and excited Anna, along with her husband Giacomo and the rest of the team, wore custom 2017 Fittest Loser Challenge shirts with their team name emblazoned on them.

Walter Bremer claimed top overall male participant with a stunning 21.69 percent lost. Walter and his team, Heavy Hitters from The Salvation Army Central Territorial Headquarters, were participating for the first year and certainly made it a memorable one.

Now in its second year, the Fittest Loser Champion Award was given to team captain Melissa Carnrite of Landon's Angels. She and her team are from Rabine Group. Melissa went above and beyond to communicate her team's weekly report, which included creating elaborate presentations. She persisted despite a foot injury - attending the final weigh-ins on crutches and using FaceTime to attend an activity for the challenge. The Champion Award was created in memory of Daily Herald's Gerry Alger, who passed away last year after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

  Highest male winner, Walter Bremer, and his team captain, Blythe Marinelli. Tiffany Brandt/
  Melissa Carnrite of the Rabine Group is the winner of the Fittest Loser Champion Award during the finale of the Fittest Loser competition, held at Chandler's Banquets in Schaumburg Tuesday. Joe Lewnard/
  Anna Maria Zito of Giacomo's "Top Guns" is announced as the female winner of the at-work individual challenge winner during the finale of the Fittest Loser competition, held at Chandler's Banquets in Schaumburg Tuesday. Joe Lewnard/
  Ellen Vandiver of Hoffman Estates and team Emkay of Itasca works out at Push Fitness boot camp as part of the Fittest Loser at Work challenge. Mark Welsh/
  Natalie Plucinski of Itasca and team the Itasca Townies works out at Push Fitness boot camp as part of the Fittest Loser at Work challenge. Mark Welsh/
Westin Elephants: Submitted by Mike Feigenbaum. L to R: Selawe Tau, Sara Marac, Paul Apanavicius and Mike Feigenbaum. Team Westin Elephants participated in a bucket list item - an indoor triathlon! They were both challenged and bonded as a team by the triathlon.
  Giacomo's TopGuns are the second-place winner of the At Work Challenge. Joe Lewnard/
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