'This changed my life': 'Fittest Loser' winner from Schaumburg
Halfway through the Daily Herald's "Fittest Loser" contest, Ed Poczatek said that even if he came in last, he would be a "big winner" if he was able to get fit again, and maintain it.
His jaw dropped Tuesday night when he learned he was the champion of the 11th annual competition.
"What a great gift I was given to take part in this," he told the crowd at the finale party at Chandler's Steakhouse at the Schaumburg Golf Club.
Poczatek, of Schaumburg, had previously participated in several "Fittest Loser At Work" competitions; in 2013 he tied for first place as an individual finisher, when he lost 44.6 pounds.
But then came cancer. There was surgery, followed by radiation treatments, followed by quarterly chemical treatments that prevent the cancer's recurrence. The medication zapped his energy. Lethargic, he regained the weight he had lost, and then some.
"I felt as if the game was over. This (contest) changed my life," he said.
This time, he lost 53 pounds, or 22.5% of the 236 pounds he started with.
"There's no hiding. It gets real serious when you see your picture in the paper every week!" he said.
The contest began in February with weigh-ins, checkups and "before" pictures. The five contestants then attended weekly Saturday-morning "boot camps" together at Push Fitness in Schaumburg, and worked with a personal trainer twice a week. Besides exercising, they learned about diet and nutrition.
Annamarie McMurray, 69, of Schaumburg joked about how Push Fitness owner Joshua Steckler pushed the former non-runner to keep trotting during The Human Race 5K race in Downers Grove. "'I'm going to lay down in the grass. Call the ambulance for me,'" she told him a quarter-mile before the end, but Steckler prodded her to keep going. So did two Fittest Loser competitors, 42-year-old Rick Meyers and Poczatek. They had finished the race but doubled back to accompany her to the finish line.
One contestant, the Rev. Melissa Hood of Elgin, had to drop out at the end of April, because she suffered a stroke. She is recovering nicely, according to Eileen Brown, the Daily Herald's vice president of strategic marketing. Brown, who was the emcee, read an email from Hood, who had lost 24 pounds before falling ill.
Meyers came in second, losing 65 pounds, a 21.7% drop.
Diet was the toughest thing for third-place finisher Bob Sinclair, 64, of Batavia, who lost 32 pounds, or 17.3%. "I was a junk-food addict. Soda was my No. 1 downfall," he said. That, and his daily 3 p.m. coffee-and-dessert routine.
Now, it's just coffee, no pie or cookies. And when he craves a Diet Coke, he reaches for a bottle of water, he said.
The crowd gasped as a physician from Amita Health announced changes in their blood-sugar and cholesterol tests. Sinclair's triglyceride count dropped from 268 to 86; he went from being diagnosed as a Type II diabetic to prediabetic.
McMurray's total cholesterol dropped 90 points, to a level where she won't need medication. She lost 16.7% of her weight, or 32 pounds.
It was the seventh year of the "At Work" competition. Fifty-one teams, with 255 members, lost 4,882 pounds total.