May 22, 2009

Harrison wins inaugural Healthiest Loser contest

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Bridget Harrison is the 2009 Saluki’s Healthiest Loser at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Harrison, a forestry graduate student from Goreville, amassed 269 points to capture a $500 Banterra Bank book scholarship in the 10-week competition. Believe it or not, Harrison said winning the contest wasn’t her original motive. Rather, she wanted to get the information and support to enable her to lead a healthier life. She said she got that and much more.

She set goals for herself along the way: drinking 80 ounces of water a day, lifting a little more weight, running a little further, little things that added up to make a big difference. She lost 22 pounds, but, more importantly, she learned how to live better and she gained self-confidence, she said.

“I felt my self-confidence grow,” she said. “I was excited to work out and challenge myself.”

She said she was “proud” when she heard her name announced as the Saluki’s Healthiest Loser, but that with all she accomplished during the contest, bringing home the prize was just a nice bonus.

“It was really life-changing,” she said. “I know that sounds trite but it was.”

She said she continues to lose weight and improve her health, setting new goals and challenging herself. In fact, Harrison said she and a friend staged a “fun” triathlon and she managed to swim 400 yards, bike five miles and run two miles in 37 minutes, coming out ahead in the contest.

“That’s unbelievable from where I started in January,” Harrison said. “All the support we got from the trainers and the other group winners and everyone was wonderful.”

Although similar to network television’s “Biggest Loser.” the scale alone did not produce the winner for this contest. Rather, contestants earned points for participating in challenges and group fitness classes, attending weekly lectures, completing homework assignments and improving their lean mass/muscle percentage, flexibility, blood pressure and weight-lifting abilities.

Jay Coronado, a Spanish secondary education major from Oak Forest, earned 258 points to finish close behind in second, earning a $300 book scholarship. Coming in third with 243.5 points and taking home a $200 book scholarship was Shenetra Franklin, a paralegal studies major from Park Forest.

In addition, the competition awarded prizes to the top male and female competitors not finishing among the top three. The American Collegiate Intramural Sports Fitness challengers won mountain bikes. Joe Janowiak, an aviation technologies major from Woodridge, was the top male finisher with 179 points. At the top for the women was Christine O’Dell, a workforce education and development major from Carbondale.

The goal of the contest was helping students make healthy lifestyle changes, according to Lynne Thompson-Cundiff, assistant fitness director for Recreational Sports and Services. Participants learned about all aspects of health in the collaborative effort involving Recreational Sports and Services, the Student Health Center, Counseling Center, Wellness Center and Department of Kinesiology.

“The Saluki’s Healthiest Loser program far exceeded our expectations for a first-time program,” Thompson-Cundiff said. “Everyone who participated benefitted but it was most gratifying to watch these students learn, adapt and make changes that will impact their lives now and for years to come. Kudos to all our sponsors, volunteers and collaborative partners, without which we could not have done this program.”

Contestants ran obstacle courses, rowed to burn calories, completed distance runs, and even survived a boot camp challenge. In all, they tested their mettle in nine challenges, earning a variety of prizes along the way. Thompson said the results were obvious in more ways than one. Contestants improved their body mass index and between pre-testing to post-testing, the combined group was able to log 535 more crunches, 265 additional bench presses and increased by 71.5 inches their results in the sit and reach test.

Also competing in the inaugural Saluki’s Healthiest Loser, listed by hometown, with major, were:


• Bloomington: Tanena Sandefur, elementary education.

• Carbondale: Danielle Armstrong, public relations; Amarnath Nagaram Chengal, electrical and computer engineering.

• Chicago: Kumberly Milan, elementary education/curriculum and instruction.

• Du Quoin: Beth Perrin, psychology.

• Makanda: Karen Orlandini, health care management.

• McHenry: Brian Placzkowski, plant and soil science.

• Monticello: Daniel Kolb, administration of justice.

• Rockford: Amara Reese, aviation flight.

• Sheridan: Mike Brown, automotive technology.


• Mesa: Danny Wenger, journalism and Spanish.


• Lufkin: Ashundra Castle, medical education preparation.

Event sponsors included Banterra Bank, Greg and Misty Sprehe Family Foundation, Southern Illinois Healthcare, Lush Salon, Mary Kay Moore and Dr. Marsha Ryan, Greg and Nancy Cook, Harbaugh’s Café and the Rec Sports Shop.