Robust support systems keep Fittest Loser contestants going strong

  • Barbara Simon and other Fittest Loser Challenge participants now have to rely on more self-motivation after workouts moved from the fitness center to home.

    Barbara Simon and other Fittest Loser Challenge participants now have to rely on more self-motivation after workouts moved from the fitness center to home. John Starks | Staff Photographer

By Colette Harris
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 4/5/2020 10:39 AM

A strong support system has always been integral to Fittest Loser success, but never more so than during the 2020 contest. As competitors transform living rooms into weight rooms and basements into cardio centers, support on the home front, from their trainers and from friends and family, has never mattered more.

With the support pouring in, contestants push on with the Fittest Loser Challenge, serving as healthy lifestyle role models for their families, Team Challenge participants and their communities at large.


With the COVID-19 stay-at-home order in effect, Push Fitness trainers are providing virtual support to the four contestants. They stay in touch to provide words of encouragement, check their food journals and send different workouts to do based on equipment available to each individual trainee.

While contestants are still receiving virtual support, their success this year will depend even more on their own internal desire to maintain the diet and fitness plan.

Fittest Loser contestant Barbara Simon with trainer Patrick Stille.
Fittest Loser contestant Barbara Simon with trainer Patrick Stille. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

"Patrick (Stille) has been awesome in that he's very encouraging of my efforts. He'll tell me when I've done a good job or when I need to push harder," contestant Barb Simon said of her Push Fitness trainer. "He's figured out what my limits are and he knows to push me past those limits."

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Aside from their Push Fitness trainers, immediate family is the bedrock of competitors' support systems. Simon's biggest supporters are her husband, Scott, and kids, Danny and Sam. They remind of her of what a great job she's doing and let her know when it looks like she's lost weight. Simon's children sometimes walk with her to keep her company while exercising in her neighborhood.

"The most important thing for me is to be a good role model for my kids. They have seen me try and fail with so many diet and exercise plans, and for them to see me actually sticking with the Fittest Loser program means so much to me," Simon said. "I think it's important for me to set a good example healthwise so they can learn healthy habits they can carry on to adulthood."

Simon said her Facebook friends have also been awesome about showing their support. Having so many people cheering her on and looking after her best interests has helped her stick with the program to become leaner, healthier and stronger. The extra support is helping tremendously during the stay-at-home order, when it could be easy for Simon and her fellow contestants to skip a workout or stray from the eating plan.

Simon said she's in the Fittest Loser for the long haul, not just when it's convenient. The outpouring of support has made it easier to maintain her routine, even when sitting on the couch eating comfort foods sounds heavenly.

Fittest Loser contestant Jennifere Lux with her trainer, Steve Amsden, at Push Fitness in Schaumburg.
Fittest Loser contestant Jennifere Lux with her trainer, Steve Amsden, at Push Fitness in Schaumburg. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

Jennifere Lux's family, friends and co-workers have also been huge supporters since the 12-week contest began, but Lux said her biggest supporter has been her son, Tristan. He's always ready to give a compliment and hold her accountable; he asks her every day if she's worked out yet.

One of the reasons Lux applied to Fittest Loser was to be a role model for health and wellness for her family. Now that she's competing from home and her son watches her and occasionally works out with her, modeling healthy behaviors has never been more important. Lux now has the opportunity to show Tristan how hard she's working and how it's possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle, even though she's had to adjust everything about her workouts over the last few weeks.

"I don't own weights or anything you would find in a home gym, so I've had to improvise. I just ordered a yoga mat and strength bands," Lux said. "I also get outside as a workday allows it. Nice long walks with my dog not only get me moving, but make me feel better."

Her trainer, Steve Amsden, sends messages of motivation and information, and exercise videos. He said he's impressed with her improved mental toughness and positive attitude toward training. Co-workers and friends continue to offer words of encouragement and check-in with her as the contest progresses.

Lux's fellow competitors also motivate her to keep going. Even though it's a contest, they're all in it together and want the best for one another, especially during these uncertain times.

"I have to continually remind myself that, even in the big picture with everything going on, this is still important. My health and the other contestants' health is important," Lux said.

Van Dillenkoffer with trainer Michelle Jeeninga.
Van Dillenkoffer with trainer Michelle Jeeninga. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

Van Dillenkoffer helps support fellow contestants by reminding them that Fittest Loser is a marathon and to continue putting in the work, even when the pounds don't come off as quickly as they'd hoped. He and the others are trying to keep the mood light by sending funny and motivating emails and texts to the group.

All the support Dillenkoffer gives he gets in return when family and friends send words of encouragement and compliments his way. Although they can't train together at Push, Dillenkoffer continues to get support from Michelle Jeeninga, who send him at-home workouts to do and encourages him with positive feedback. He's confident he'll be able to continue doing these workouts with the proper form she's taught him well beyond the end of Fittest Loser.

The encouragement keeps Dillenkoffer focused on achieving his goals of creating better eating habits, exercising each day, and setting specific goals to beat each week. If he ever needs motivation to keep going, he can turn to Jeeninga, one of his biggest role models.

"Her daily habit of getting up so early to workout, then having to drive to and from work from Indiana to Schaumburg each day, is certainly a testament to her dedication and commitment to her profession," Dillenkoffer said. "She is a very positive person to be around and it encourages me to push myself."

Fittest Loser contestant Neil Madden with trainer Nicole Caliva at Push Fitness.
Fittest Loser contestant Neil Madden with trainer Nicole Caliva at Push Fitness. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

Family, friends and co-workers make up the bulk of Neil Madden's support system. From family and friends in Chicago and Boston reaching out with uplifting messages, to his wife, Adele, doing the majority of healthy shopping and cooking, to his kids, Renee, Stephanie and Kevin, giving him workout tips and occasionally working out alongside him, their support has meant everything to Madden.

"I could not do this without the support, especially since our world has drastically changed over the last several weeks," Madden said. "It keeps me going; thinking of all the support I'm receiving and not wanting to let anyone down."

While Madden doesn't look at himself as a role model, he understands he has a responsibility to be an effective leader at home and at work. As such, he's committed to leading by example and maintaining his Fittest Loser routine during this uncertain time.

"People that I care about expect me to get the job done," he said. "I embrace that responsibility. I love it."

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