May 12, 2010

‘Healthiest Loser’ competitors improve their lives

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The numbers are amazing.

The Southern Illinois University Carbondale students lost 134.5 inches, a drop of 25 percent in their body compositions, and tipped the scales at 125.7 pounds less than they did just a few weeks before.

And that’s not all. They gained flexibility, reaching 38.3 inches further during the “sit-n-reach” than they did before they began the Saluki’s Healthiest Loser competition. They logged 341 more YMCA bench presses in the test that required them to press at a specified tempo to remain active in the count. In addition, they upped their crunches by a total of 260 per minute and they experienced significant drops in blood pressure and resting heart rates.

And it was all thanks to their hard work and SIUC’s version of the popular television reality show, “The Biggest Loser.” The Saluki contest wasn’t just about losing weight though. The goal was helping contestants improve their lives and overall health.

“This program continues to support our students in their individual efforts to educate and put into practice a healthier lifestyle. I believe programs like this fulfill our mission helping SIUC students achieve -- one student at a time,” said Lynne Thompson-Cundiff, assistant director of fitness for Recreational Sports and Services.

The 16 contestants participated in eight weeks of training sessions, nutrition seminars and challenges. They worked with certified personal trainers, underwent medical screenings and fitness assessments, diet analysis and more. One group trained early in the morning with Alan Beck while another logged its hours at the gym in the evening with Britney Hall. Both groups recorded weight loss, increased lean muscle mass, improved flexibility and lifting strength and decrease in body fat percentage.

Contestants also reported improved posture and having to use inhalers less. They praised the contest as a great motivator and also credited it with helping them forge new friendships.

The top three finishers for the event claimed Banterra Bank “Training for Life Scholarships.” Eric Hoffmann of Elk Grove Villagewon top honors and got three 30-minute massages along with 16 sessions with a personal trainer at the Student Recreation Center. The senior mechanical engineering major said his primary objective in entering the contest was “to become a healthier person.”

“I have struggled being overweight for a long time. In high school I was very active in sports so I was content being a little heavy. When I came to SIU, I weighed about 240 pounds but in my four years here I gained a bunch of weight. My max weight of 295 is what really made me rethink what I was doing to myself. I knew I needed to make a change. I have always tried to go to the gym but I would go for a few months then get off schedule and gain more weight. The SHL competition ended up being exactly what I needed to commit to change my life. After learning that I won the competition I was ecstatic. I worked really hard during the training and more so made a big change in my diet. Really just being in the program is winning. It has truly changed my life. Winning was really just the icing on the cake,” Hoffman said.

“Well, actually, no cake -- just some tasty fruit,” he quickly added.

Hoffman, a member of the morning exercise group, said he and the other group members were very close after weeks of working together and he praised Beck for challenging them. He said he learned a lot about various types of exercise and eating healthy.

“The contest was a life-changing experience,” Hoffman said. “I am currently and plan to use all that I learned from the program for the rest of my life.”

He lost 23 pounds and 13.5 inches during the competition and experienced decreases in his blood pressure and resting heart rate. He continues to drop weight and improve his health, he said. He uses an online food tracking service, helping him keep track of what he ingests and that’s enabled him to drink more water, eat a lot of fiber, and simply keep track of the calories and what he’s taking in.

Hoffman discovered he enjoys rowing. He is also now training to participate in a 5K run this summer, eventually hoping to work up to running in a 10K or even a half-marathon. His goal is to be down to 215 pounds by mid-July.

Taking the second prize of three massages and 12 personal trainer sessions was Lisa Furby from Carbondale. The third prizewinner, also claiming massages along with eight trainer sessions, was Samantha Sellers of Makanda.

The 2010 Saluki’s Healthiest Loser contestants, listed by hometown along with their year at SIUC and major, are:


Beecher City

• Charlee Forson, master’s, educational psychology.


• Lisa Furby, senior, mechanical engineering.

• Sarisa Hall, senior, accounting.

• Shaunay Jenkins, freshman, healthcare management.

• Marilynn Ross, graduate, educational administration.

• Catherine Shaw, master’s, workforce education and development.


• Justin Zurlinden, junior, architectural studies.


• Angela Blakely, junior, psychology.

Elk Grove Village

• Eric Hoffmann, senior, mechanical engineering.


• Alexis Ferracane, junior, workforce education and development.


• Katherine Breen, senior, healthcare management.


• Samantha Sellers, master’s, micobiology and biochemical molecular biology



Lake Alfred

• Diana Way Akers, senior, elementary education and guidance counseling.




• Nastassia Jones, doctorate, microbiology and biochemical molecular biology.



St. Paul

• Olivia Hoskins, doctorate, clinical child psychology.


New York


• Bambi LaCroix, senior, medical education preparation.

The SIUC Student Recreation Center and the Student Health Center sponsored Saluki’s Healthiest Loser. Co-sponsors for the competition include Banterra Bank, SIH (Southern Illinois Healthcare) and Sprehe Family Foundation. Attitude Designs provided T-shirts for contestants.