The stretch run is here.
Two months ago, 61 five-member teams from around the Mahoning Valley squashed the scales to begin the 10th annual Tribune Chronicle-St. Elizabeth / St. Joseph Centers Fitness Challenge. Eight of the 10 weeks of the weight loss competition to benefit charity are gone and several teams are lining up to lighten up for a float to the top.
Believers' Bulge Busters remain solidly in first place, where they've reigned since dethroning the Kings of Carz in Week 3. The Kings have held second ever since.
Diane Ellsworth, of Howland, a member of the St. Joe’s at the Mall Fitness Challenge team, works out on one of the fitness machines at St. Joe’s at the Mall. Team members blend strength training with cardio work and healthy eating.
The Busters have lost 13.6 percent of their starting weight, nearly a full 2 percent ahead of the Kings at 11.8 percent.
But the challengers are taking aim. The Well Wishers (11.6 percent) still are in third, but only by a few ticks of the tote, and PB's Pastry Puffs (11.55 percent) shot back up to fourth, nearly overtaking both the Wishers and the Kings.
"The last 10 days we plan on hitting it hard. That's our goal," Scott MacMillan of the Well Wishers said. "We were trying to stay steady. It's gotten tougher every week, I know that."
MacMillan is director of The Mayor Ralph A. Infante Wellness Center in Niles, one of the official weigh-in sites and a favorite workout center for competitors, including the Bulge Busters and the Kings.
"A couple from each team works out here. They're great people," MacMillan said. "We motivate each other. Hopefully, all three of us will be (in the top three places). The way I look at it, if we meet our goals, we should move up to second or no lower than fourth. We'd have to lose a ton of weight to get to the top."
Losing the big poundage is exactly what Aaron Shaw, captain of PB's (as in Panera Bread) Pastry Puffs, hopes to do.
"I definitely plan on making a push for the top spot," he said.
He said he continuously tries to motivate his teammates while offering suggestions for changing up workout routines and maintaining healthy, well-balanced diets. Now it's time to ramp it up, he said.
Shaw was one of the individual success stories from the 2010 Fitness Challenge when he dropped from 255 pounds to 195. After the Challenge ended, 20 pounds crept back and another 10 showed up over the holidays.
Still, this year he started at 233 and so far has dropped to 188 .
He knows quick losses tend to return quickly, but with weight management strategies, Shaw figures that once again, he will be keeping a bulk of it off.
For now, it's time to concentrate on the stretch run, he said, and that means winning.
"We're going for the whole shebang," Shaw said.
The 244 total pounds lost in by all teams this week, Week 8, was the most in a single week since Week 5, when the 61 teams combined to shed 306.75 pounds. Weeks 6 (190.25) and 7 (193.25) weren't all that great as players battled plateaus, fatigue and eh-so-what-pass-the-Twinkies syndrome.
Total weight loss through eight weeks is 3,645.5 pounds - roughly 12 pounds each for the 61 players in the Fitness Challenge.
Tips and Tasty Tidbits
The Fitness Challenge is in the stretch drive. But it's been about two months and the call of comforting junk food is strong. The official Challenge dietitian, Lauren Manusakis, is back with some ideas on healthy snacks.
''Choose low-fat, low-calorie foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables with fat-free dip, or unbuttered popcorn,'' Manusakis said.
''Keep in mind snack food calories need to be included in your daily intake, so choose your snacks wisely.''
And it will be a big help if the household is aboard.
''There is no reason why your whole family can't eat healthier,'' she said. ''Just because someone may not have a weight problem, it does not mean they don't need to eat healthier.
''The basic principal of weight loss is to eat healthier, not 'diet,' which everyone should focus on. Especially if you have young children in your household, you influence their good food choices and eating behaviors. Start young and you can help them to be a healthier adult.
''Friends and family need to be on board with eating healthy,'' Manusakis said. ''It will help your success more. A positive attitude from your supportive network will keep you on track.''
Groups We'd Like to Take to Dinner
Every year, several teams choose the American Cancer Society or its Relay for Life fundraisers as the charity for which it is playing. This year, four teams have done so - The Well Wishers, Soup's Crew, VEC Sell-U-Lites and the CIA (Calorie Inhalers Anonymous).
Kristin Reichard, captain of the Well Wishers, said, ''We picked the Relay for Life as our charity, mainly because cancer has touched all of us in one way or another.''
Teammate MacMillan strongly concurred.
''Well, my story is very long about this enemy,'' MacMillan said. ''Both of my parents are cancer survivors. I have very close friends that are survivors and have lost some good friends and relatives to this horrible disease.
''As the director of the The Mayor Ralph A. Infant Wellness Center and being privileged to be part of a city that hosts the annual kickoff of the area Relays, it has brought me very close to so many individuals that it affected.
''It hit closer to home this past December when my father was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer. He has a long road ahead of him but his prognosis is good as it was caught very early.
''Krista Beeler on our team has lost several family members to cancer, most recently a few years ago she lost her mother-in-law.
''We have all been affected in one way or another by this horrible disease.''
Relay For Life, 24-hour events held in various communities, is the signature fundraising event of the American Cancer Society. It raises money for cancer research, education and treatments as well as commemorates those that cancer has claimed while celebrating victories of battles won.
Last year, more than 1,800 cancer survivors took part in Relay for Life events in Cortland, Liberty, Lordstown-Newton Falls, Niles and Warren.
In 2010, the Society's Northeast Ohio Region raised more than $4.4 million from 48 Relays.
Where did they come up with those funky names for their teams. It's time for another reveal:
''My name is Colleen Rose and I am the captain Of the P.B. Dough Girls. P.B. is for Panera Bread (the team is one of several based out of Panera stores across the region) and the dough girl part is because we all work here around the baked goods.''
See, and you thought they were making a wisecrack about their shapes, didn't you?
Smacking of the Lips
This late-breaking bulletin has come in from Vince Peterson, captain of the We're All That team. Rather than the top 10 teams, you'll find them lurking in the second 10.
''I know you have not heard from me, but don't count us out. We have had some down moments, but we are on the rise. We are going to sell out. I will be performing liposuction on some of my teammates who are having some difficulties avoiding such things as doughnuts and McDonald's. I will be in the top 10. Don't count me out!''