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Getting fit - Georgia Southern Biggest Loser contest teaches lifestyle changes
Susan Shryock douses herself with water after completing a 5 kilometer run Wednesday as part of the Georgia Southern University's "Biggest Loser" weight loss competition.
    Georgia Southern University's fitness director Michelle Martin is a bit of a task master — for health, that is.
    This spring, working through the university’s Recreation Activities Center, she enrolled nine GSU students and employees into the university's own Biggest Loser contest. Loosely based on the television show of the same name, the program was designed to promote healthy living and proper exercise.
    "We at the RAC came up with the program because we wanted to create a program for people with a real need. People that had experienced barriers to participating in physical activity programs, people with kids at home that interfered with physical activity in the evening," Martin said. "They were happy because it was a creative program at an affordable price and they were excited to be in a group."
    Not only did the program truly change how some of their participants view personal fitness and nutritional eating, but some of them made remarkable strides in their personal health.
    According to Martin, over the course of 12 weeks, the nine participants lost a total of 162 pounds. One person lost almost 40 pounds and, on average, each person lost nearly 20 pounds. They also lost a collective 111 inches from their hips and waists.    
    One person successfully stopped taking blood pressure medicine. One drastically reduced the amount of cigarettes they smoke. and all of them improved the amount of physical activity they could perform.
    Melissa Deal, a GSU financial aid assistant, couldn't even finish a mile when the program started. On the day of the final challenge, she successfully completed a three-mile course — three laps around the grounds surrounding the RAC.
    How does it feel to finish three miles?
    "Wonderful, but I couldn’t have done it without (RAC trainer) Justin — he was great," Deal said. "They’re very supportive (at the RAC)."
    Deal said she received a lot of support from her co-workers.
    "The ladies that I work with in the office are going to be excited (for me)," Deal said.
    Susan Shryock, an assistant at the GSU Museum, struggled with even the simplest of physical challenges when the program started. Now, she wants to be a role model for seniors through the GSU and Statesboro community.
    "I did it for a real personal challenge. I wanted to prove that a senior citizen could keep up with these young people," Shryock said. "I had almost perfect attendance. Now, I didn’t come in first at anything but I finished everything. I feel absolutely better. When I started and they did our assessment, I could only do one push-up – now I can do 20.  It’s a great program. I hope they continue it."
    Torri Williams is an administrative assistant in the admissions office. She said the last 12 weeks were an eye-opener for her.    
    "Actually, this program has changed my life. At first, I was a little wary about it, but I was excited about trying. Now, it’s a total lifestyle change,” Williams said. "It’s not just about losing the weight or the inches – though that’s been great – the most important part is that I have life now. I know how to be live my life every day to be healthy, to be physically fit, emotionally fit and spiritually fit."
    Williams was asked what aspect of her lifestyle has changed the most.
    "My eating is a complete 180. The work that I put out in order to accomplish my goals, my eating had to change," Williams said. "After I work out I don’t feel the need to get a half-gallon of ice cream. I feel like I need to eat a salad or some salmon — it’s just changed."
    "My running also saw noticeable improvement. It’s an awesome change."
    Martin plans to keep track of the participants’ progress over the next 12 months to see the effect of their new lifestyles on long-term health.
    "We hope to eliminate some insurance claims and help bring health care costs down," Martin said.
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