Fittest Loser contestants take new health habits into the future

  • The Fittest Loser contestants and their trainers all dressed up for the finale in Schaumburg.

      The Fittest Loser contestants and their trainers all dressed up for the finale in Schaumburg. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Ed Poczatek with trainer Michelle Jeeninga celebrate his win at the Daily Herald Fittest Loser finale.

      Ed Poczatek with trainer Michelle Jeeninga celebrate his win at the Daily Herald Fittest Loser finale. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

By N.A. House
Daily Herald Correspondent
Posted5/19/2019 7:30 AM

Confidence, hope, energy … these are all things the Fittest Loser contestants found by the end of the competition, in addition to losing weight and building muscle.

As a large crowd gathered at Chandler's Banquets at the Schaumburg Golf Club last week to see who would be named the 2019 Fittest Loser, it was evident that all the contestants considered themselves winners because of the positive changes they had accomplished during the contest.


Just before sundown, Ed Poczatek, 64, of Schaumburg, was crowned the Fittest Loser. The deciding factor in crowning the winner is percent of body weight lost. Poczatek lost 22.5 percent of his body weight to win the challenge.

But all the contestants look back at the competition and talk about what they learned and what they will carry forward.

Ed Poczatek

Poczatek lost 53 pounds --going from 236 to 183 pounds and shaved 8 inches off his waist.

At the finale, he was genuinely surprised to be named the Fittest Loser winner.

"I thought they misspoke," said Poczatek of when he heard his name called. "I'm still somewhat speechless."

Poczatek said he put everything he had into the challenge and is looking forward to continuing to improve his health.

He plans to continue working out at Push Fitness and hopes to be at his ideal weight, which is 20 pounds lighter, in three months.

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He's thrilled that his health has improved, but said he is still in the prediabetic range, something he hopes to change as he continues with Push.

More than weight loss, Poczatek has a new outlook on his health. Twelve weeks ago, it seemed to him like his fitness game had stalled, but Poczatek said the challenge has changed that. Not only does he feel like he can maintain his current weight, he sees the possibility of becoming even more fit.

"What a great gift I was given to participate in this," said Poczatek said.

Poczatek's trainer Michelle Jeeninga is very proud of all he accomplished. Her focus was on lowering his sodium intake and adjusting his nutrition plan to eliminate any canned, jarred, or processed foods from his diet.

This is the fourth time Jeeninga's contestant has won the Fittest Loser and she said that her expectation that clients follow a strict nutrition plan sets them apart.


"I'm proud of Ed. We had our ups and downs, but in the last three weeks of the contest he got it," Jeeninga said.

Rick Meyers

Rick Meyers, 42, of Mount Prospect lost an impressive 65 pounds -- going from 300 pounds to 235 pounds -- 8 inches off his waist, and 21.7 percent of his body weight to place second.

He went from squeezing into a size 40 pant to feeling like a pair of size 38 pants is loose. He joked that the police department will have to order him new uniforms now that the contest is over.

Meyers said he feels amazing and is very happy with the results he's seen.

"I'm most proud of my improved energy level. I have less aches and pains," Meyers said.

Although the official contest ended last week, Meyers' wellness journey isn't over. He's planning to continue with the diet developed for him by his Push Fitness trainer Patrick Stille, and his new workout routine is here to stay.

Meyers said the gym used to intimidate him, but not anymore. Moving forward, you'll find him doing three days of cardio, working out with weights two to three days per week, and using Sunday as a rest day.

Fittest Loser gave Meyers tools to maximize his workouts and showed him how to cook foods in new and healthy ways, but it also gave him more confidence in his abilities and showed him how much he can accomplish when he sets his sights on something.

Given his starting weight, Meyers thought it would take a year to see the results he's seen today. At the event finale, Stille said Meyers was one of the easiest people he's ever trained, always willing to do what needed to be done to improve.

"Don't sell yourself short. It's obviously hard work, but it's amazing what you can accomplish in 12 weeks," Meyers said.

Bob Sinclair

Bob Sinclair, 68 of Batavia dropped 32 pounds, trimmed 6 inches off his waistline, and lost 17.3 percent of his body weight to place third in this year's contest.

His trainer Steve Amsden said Sinclair took advantage of the opportunity to compete in the challenge and can use it as a springboard for maintaining future healthy habits. As Amsden said, the contestants' health journeys don't end here; the Fittest Loser is just the start.

Sinclair said he feels really good about how much weight he lost and he's confident he now has the tools to keep it off. Instead of exercising two to three times a week, he can easily work out four to five days a week.

He's found a new love of group fitness classes like the boot camp he and contestants attended on Saturday mornings. For him, working out with others who have similar weight-loss or health goals has been key to his success.

Sinclair plans to continue working with a personal trainer and exercising on his own by incorporating cardio and weight workouts into his routine. He's also thinking about participating in Bike the Drive event at the end of May.

"When you exercise really hard, you feel like you've really accomplished something. You feel really good," Sinclair said.

Annamarie McMurray

Annamarie McMurray, 69, of Schaumburg went from a size 18 dress to zipping up a size 10 from White House Black Market for the finale.

She lost 32 pounds -- going from 192 to 160 pounds -- 4 inches off her waist, and 16.7 percent of her body weight over the last 12 weeks.

"Annamarie is the perfect example of someone who makes the most of an opportunity," said Joshua Steckler, her trainer and owner of Push Fitness. "She was at Push twice a day. It was great to see that kind of dedication."

McMurray plans to continue training with Steckler and attending classes at Push Fitness. The day after the finale, she was back at Push to take Pilates and then boot camp.

Overall, McMurray said this is best she's felt in a long time. She's less depressed and has more energy.

Plus, she's taken up cooking healthy foods for herself again and can now whip up a healthy dinner in 30 minutes or less. She's sad the challenge is over; she loved everything about being a contestant.

"I had the time of my life. I won't forget it," McMurray said.

Melissa Hood

Contestant Melissa Hood was unable to attend the finale event, but she sent a note of thanks and well-wishing to be read aloud that evening.

She wrote that she was grateful to have been selected and knows that the level of fitness she achieved while competing has helped her as she recovers from the stroke she suffered in April.

Prior to her stroke, Hood had lost 24 pounds and was well on her way to achieving her weight-loss goals. Once she recovers, Steckler said she could return to Push to finish out the remaining month of the program.

At the finale event contestants celebrated their successes with friends and family and watched as the Fittest Loser At Work contestants were recognized for their amazing accomplishments as well.

Contestants, their family, and the community will always remember the challenge as an opportunity to come together to forge a path toward greater health and well-being.

After 11 years, the individual contestants have collectively lost 2,292 pounds. The number is impressive and the individual weight loss life changing for many, but Fittest Loser is about more than pounds lost.

"It's not just about weight loss. It makes people more aware of how to live a healthier life," Steckler said.

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