Losing big to win: Slim Down contestants lose weight, gain knowledge

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Move over, reality television. The latest real-life weight loss challenge took place right here in Shelby County.

In the first Slim Down Challenge, six contestants each from Pelham and Helena competed to win a trip for two to Cancun and other prizes. The mission: Lose the highest percentage of body weight.

Dave Smith, publisher of Helena City News and Pelham City News and a health and fitness devotee, created the contest after watching such television shows as &8220;Celebrity Fit Club&8221; and &8220;The Biggest Loser.&8221;

After a call for contestants ran in both cities&8217; newsletters, more than 150 people applied. Twelve contestants and sixteen alternates were chosen based on such factors as amount of weight to lose and previous exercise and diet experience.

The four-month challenge, which began in February, employed a dual approach of diet and exercise. Contestants worked out occasionally with personal trainers at the Shelby County Branch of the Birmingham YMCA and received nutrition advice from dietitians provided by Shelby Baptist Medical Center. The teams weighed in every two weeks, competing for massages donated by Terri Ray of Renaissance Day Spa.

A male and female winner were chosen from each city May 30, to compete another month for the grand prize. The grand prize winners were announced on June 30. The results were exciting, said Smith, with every participant losing at least 20 pounds-and two losing more than 60.

&8220;Every single contestant would tell you that this challenge has changed their lives for the better,&8221; Smith said.

Grand prize winner Bo Brown of Helena, who shed 74 pounds, said he learned the importance of exercise.

&8220;Having four daughters, pastoring at the church, and working, I didn&8217;t think I had time to work out,&8221; he said. &8220;Now I realize that I don&8217;t have time not to work out.&8221;

Sabrina Murray of Pelham, the female winner, said she has shifted her approach to food.

&8220;I&8217;ll think, &8216;If I drink this soda, is one little drink worth the carbs, sugar and calories?&8217;&8221; she said. &8220;And I don&8217;t deprive myself, but instead of having a big treat, I&8217;ll have a bite.&8221;

In many cases, the contest improved not only the contestants&8217; health, but their families&8217; as well.

&8220;I had found out I had high cholesterol and blood pressure on the verge of becoming high,&8221; said Jim Barrett of Helena. &8220;The challenge has helped me and my whole family. Even my kids are eating healthier, eating more vegetables.&8221;

Murray agrees. &8220;I don&8217;t want my weight to physically prevent me from doing fun activities with my kids,&8221; she said.

Of course, the competition posed challenges.

&8220;It was hard giving up sweets,&8221; said Pelham contestant Roy Sims. &8220;I ate sugar-free Jell-O and yogurt.&8221;

Other participants included Helena&8217;s Stephanie Bess (the female runner-up), Michelle Ellis, Lisa Herren, Brian Hayes, and Todd Hill; and Pelham&8217;s Brett Burnett (the male runner-up and Pelham High head football coach), Machelle Lindsey, Tracy Jones, and Tommy Doyal. After a member of the Pelham team resigned in March, Helena alternates Doug Moore and Barrett stepped in.

Sponsors included the Shelby County Branch of the Birmingham YMCA; Shelby Baptist Medical Center; Adventure Travel, who donated the grand prize; and Renaissance Day Spa, Sha&8217; Salon, and Daffodills Boutique, who provided additional prizes.

Smith, who said he plans to hold the challenge again next year, lauded the contestants for their devotion and hard work.

&8220;I&8217;m so proud of you for making the decision to participate,&8221; he told the finalists before the last weigh-in. &8220;When you apply the principles you&8217;ve learned, every one of you is a winner for life.&8221;