On Feb. 3, seven locals began a 13-week lifestyle makeover by entering the New Year, New You weight loss challenge. Sponsored by FirstHealth Center for Health and Fitness and the Richmond County Daily Journal, the contest provided a variety of fitness and nutrition resources for select applicants who were ready to make a change in their lives. After the contestants’ final weigh-in on Friday, Center Operations Director Patti Friedman said a celebration is being planned to announce the winner and celebrate the group’s progress.
“I’ve been really impressed by Robert’s work ethic,” said T.J. Britt, the swim instructor who coaches 60-year-old contestant Robert Baxley in the pool. “I work with him on his technique, perfecting his stroke and more or less just offering encouragement.”
According to Britt, Baxley divides his time between the pool and machines upstairs.
“He has really stuck to a schedule,” said Britt. “I can see he’s losing weight, and he’s more confident in the water.”
According to assistant manager Sue Williams you can see a “New You” in contestants’ faces.
“I’ve seen such an increase in self esteem,” said Williams. “And that’s really what’s going to be the driving force as they finish the contest and keep going on their own.”
Williams gets exercise guidance from personal trainer Richard Ethridge, who has been in charge of getting contestants Wilma Huey and Maria Smith into shape.
“Richard is wonderful; he’s been training me for months” said Williams. “He’s extremely knowledgeable, and if he comes across something he doesn’t know, he’ll have it the next time you see him.”
She’s constantly on the go at work, but Williams said she has to make time to exercise.
“If you do it long enough, it becomes something that you have to do,” she said. “I could find plenty of ways to fill up my day, but I make time to work out; It’s for both my physical and mental health.”
Before personal trainer Sam Stokes began working with contestants Judy Lovin, Frances Davis and Michael Skinner, he helped fellow staff member Krystle Jones slim down.
“In our time off, Sam helped me find different ways to lose weight,” said Jones. “And I ended up losing 25 pounds between the end of October and Christmas last year. He’s awesome.”
Jones said she was impressed with the idea of the contest.
“It allows people to come in who may not have been able to otherwise,” she said. “You see some of them come in as early as 5:30.”
The 23-year-old massage therapist, who lives in Wadesboro, must wake up at 4 a.m. to be ready for clients at 5:15.
“A lot of clients come through doctor referrals,” said Jones. “They may have issues with specific muscles, or chronic headaches, or they may walk with a limp. Massage helps in so many ways; it can increase immune system function, blood circulation, flexibility...”
According to Jones, bodywork helps athletes of all abilities enhance their performance.
“Sports massage is geared specifically toward athletes,” said Jones. “You focus on the muscles that they use the most to alleviate pain and tension.”
Much like a personal trainer, Jones is motivated by helping her clients get results.
“They may come in limping and leave with less of a limp,” she said. “When I see people walk out, and I can tell they feel a lot better, it’s such a reward.”
And she’s been happy to see the seven contestants are getting results, as well.
“They’re such a good group. I’ve met all of them, though I’ve probably gotten to know Michael Skinner the best because of my schedule,” said Jones. “He comes in all the time and converses with everyone; He’s always joking around with us.”
Fitness instructor Charles Lewis also spends a lot of time conversing with everyone. His job is making sure that all clients avoid injury by using the center’s machines correctly. He has been with the center since it opened.
“I basically know everybody’s face down here,” said Lewis. “I’m usually here at 5:15 every morning, and we open the doors at 5:30.”
Lewis said he tries to help people stay on track.
“I’m an encourager,” he said. “I tell people ‘good job, keep going!’ I feel like it makes the time go faster because you aren’t by yourself. People enjoy that camaraderie.”
Lewis has been a cheerleader for many clients, including a woman who is fighting to overcome obesity - and has lost more than 100 pounds so far.
“If those contestants have a good support system, then they’ll be able to continue losing weight,” said Lewis. “You take the women in the (New Year, New You) program; if their husbands didn’t encourage them and help them keep going, they might not be able to do it. And then the same thing goes for the men and their wives.
“Encouragement is a tremendous help.”
According to Lewis, the best piece of fitness advice he’s found so far came from an article he read in The Charlotte Observer. And though it was written by experts with “more letters behind their names than the alphabet,” the advice is simple.
“You have to do two things, Watch what you eat and walk,” said Lewis. “That’s something everyone can do.”
That’s something New Year, New You contestants can do, no matter where life takes them post-contest. The staff members who have gotten to know Baxley, Davis, Grant, Huey, Lovin, Skinner and Smith as Robert, Francis, Carrie, Wilma, Judy and Mike just want these seven challengers to keep it up.
“It’s been wonderful,” said Williams. “I know it has made a difference in their lives.”