In the final jiggles of the scales, the race was for second place. That's because the Believers Bulge Busters ran away with the Tribune Chronicle-St. Elizabeth / St. Joseph Centers Fitness Challenge championship with a dominating performance.
Over the 10 weeks of the communitywide weight loss competition to benefit charity, the Bulge Busters shed 17.2 percent of their starting weight. That translates to 153.25 pounds between the five teammates.
Way back in second, The Well Wishers dumped 14.6 percent of their starting weight, followed by hard-charging PB's Pastry Puffs at 14.5 percent.
Reaching for victory celebration candies — but only tiny, tiny pieces of candy — are the 2011 Fitness Challenge champions, the Believers Bulge Busters. Receiving their just desserts from “team mascot” Christian Buckler are team members, seated from left, Janine Morris, Janice Buckler and Donnajean Deemer, and standing, Bruce Buckler and Steve Ferrebee.
"Believe me, I'm a surprised as you," Bulge Busters team captain Janice Buckler said. "I don't know if I'm really that competitive."
Yeah, right, her husband, Bruce Buckler, says.
"Jan wanted a decisive victory. Going into this thing, I just wanted to get into the top 10 to earn a little more prize money for our charity. My wife from the beginning said we're going to be winning it. I just nodded - and didn't believe it," Bruce Buckler said.
In Week 1, the Bulge Busters ranked 12th out of the 61 teams. They shot to fourth place in Week 2. By the third week, they were third. Then in Week 4, the Bulge Busters took over the top spot. They never gave it up.
Bruce Buckler was a believer.
"My wife was the drill sergeant," he said. "I spent 20 years in the military but she's got me beat.
"She did it in a way that was encouraging, not heavy-handed. I'd say the hallmark of this team is encouragement. We're a church. We're supposed to be encouraging."
The win lets the Bulge Busters collect $1,380 for the service organization of their choice, the Bella Women's Center in Warren, a faith-based medical office offering care, resources and information on alternatives to abortion for women facing unplanned pregnancies.
Bella Center executive director Tia Ciferno said, "We are so excited about the contest and the Believers team placing first. Amazing.
"The prize money will go to fund the ultrasound program here so we can provide no-cost sonograms to the women we will be serving who are dealing with the stress of an unplanned pregnancies," Ciferno said.
Janice Buckler said, "We continually reminded each other why we were doing this - to raise funds for our charity. We knew we had the prayers and support of our church, Believers Christian Fellowship (in Warren).
"I think we were all on the same page and we all had the same heart. I think that's what caused us to excel. We all encouraged each other."
First prize was $1,350, plus the Bulge Busters won Team of the Week honors for best single-week performance three times, adding another $30 to their winnings.
The Well Wishers netted $900 for second place for their designated charity, the American Cancer Society Relay for Life in Niles, and the Pastry Puffs earned $540 for their service organization, the Nicholson Center in Warren, a service center for adults with developmental disabilities or special needs.
Janice Buckler said the Bulge Busters did it primarily by eating lots of fruits and vegetables, and staying away from meats, sugars and white flour. To help boost metabolism, they drank green tea and used cayenne pepper to season meals. Plus, they worked out as much as three times a day toward the end.
It was a sudden, rude awakening for their once puffy bodies.
"We had kind of lost control," she said. "This (Fitness Challenge) was a good thing. It helped us get back in control."
Now they plan to maintain and even lose more.
"After all this work, we definitely want to keep it off," she said.
Janice Buckler said she lost 44 pounds. Bruce Buckler said he lost a touch more than 53 pounds and has 12 more to go for his goal weight.
"I'm walking," he said. "My wife and daughter (Janelle Buckler of the seventh-place PsyCare Shake Weight Shedders) still are going to zumba. We're watching our diets limiting intake. We're still going at it to maintain a different lifestyle. We want to lose more."
Three members of the team are signed up for a mission trip in the higher altitudes of Columbia in August, "so this was a great way to get started getting in shape for that," he said.
How about next year?
"Not me, man. I am done!" Buckler declared.
Scott MacMillan of the Well Wishers said finishing second, especially after major pushes by other teams trying to knock them off, was good.
"I'm overjoyed that my teammates and I can donate the $900 to the Niles Relay for Life," he said. "It feels great to accomplish my personal goal and win dollars for the American Cancer Society to find a cure for this horrible disease."
"I think we kept each other motivated and encouraged," MacMillan said of his team.
"Also the fight against cancer was always on my mind. I have lost two aunts and a cousin within the last year, and my parents, neighbors, fellow workers and friends are touched by this disease in their lives each day.
The team was based out of The Mayor Ralph A. Infante Wellness Center in Niles, where MacMillan is director of operations. Many of the Fitness Challenge players worked out at The Well, and many reported a camaraderie in which they encouraged each other, teammates or not.
Team captain Kristen Reichard noted earlier, "We all work at or are members of the Wellness Center. We have worked out together and have a log posted in our office where we document our weekly workouts. It has been fun challenging each other to exceed one another's workouts."
MacMillan said, "I do not plan to ever participate again but will always support anyone that does commit to this event." He even went as far as to say, "Take the opportunity to get involved in the Fitness Challenge. It could help you to live a long healthy life and also earn money for a charity."
Charging up to third place and coming within a few calories of second were the Pastry Puffs, a team that had the disadvantage of being based out of Panera Bread on Elm Road in Warren and therefore surrounded every work day by temptation upon temptation to overindulge. Actually, at least eight teams were based either out of Panera Bread stores or other Covelli Enterprises operations. It made for plenty of accountability.
The Pastry Puffs were in seventh place in Week 5, but kept pushing, snatching third in the final week.
"I just told my team to try to give it all," team captain Aaron Shaw said. "They were able to for the very last week just one big push."
Shaw himself lost a tad more than 55 pounds, taking himself down to 178 pounds. He had participated in Fitness Challenge a year ago and put some of the weight back on over the winter and holiday eating season. The reboot has helped him drop to a lower weight that what he ended last year, and said he intends to stay low.
"I don't plan on being back."
But for those who shall try next year, he says, "Make sure you have a nice, good diet plus good, decent exercises not hard core or anything and change up the diet throughout so the body cannot get used to it."
He said that for example, he began the competition by eating turkey sandwiches, switched to light peanut butter and jelly, then ended by eating a lot of broiled chicken.
He used the same theory for exercise. While he primarily used elliptical machines, every couple of weeks he would change the program on the machine so that the workout differed.
In all, the 61 Fitness Challenge teams combined to lose a total 4,114.25 pounds, an average of nearly 13.5 pounds for each of the 305 players.
And providing that all entry fees were paid up so that prize money can be awarded, area service organizations are about grow $16,480 heavier.