Fittest Loser: How friends, family and community are propelling contestants toward the finale
At a recent Saturday morning boot camp, contestants were asked to pick up to two kettlebells each, with each contestant carrying a different total amount of weight. The weight of the kettlebells represented the amount of weight each has lost since the start of Fittest Loser.
Together, they've lost well over 100 pounds.
They've made tremendous progress, but they couldn't do it alone. Meet the people behind their success.
Melissa Hood was down 24 pounds heading into the last full week of April and was eagerly anticipating running a 5K once again.
Just days before The Human Race, Hood suffered a stroke while speaking on the phone. Hood doesn't remember much as she was taken to the emergency room and then transferred by helicopter to another hospital.
Luckily, Hood received medical attention in enough time to receive crucial medication to mitigate damage from the stroke.
"By the time I was about to land at the hospital, things started to come back together," said Hood who went from being unable to understand people or be understood, to regaining her speech and cognitive abilities.
Hood said if you don't know her you would be unable to tell that she has any lingering effects from the stroke. She will begin physical, occupational, and speech therapy soon to address a few mild issues that remain. However, she is unable to continue with Fittest Loser.
"I don't think I've fully processed it," said Hood of being unable to compete. "I haven't quite figured out what that means for me."
Overall, Hood was pleased with her Fittest Loser experience and can see that she is much more fit than she was just a few months ago and more confident in her body and ability to move.
In February, Hood said she'd watched the trainers demonstrate exercises and think, "You want me to do what? No, I don't move like that." By the end, she could hold planks and do a series of jumping jacks without issue.
Throughout Fittest Loser Hood had the support of her husband, Carl, her family, and the community.
After her stroke, that support became even more apparent as her fellow contestants and the team at Push Fitness sent her well wishes. Although unable to participate in the final weeks of the challenge, Hood has already left the competition with a few key take-aways.
"Being older and struggling with health, there is always an opportunity to improve your situation through diet, exercise, and loving relationships," Hood said. "There is always something to look forward to."
Annamarie McMurray only has two pounds to go to reach her trainer, Joshua Steckler's goal of losing 30 pounds over the course of the contest.
McMurray is pushing hard to meet her goal and Steckler is by her side and supporting her every step of the way. He checks her food journal during their sessions and keeps an eye on her form during her workouts to make sure she's getting the most out of every exercise and performing them safely.
"If you're not doing something correctly, he will always take the time to explain how to do it the right way," said McMurray.
In addition to Steckler, McMurray's support network has rallied around her these past few months. Everyone from friends to family to fellow contestants are doing what they can to help her achieve the best result possible.
Her friends recently chipped in and bought her new workout clothes. Her brother and his family are also a source of encouragement. Her sister-in-law and nieces are runners and they are eager to bring her into the fold and have her pound the pavement with them.
In addition, McMurray is encouraged that her healthy habits are rubbing off on her brother, who is looking to incorporate healthier habits into his life.
The support of her fellow contestants also means a lot to McMurray. The contestants see each other when their personal training sessions overlap and at the Saturday morning boot camp, but McMurray especially enjoys when competitors join her for Tabata or Pilates classes at Push Fitness.
As the contest wraps, McMurray is confident she'll be able to continue following the diet and exercise plan laid out by Push Fitness. Prior to the contest she'd already made up her mind that she needed to take a different approach to her health. She had the willpower and energy to do so; she just needed some guidance on how to make the change. Fittest Loser gave her that.
"It can't be a temporary fix," said McMurray. "It has to be a permanent lifestyle change."
Rick Meyers has lost over 50 pounds in only a few months and is well on his way to achieving his goal of dropping 75 pounds.
The end of the contest is bittersweet for Meyers. Fittest Loser has shown him that he's capable of things he never thought possible, like running a 5K and incorporating exercise into his workout routine that he used to worry would flare up old injuries.
"I haven't given myself enough credit. I've been making excuses and thinking that I can't do things, but this contest has shown me that if I put in the effort, I can," Meyers said.
The entire Meyers family has been putting in the effort to help Rick succeed.
His wife and kids have been following his eating routine as well and, although they've got a real hankering for pizza, they're waiting until the contest is over before indulging.
Fittest Loser commitments and long work hours currently prevent Meyers from seeing his family as much as he'd like; but he said they understand and know that he's putting in the effort now so he can spend time with them this summer doing things they all enjoy.
Friends and family have noticed his transformation and it's encouraging to Meyers when they mention it and ask what they can do to make changes like he did. Meyers is also grateful for his trainer, Patrick Stille's support.
"I could not have asked for a better trainer," said Meyers. "He was laid back, but he pushed me."
Ed Poczatek is grateful for his Fittest Loser experience. Participating in the contest allowed him a glimpse of what his fitness level can be again.
While he said he still doesn't have the endurance he did before, he knows he's going to get it back. For Poczatek, the end of the Fittest Loser is just the beginning.
"I'm doing my body, health, and brain good and I want to continue," said Poczatek.
Poczatek's support has come in many different forms over the last few months. A new FitBit has helped him track his steps, sleep, and average heart rate. Being accountable to getting the recommended shut-eye and steps has helped him keep his fitness on track and is something he plans to continue using post-competition.
His trainer, Michelle Jeeninga, makes sure Poczatek does his best to stick with his exercise and nutrition plan. Through it all, his wife, Terrie, has been his rock.
"She's my number one cheerleader," said Pockzatek.
His childhood friend and the doctor he credits with saving his life, Dr. John J. Walsh, has also supported him through the contest, as well as Lee Wisniewski, the trainer he works out with at the Campanelli YMCA.
All the support has buoyed Poczatek's belief in himself.
"I'm doing something I didn't think at this stage of my life was possible," said Poczatek.
Bob Sinclair credits his success throughout the contest to the camaraderie among the contests, the team at Push Fitness, and his friends and family.
Working toward a common goal with the other contestants really motivated Sinclair to put his best effort forth and it's paying off -- he's down 30 pounds.
The contest has gotten him in the habit of eating healthy and working out and he doesn't expect that to change any time soon.
Sinclair's clothes are loosening by the day and he credits his trainer, Steve Amsden, for that result. Additionally, his significant other, Mary, has helped him stay on track.
"She's encouraged me in so many different ways," said Sinclair.
Both he and Mary are developing the same healthy eating habits and make exercise a part of their daily routine. You can often find them riding bikes, walking outside or working out together at the gym.
Sinclair's sister, Joan, reads the paper every week and is always there to provide extra encouragement.
His sons are thrilled with the progress their dad has made and Sinclair is happy that he has more energy and strength to play with his grandchildren.
The Fittest Loser finale celebration will be from 6-9 p.m. Tuesday, May 14, at Chandler's Banquets, 401 N. Roselle Road, Schaumburg. Tickets cost $15 and include program, two drink tickets, light appetizers and a goody bag. For tickets, visit events.dailyherald.com.
• To see the Fittest Loser contestants' latest weight stats, visit pushfitnesstraining.com/fittest-loser/
Stroke AwarenessMay is National Stroke Awareness Month. It's estimated that someone has a stroke every 40 seconds in the United States. Roughly 140,000 Americans die every year from a stroke. Having a stroke can seriously impact one's health and ability to function.
When it comes to mitigating damage caused by a stroke, time is everything. Luckily, Fittest Loser contestant Melissa Hood received medical attention in enough time to receive crucial medication to mitigate damage from her stroke.
Follow the American Heart Association's acronym to learn the warning signs of a stroke. It's vital to seek immediate medical attention if you observe any of the signs of stroke. Remember to act F.A.S.T.
F: Face drooping. Face drooping to one side could be a sign of a stroke as well as face feeling numb.
A: Arm weakness. Pay attention to whether one arm is weak or numb. If one limb drifts downward it could be a sign of a stroke.
S: Speech. Can the person speak? Is their speech understandable or is it slurred? Can you understand them?
T: Time. Call 9-1-1 immediately if you notice any symptoms of a stroke