Competition does trick for Big Loser winners

Dedication leads to 55-pound weight loss for men’s winner

Tom Wall knew he needed to do something to lose some pounds this year, and he decided to use the Sweet Home Big Loser contest as an excuse to make it happen.

It worked for Wall, who lost 55 1/2 pounds in 13 weeks, dropping from 248 1/2 to 192 pound, 22.7 percent of his original body weight.

Although the fact that he lives outside the geographical boundaries established to be eligible for the $500 grand prize prohibited him from collecting the big money, Wall was clearly the leader €“ by a wide margin €“ among not only the men but all contestants. Matt Jordan, who finished second among the male contestants, got the prize, but Wall said he doesn’t care.

“I thought joining the contest would push me,” said Wall, 52, who confesses to being “competitive.” He said he got really serious after coasting along with the “pack” for the first few weeks.

“I thought, ‘OK, that does it. I’d been working out at the gym anyway, so I started working out hard.”

Steelhead Strength and Fitness co-owner Vickie Bauer started a conditioning class at 5:30 in the morning and Wall decided to get involved in that. The class included help with diet, and participants tracked what they were eating, he said.

Wall’s wife Sharon was taking conditioning classes €“ in the evenings €“ and he decided to do that too.

“So I started doing a second class. She was doing Zumba, but I don’t dance,” he said, adding that when the class didn’t interest him, he would work out on his own.

“I’m the kind of person who, once I get going, I keep going,” he said.

Although hampered by an injury the last few weeks, he said he walked five to 12 miles a day on a treadmill, when the weather was bad, and then outside.

“I’ve walked a lot of miles,” he said. “I’ve been up and over Marks Ridge (from his home on Berlin Road) a couple of times.”

During a business trip to Hills-borough a few weeks before the contest’s end, Wall found himself in a hotel for a week with a single treadmill.

“There were too many people for one treadmill,” he said. “I got lucky and we had good weather, so in the evenings I’d walk. I had nothing else to do. I walked 10 to 12 miles a day.”

Wall said he lifted weights for conditioning and strength but “not for bulk.” He also modified his eating.

“Trying to stay away from food is the hardest thing,” he said. “We all do it. A lot of us sit around and, before long, we realize we’re taking in 12,000 calories. My wife has been doing a diet plan, so that’s helped.”

Wall said he’s lost weight once before, but regained it.

“We did a Big Loser thing as a family,” he said. “This time I’m determined not to go back.”

Wall said he was involved in cross-country and track during his years at Sweet Home High School, before graduating in 1976.

He said he played football as a freshman but, at 5-1 and 125 pounds, he decided running was better for him. He also ran for two years at Linn-Benton Community College, back when the school still had a cross-country program, he said. Then he served four years in the Air Force, during which he played “a lot” of softball.

Wall said his athletic background never involved cutting weight, so he experienced some new things during the contest €“ particularly as he neared the end.

He was down 45 pounds the week prior to the final weigh-in, and he wanted to make an even 50, so he went into serious cutting mode during the final few days, he said.

On Tuesday of the final week, with the weigh-in coming on Thursday, he started decreasing his water intake and bumping up his walking, ending with a 8-mile walk over Mark’s Ridge on Thursday, just before the weigh-in.

“On Thursday, I drank maybe 16 ounces of water. When I hopped on the scale, I’d lost 11 pounds, I thought maybe I had overdone did it a little. I was thinking seven (pounds).

“I’d never done that really, because I never wrestled,” he said. “It was my first time. I started feeling it a little there at the end. Drank probably 90 ounces of liquid right afterward. I put on about six pounds right after the weigh-in.”

Wall said he enjoyed the camaraderie he experienced during the contest, particularly with the early-morning crowd at Steelhead.

He said he also received encouragement on his job, in which he maintains cell phone service sites for Verizon Wireless.

“The support from people has been really great. I really enjoy it,” he said. “Out at Holley Market, there are two girls there who give me a hard time if I get anything.

“One time, right after the contest started, I went to the soda fountain. I was just going to get water, but they said, ‘Hey, what are you doing over there?'”

Wall said his next goal is to run a half marathon with his 26-year-old daughter Heather.

“She called me one day and said, ‘I really want to get in shape and there’s this half marathon here in Seattle,'” Wall said. “So we both signed up. I’ve done two, back when I was 20 or 25. They were easy then.”

Winning woman does it with changes to her diet, exercise

Debbie Stratton decided to join the Sweet Home’s Big Loser contest at the 11th hour. It paid off when she finished as the top loser among the 18 women who finished the competition.

Stratton said her decision to participate was “last-minute.” She tried to get some co-workers at White’s Electronics to sign up with her, but she said none did, so she talked her daughter Spring Vandehei into doing it.

“I’ve dieted over 30-some years,” said Stratton, 54. “I’ve always gained it back. I thought this time the embarrassment factor and everybody watching would help me stay on diet and I’d succeed. And it did. It worked. A lot of people were watching me, asking me how it was going.”

Stratton came on strong over the final three weeks of the competition, edging out second-place finisher Gina Riley and third-placer Nikki Mundt in a tight finish. She lost 18.7 percent of the body weight she started with at the beginning of the 13-week competition €“ 34 1/4 pounds. Riley lost 16.9 percent and Mundt, who was the leader for most of the contest, finished with 15.6 percent weight loss.

Stratton said she realized she was a threat to win “probably about three weeks before” the contest’s conclusion on April 1.

“Especially when I took first place,” she said, which occurred in the second to last week. “We were so close. But I was always in the top five. I never got lower than that.”

She said her commitment increased as she realized she was in the running.

“I knew I would do pretty well because I am kind of competitive,” she said. “The first two months I was not as dedicated as I was the last month. I didn’t really know if I was going to win. The last two weeks I started trying harder. I didn’t really know that I’d won until I read it in the paper.”

Stratton said she joined the contest simply because she wanted to lose some weight.

“I saw the end result of last year’s contest and everybody looked so much better,” she said. “I really enjoy having that before-and-after picture. You see them all the time in magazines, but they don’t have them side by side.”

Stratton tried different diet strategies through the 13-week contest and mixed that with exercise, particularly as the weather got better.

“Everybody knows how to lose weight, but you have to find something that works well for you,” she said.

She started out with a low-carbohydrate diet, then “after I got tired of that” switched to counting calories after a few weeks. Later she started drinking shakes instead of eating meals.

“I kept switching diets because I didn’t want to plateau,” she said. “The last two weeks I really started exercising. One thing I did was I had a stationary bike that the neighbor lady gave me and instead of sitting on the couch, watching TV, I would ride the stationary bike.

“I like to walk my dog and when the weather was nice I did that. When it wasn’t I’d ride the bike.”

During her last week she took advantage of a one-week pass to Steelhead Strength and Fitness.

“I got a free membership so I figured now was the best time to use it,” she said. Her daughter Spring joined her at the gym and Stratton took some classes, which she enjoyed, she said. Her son Shane Vandehei, a former Sweet Home High School wrestler, also helped her out with tips on dieting from his own experience in cutting weight.

Stratton said she’s concerned now about keeping off the weight she has lost.

She said she recentely ran into David O’Brien, last year’s winner, and “he still looks good.”

“What I want to know is how you keep it off,” she said. “Being in the contest, like any kind of program, really did work.

“You’re going to cheat. You’re going to go off of (your diet) but if you go too long, a couple pounds becomes 10 pounds. It’s hard. It’s an addiction, really, like anything else.”