In it and winning it

They dominated from Week 1 and never came close to losing the lead.

After eight weeks, the team appropriately named In It to Win It stepped off the scales as the Tribune Chronicle-St. Elizabeth / St. Joseph Health Centers Fitness Challenge champions.

”We had some guys on this team, they really wanted to do it. They did it,” team captain Jeff Tate said. ”We led wire to wire.”

The five-member crew shed 18.4 percent of its starting weight to earn the fattest prize in the community weight-loss competition for charity. With bonus prizes, the team will send $1,400 to the Rich Center for Autism, its designated service organization.

The Wellness Warriors finished second at 15.1 percent starting weight lost, earning $920, including bonuses, for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in Niles.

Just Weight finished third at 13.9 percent, and will collect $550, including a bonus, for the YMCA of Trumbull County in Warren.

Rounding out the top five were the Lonesome Doves, 12.2 percent and $360 for Cornerstone of Hope, and the Fatagins, 9.4 percent and $315 for the Bella Women’s Center in Warren.

In all, the 255 players on 51 Fitness Challenge teams shed a total 3,237.75 pounds over the eight-week competition and raised $14,210 for area charities and service organizations.

Tate said that even though his team held a 2 percent lead and appeared untouchable going into the final week, team members didn’t coast.

“We worked hard that last week to make sure,” Tate said. ”We went to the gym two times a day.”

The results: Tony Cella lost 9.25 pounds in the final week, and 36.25 pounds overall; Joe Matig lost six pounds for the week, and 43 overall; Tate 5.75 for the week and 47.75 overall; Pete Mollica, five for the week and 46 overall; and Bob Ward four pounds for the week and 46.25 pounds overall.

“I picked the guys I knew were going to commit to it and try hard at it,” Tate said. ”Some people say they’re going to, but they don’t. I knew all these guys. They wanted to win.”

They plan to continue their better eating habits and exercise – just not as radically, he said.

“Pete, Tony and I will keep working out three times a week,” he said. But “it’s kind of hard to pass up Mom’s spaghetti every Sunday.”

Will they be back next year to defend their title?

”Chances are good that we will, but if I ask them now, they’ll say no,” he said of his teammates.

Besides, Tate said, it seems that the core members do fairly well at keeping off the pounds for a couple years, but by the third year, they’re too heavy and ready to compete.

Mollica, Matig and Cella were part of the 2007 championship team Inlaws / Outlaws. Those three plus Tate won the title again in 2010 as Never Say Never Again. And now those four plus Ward are the 2013 champs.

Scott MacMillan, captain of the runners-up Wellness Warriors, said it became obvious toward the end that his team wouldn’t catch In It to Win It.

”(But) we made our goal. I wanted 15 percent. I knew if we got 15 percent, we’d be in the money,” MacMillan said of his group based out of Ralph A. Infante Wellness Center in Niles.

The star of the Wellness Warriors was Niles police Chief Rob Hinton, who shed 46.75 pounds.

”Chief Hinton was our biggest loser,” MacMillan said. ”He said he’s at his high school weight. He looks good in his uniform now.”

But don’t look to see any of the Warriors next year, he said.

”I’m glad it’s over. I’m now officially retired from the Fitness Challenge. I am on my life fitness challenge,” MacMillan said. ”I don’t think any of us are looking to come back.”

MacMillan said he wants to maintain his weight by using exercise, nutrition and lifestyle lessons he’s learned in three years of competing. The team based out of the Mayor Ralph A. Infante Wellness Center in Niles finished second twice and third once in those three years.

While they plan to exercise from the sidelines, team members will be available to share what they’ve learned, he said.

”We’re willing to help any other team,” he said. Being accountable to a team serves as a great way to kickstart a person’s weight control goals. ”It’s fun. It’s hard to motivate yourself.”

In third place, Just Weight says it’s not over for them.

“It’s not over yet. Our journey is still continuing. Our teammates are going to continue to weigh in every Thursday,” captain Stephanie Iacozili said.

Her Warren YMCA-based team pushed hard the final week in hopes of catching the Wellness Warriors. They cut the gap in half, from a little more than 2 percent to just less than 1 percent. But the gap was too much to overcome, especially with the Warriors continuing to lose weight themselves.

“We gave it our best. I don’t think we could have done any better. It was a great competition,” Iacozili said.

The team finished second last year, falling short of the championship by less than a pound.

As for coming back next year, “We really hope not. We always say we’re hoping not,” Iacozili said.