2019 Fittest Loser contestants are still going strong

  • Celebrating 12 weeks of hard work during the 2019 Fittest Loser Challenge are contestants, from left, Bob Sinclair of Batavia, Ed Poczatek of Schaumburg, Annamarie McMurray of Schaumburg and Rick Meyers of Mount Prospect.

      Celebrating 12 weeks of hard work during the 2019 Fittest Loser Challenge are contestants, from left, Bob Sinclair of Batavia, Ed Poczatek of Schaumburg, Annamarie McMurray of Schaumburg and Rick Meyers of Mount Prospect. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Fittest Loser participants, from left, Melissa Hood, Edward Poczatek, Rick Meyers, Bob Sinclair and Annamarie McMurray, at the start of the 2019 Fittest Loser Challenge.

    Fittest Loser participants, from left, Melissa Hood, Edward Poczatek, Rick Meyers, Bob Sinclair and Annamarie McMurray, at the start of the 2019 Fittest Loser Challenge. Brian Hill/Daily Herald file photo, 2019

  • Melissa Hood is continuing her recovery from a stroke she suffered in the middle of the 2019 Fittest Loser contest. She credits her work in the challenge with her giving her strength to help recover. She recently was cleared by her doctor to exercise and has joined a local health club.

    Melissa Hood is continuing her recovery from a stroke she suffered in the middle of the 2019 Fittest Loser contest. She credits her work in the challenge with her giving her strength to help recover. She recently was cleared by her doctor to exercise and has joined a local health club. Courtesy of Melissa Hood

  • 2019 Fittest Loser contestant Bob Sinclair poses with his trainer Steve Amsden of Push Fitness, at the finale in May.

    2019 Fittest Loser contestant Bob Sinclair poses with his trainer Steve Amsden of Push Fitness, at the finale in May. Daily Herald file photo, May 2019

  • Since winning the 2019 Fittest Loser Challenge, Ed Poczatek has maintained his goal of living an active, healthy lifestyle. He exercises with his wife at the Schaumburg Park District and already has several running and cycling events scheduled for 2020.

    Since winning the 2019 Fittest Loser Challenge, Ed Poczatek has maintained his goal of living an active, healthy lifestyle. He exercises with his wife at the Schaumburg Park District and already has several running and cycling events scheduled for 2020. Courtesy of Ed Poczatek

  • Annamarie McMurray continued working hard after the conclusion of the Fittest Loser Challenge this year, losing a total of 45 pounds. She said her work in the contest gave her a new lease on life and she looks forward to celebrating many family events in the years to come.

    Annamarie McMurray continued working hard after the conclusion of the Fittest Loser Challenge this year, losing a total of 45 pounds. She said her work in the contest gave her a new lease on life and she looks forward to celebrating many family events in the years to come. Courtesy of Push Fitness

  • Rick Meyers lost 65 pounds during the Fittest Loser contest and continued his fitness journey by training with his family in the summer to participate in a 5K in September. A disc injury kept him out of the race. Though Meyers is now recovering from back surgery, he anticipates getting back to exercising soon.

    Rick Meyers lost 65 pounds during the Fittest Loser contest and continued his fitness journey by training with his family in the summer to participate in a 5K in September. A disc injury kept him out of the race. Though Meyers is now recovering from back surgery, he anticipates getting back to exercising soon. Courtesy of Push Fitness

 
By Colette A. Harris
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 12/15/2019 11:55 AM

The Fittest Loser Challenge may be over, but the 2019 contestants are still following the nutrition and fitness plans laid out by their Push Fitness trainers.

It's not without its challenges or ups and downs, but overall contestants have applied what they learned during the contest to everyday life, with some outstanding results.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Here's what new with last year's competitors!

Annamarie McMurray

From the beginning, Annamarie McMurray of Schaumburg said that she was using the Fittest Loser to jump-start a return to her healthy lifestyle. And she was 100 percent correct. She had lost 32 pounds by the end of the Fittest Loser, and now McMurray has lost a total of 45 pounds -- going from a size 20 to size 8 -- and continues to eat healthy and exercise consistently.

After the competition, she continued working with her personal trainer and owner of Push Fitness in Schaumburg, Joshua Steckler, for several months. She also regularly attended Tabata, Pilates, boot camp and yoga classes at Push Fitness. She believes people should be active every day, even if it's just a walk around the block. She works out five times per week, sometimes two or three times per day. Now that she's reached her goal, she said Steckler told her it's time to maintain her weight; there's no need to drop more pounds.

"The first two weeks of the challenge, I thought, what did I sign up for, but now it's easy," said McMurray. "I'm used to it now; it just comes naturally."

If you stop by McMurray's house today, you won't find any "junk" food in the kitchen, but you'll see plenty of almonds, walnuts, fruit and lean proteins. Although she cooks at home a lot, she'll head to any restaurant you choose and she'll always find something healthy on the menu. At parties, expect her to pass on those delicious-looking desserts.

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"You have to be conscious about what you put in your mouth," said McMurray.

In January, McMurray will celebrate her 70th birthday. She's looking forward to taking a few trips and watching her family celebrate major milestones. McMurray's husband passed away a few years ago and she said before Fittest Loser she was depressed. The contest has given her a new lease on life and helped her move forward after that difficult time. She said she has a lot of life left to live and is even thinking about participating in Fittest Loser at Work this year. She encourages anyone interested in applying to go for it.

"If I can do it at my age, anybody can do it," said McMurray.

Ed Poczatek

Ed Poczatek of Schaumburg was crowned the 2019 Fittest Loser by dropping over 50 pounds, shaving eight inches off his waist, and losing 22.5 percent of his body weight under personal trainer Michelle Jeeninga's guidance. Poczatek has mostly maintained his weight loss and only gained 16 pounds back since May. Overall, he feels great and is looking forward to continuing to exercise and eat healthy to drop a few more pounds.

"Fittest Loser was a game changer and I am still grateful for the opportunity," said Poczatek.

Poczatek participated in boot camps at Push Fitness for some time after Fittest Loser ended. During the summer he remained active by golfing and cycling -- his new go-to workout. He's participated in several 50-mile plus cycling events with Elk Grove Friends of Cycling and he and his friends are slated to complete Evanston Bicycle Club's North Shore Century in September 2020. He's also continuing to run and has signed up for several 5Ks in 2020. Poczatek and his wife have joined the fitness program at the Schaumburg Park District and regularly exercise together.

Poczatek continues to follow the nutrition plan Jeeninga developed for him during Fittest Loser. His sodium intake is much lower and he said his diet is devoid of any canned goods. Poczatek said he hasn't had a doughnut in almost a year and has lost the desire to have any pastries. Of course, like anyone else, he'll occasionally indulge, but he's able to get back on track quickly. At work, he regularly passes on office snacks.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I see it (office snacks) every morning and I just have to walk right past. I'm totally unfazed by it," said Poczatek.

Poczatek, 65, is in good health and has a resting heart rate of 56 beats per minute, which his fitness tracker rates as "excellent" for his age. After seeing his results, he encourages people to take advantage of Fittest Loser opportunities.

"This was a phenomenal gift and it's not an opportunity that presents itself every day," said Poczatek. "Anyone thinking of improving their endurance, lifestyle, or health should do it."

Rick Meyers

Rick Meyers of Mount Prospect, lost 65 pounds, eight inches off his waist, and 21.7 percent of his body weight by the end of Fittest Loser. After the contest, Meyers continued to follow the plan that Push Fitness and his trainer, Patrick Stille, devised and maintained his new weight of 235 pounds. Going for regular runs outside was one of the aspects Meyers enjoyed most about training. He continued to run over the summer and even signed his family up for a September 5K. Throughout the summer, Meyers took his kids on regular runs after breakfast to prepare for the race.

Prior to Fittest Loser, Meyers had struggled with several injuries. Luckily, nothing plagued him during the competition, but in August, Meyers reinjured his back. An MRI revealed that he had again herniated a disc. He underwent back surgery on Sept. 1 and unfortunately could not participate in the 5K with his kids. Meyers, a police officer, is on light duty at work and can only exercise under doctor supervision. He hopes by the end of the year he'll be released to full duty and is able to return to a more robust workout routine.

Despite the injury, Meyers is doing his best to maintain healthy habits. He said Fittest Loser was one of the best things he's done in recent years and the memories from the contest are ones he will carry with him for the rest of his life.

"I'm struggling because of my injury right now, but I'm slowly getting back to where I want to be," said Meyers.

Bob Sinclair

Fittest Loser was an "eye opener" for Bob Sinclair, who lost over 30 pounds and six inches off his waist while training with Steve Amsden at Push Fitness. He's kept most of the weight off, only gaining eight to nine pounds back, and overall he's feeling good.

Sinclair has maintained the nutrition plan he followed during the challenge. He's still forgoing his 3 p.m. slice of apple pie and has almost entirely cut out fast food, saying it's just a "no go." Occasionally he'll "cheat" with a salad from Portillo's, but he's mostly sticking to salads he makes at home, protein shakes, and fruits and vegetables for snacks. For Thanksgiving, Sinclair made a fruit turkey as an appetizer for him and others to enjoy and watched his portion sizes that day.

Sinclair works out about three days a week, but wishes he could dedicate more time to exercise. His goal is to drop down into the 180s by the end of the year and continue to lose weight in 2020. To do so, he's planning to add in more workouts to mimic the exercise routine he followed during the challenge.

"I want to rev things up again," he said.

Sinclair is most proud of how Fittest Loser has improved his overall health. Post challenge tests showed that his cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and blood sugar came down dramatically. Several months post contest, those new numbers have held steady and are within the normal range for his age group.

Sinclair advises new competitors to give the contest everything they've got and to remember that it's more about accomplishing your goals than claiming a title.

"Fittest Loser is a competition against others, but it's also a competition against yourself. Set a goal, not to beat others, but to reach your own goal. It's your health that's at stake," Sinclair said.

Melissa Hood

Melissa Hood, 52, of Elgin, trained with Nicole Caliva at Push Fitness and had lost 24 pounds as of April. A few days before contestants ran a 5K together, Hood suffered a stroke. She received medical attention in time and is continuing to recover. Although she could not complete the challenge, she said the strength and endurance she gained while she was a contestant has aided her recovery.

After several months of recovery, Hood is back to work full time. Just a few weeks ago, Hood's doctor cleared her to return to exercise. Exercising might look different now because of nerve damage in her right arm and hip from the stroke, but Hood has joined a local health club and is excited to begin building up her fitness routine slowly, but surely. She'll use insights gained from Fittest Loser to guide her.

"I appreciated learning more about my body," said Hood. "I gained confidence and saw a glimpse of what was possible for my body."

The challenge is hard work, but good work according to Hood. Contestants will be challenged more than they can know and must dig deep to push through, but contestants say it's all worth it in the end.

Five new contestants will soon take on the Fittest Loser Challenge. Be sure to follow their stories beginning in February 2020!

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