2020 Fittest Loser contestants hope to inspire others
The newest Fittest Loser contestants are role models within their families and communities.
Now, they will serve as role models for anyone looking to challenge themselves to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
A new group of contestants gathered at Push Fitness in Schaumburg on Saturday, Feb. 15, to officially kick off the 2020 Daily Herald Fittest Loser Challenge. Over the next three months, these four contestants will dramatically change their lifestyles to not only lose weight, but also change their nutrition and exercise habits for good.
Their journeys will be documented in coming weeks here on the pages of Heath & Fitness, where readers can learn from these inspiring stories. You can also read about participants in the Fittest Loser Team Challenge for further role models.
This year's contestants are:
The 12th time's the charm for Neil Madden, 58, of Naperville, who has been applying to Fittest Loser since the competition first began in 2009. Now an official contestant, Madden said he is ready to better himself and motivate and inspire others during the challenge.
Once Madden knew Fittest Loser was a possibility, he wasted no time in beginning to transform his lifestyle. The Saturday before Super Bowl Sunday was Madden's last day eating or drinking items with added sugar. He said he often drank eight to 10 diet Cokes a day; now he's down to two. In the weeks before the contest he worked to restrict his calorie intake and is now following the Push Fitness eating plan, which has him consuming a healthy amount of calories spread out over five meals and snacks per day.
Madden began the competition weighing 320 pounds and his ultimate goal is to lose 100 pounds. In addition to weight loss, he hopes to develop healthier eating habits, increase his energy level, increase his positivity and shake up what he refers to as a stale exercise program.
"As my weight got higher, I had less energy and less ambition to work out," Madden said.
Madden was a runner until his late 30s and for the last 10 years or so he has exercised by lifting weights and riding a bike, although there have been times when he didn't work out consistently.
Just a short time after making positive changes on his own and meeting with his Push Fitness trainer, Nicole Caliva, Madden said his energy level has already increased significantly. He's sleeping better and he's open to experimenting with new, healthier food options.
"I'm counting calories for the first time," said Madden. "I'm aware of what's going in my mouth."
His wife, Adele, his three children; Renee, Stephanie and Kevin; his mother-in-law, sister and co-workers at Steel Pipe Master Distributor in Hammond, Indiana, will all be cheering for him over the next few months. Madden is looking forward not only to putting his best foot forward during the challenge, but drastically changing his eating and lifestyle habits for good.
"I am very competitive and I want to lead a much healthier lifestyle," said Madden. "The Push Fitness trainers are professionals. There is accountability. No hiding."
To Madden, being a role model means working hard, being honest, leading by example and helping others achieve their ideas of success. He strives to exemplify these traits in his every day life and will bring them to Fittest Loser. There's no doubt that he is ready for the challenge.
Barb Simon, 39, of Buffalo Grove applied to Fittest Loser because she was ready for results. She'd seen the success stories of contestants in the past and knew the Fittest Loser model was right for her.
While she's "kind of freaked out" to start this journey, her excitement definitely overrides any fear she has. Simon said at this point in her life, she knew she needed someone or something outside of herself to motivate her so she will return to healthy eating and regular exercise.
"I have tried almost every diet out there over the past few years and have never stuck with anything more than a few weeks or days sometimes," Simon said.
Between 2007 and 2012, Simon ran five marathons and participated in obstacle course races. Since then, she said her exercise routine has fizzled out and she hasn't had the same motivation to exercise as she did when she was setting goals and preparing for races.
Simon's starting weight is 243 pounds and her goal is to drop to her "fighting weight" of 140 pounds. Simon said she wants to be a better, healthier version of herself and prove to herself and her family that she can stick with a diet and exercise program for longer than a few weeks.
"My ultimate goal is to be fit enough to complete another Spartan race," she said. "My last race was in 2017, and I was woefully out of shape even then. I would be super excited to cross another finish line!"
Simon will train with Patrick Stille at Push Fitness. She's excited about getting back into shape, but is most nervous for the exercise portion of the challenge.
"I know the trainers are going to push me to my limits -- limits I've probably never reached or seen before," said Simon.
When the going gets tough, her husband, Scott, and twin sons, Danny and Sam, will be there to support her. For her part, Simon said she wants to be a good role model to her kids and hopes participating in Fittest Loser will show them how to lead a healthy lifestyle.
"I want to be the mom who my kids can look up to and say, 'This is who I want to be when I'm older.' This is the main reason I decided to apply for Fittest Loser -- my kids need a mom who is healthy and exhibits healthy habits," Simon said.
Karl, who goes by "Van," Dillenkoffer has followed the Fittest Loser Challenge for five years, and in 2020, he's getting his chance to participate. Dillenkoffer, 70 years young of Wheaton, is training with Michelle Jeeninga at Push Fitness in hopes of dropping from 244 pounds to 190 pounds or lower, if possible.
Dillenkoffer spent more than 30 years in law enforcement and is the retired Chief of Police for the village of Lombard. Now that he's fully retired, he said, it's the perfect time to participate in Fittest Loser.
In addition to losing weight, Dillenkoffer is curious to see if the challenge lowers his cholesterol numbers and if his weight loss will help him snore less during the night. In addition, he's determined to develop new eating habits and a consistent workout routine that he can maintain for the long run.
"I fully intend to maintain everything I have learned well beyond the three months of this competition," Dillenkoffer said.
Dillenkoffer has been putting his health front and center since November. He started running several miles four or five times a week, using weight machines and using his elliptical at home. He eliminated bread from his diet four months ago and he and his wife, Gloria, regularly eat salad with grilled chicken or steak several times a week for dinner. Now that Fittest Loser is underway, Dillenkoffer's focus will be even more on his health and fitness and helping other contestants do the same.
"I am very thankful for this opportunity and am looking forward to encouraging all my teammates as we all struggle to reshape our bodies and lifestyles together," he said.
By competing in Fittest Loser, Jennifere Lux is living her motto of "fit and 40." When Lux, of Wheaton, celebrated her 40th birthday, she said she realized she wasn't where she wanted to be physically and applied to Fittest Loser to change that.
Over the past few years her son, Tristan, was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the body's connective tissue, and her husband, Mike, battled psoriatic arthritis. As a natural caregiver, Lux said she put her own health and well-being aside to care for those around her.
Numerous doctor appointments for both her husband and son and increased caregiving responsibilities made it much easier to order a pizza or go through a drive-through than to spend time cooking healthy meals, Lux said.
As things have improved for Mike and Tristan, Lux said it's time to start caring for herself again. Lux begins Fittest Loser at 211 pounds and hopes to drop to 160 pounds and establish a great workout routine under the direction of Push Fitness trainer Steve Amsden.
"Stepping into the gym for the first time in years can be a scary thing, but having guidance from a trainer and knowing what you should be doing makes it so much easier," she said.
Lux is looking forward to using Fittest Loser to reclaim her health and feel comfortable in her skin again, but modeling a healthy lifestyle for her son is the main reason she applied to the contest.
"By doing this, I'm trying to be a healthy role model for my son," said Lux. "He's been so excited for me and has been my biggest support system."