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Striving to become the biggest loser

RICHARDTON -- Most people have health as either their top or one of their top New Year's resolutions. Fitness and losing weight are goals for many in a nation that sees portions increasing and exercise dwindling.

RICHARDTON -- Most people have health as either their top or one of their top New Year's resolutions. Fitness and losing weight are goals for many in a nation that sees portions increasing and exercise dwindling.

For 36 North Dakotans from the area a new contest called, "The Biggest Loser," is helping them fight the battle of the bulge.

The contest began in Saturday, Oct. 20 and ends tentatively with the last weigh-in on Wednesday, Feb. 20. There is weekly weigh-ins on Wednesday mornings or evenings in which coordinators, including Ann Vaagen, Lea Floberg, Marci Kuntz and Bernie Staudinger, have the "losers" step on the scale. The scale resides in the cardio room of Richardton Memorial Hospital.

Vaagen discovered the contest from her friend Rendi Olson who knows the creator Dina Edwards of Ray, North Dakota.

Edwards was inspired by the television show "The Biggest Loser," but more by her desire to lose weight and live healthier.

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"The biggest motivators to people I think was adding prize money to the mix and to be accountable for weighing in each and every week for 16 weeks," Edwards said. "I think the competitiveness of our program has really been a driving force."

The contest has run since January 2005 in Ray and this January will begin the seventh contest there.

"We have given out over $3,500 in prize money and have averaged 10 participants for each of the six sessions," Edwards said. "We even have had a few people who have joined thinking that they don't have enough to lose to win the money, but want to have to be accountable for losing weight."

Edwards is not aware of the contest being done anywhere besides Ray and Richardton, she added.

Between the first and fifth installments of the contest, Edwards has lost more than 30 pounds and has even won first place receiving $500.

"Some would say that's a long time to have lost only 30 pounds, but there's definitely proof out there that slow weight loss is key," Edwards said. "I think it's great for people just like me that have lost weight and then had something happen in their lives that all of a sudden cause you to 'fall off the wagon' because it's an ongoing challenge to lose weight, exercise and be healthy."

In Ray, Edwards has added an exercise challenge where anyone willing can send in their total exercise miles for the week and be recognized. She also has provided incentives such as healthy recipes or weight lost tips.

In Richardton to date, the 36 participants have lost a total combined weight of 287 pounds. Each loser is given a number and is emailed weekly their body weight percentage. Similar to the television show the percentage is how the winner at the end will be determined. The biggest loser will have the highest percentage of weight lost.

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An example given in literature about the contest states, "if you weighed 150 pounds at the beginning and lost 15 pounds your percentage of weight lost would be 10 percent and by going this way it evens out the field."

Losers can be penalized for not getting their weight in weekly to the contest's coordinators and can also be penalized if they gain weight which is close to paying about a dollar per pound gained.

"People can't really cheat if they weigh themselves and don't always have us do it because eventually they'll get weighed by one of us and if they gain weight then they are penalized," Vaagen said. "We don't check for diet aids, but no one in the group has been dropping weight drastically or had a lot of weight fluctuating. I would think it would be pretty apparent if they were."

Getting all the weights in weekly is the biggest challenge for Vaagen and other coordinators, she added.

The group is a mixed bag with the youngest loser in high school and the oldest in their 60s and both men and women involved. The membership fee paid by each participant in the beginning of the contest was $50. The buzz spread around town quickly about the contest by word of mouth, Vaagen said.

"The first-place winner at this point in the whole thing will get 90 percent of the membership fee which is $1,622," she said. "Second place will get the penalty money which is at $148 right now and third place gets 10 percent of the membership fee pot."

Participant Rosalie Hunke entered into the contest because she's been looking for a group organization to help her lose weight.

"It's been hard to lose weight," Hunke said. "It's easier when you work with others. I think that's true for a lot of people."

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Hunke likes to walk and would like to lose at least 20 pounds and has lost three pounds so far, she added.

"It just seems like time gets away from you and the weeks go by too fast," Hunke said. "My New Year's resolution is to get more involved in this and do more walking or other exercise. I'd also like to see an organized activity program in the community."

Loser couple Shannon and Jennifer Goetz entered into the contest. To help them in their resolutions to be healthy, they have taken soda out of their diets.

"We were looking for something to cut out of our diets that we didn't really need," Goetz said. "We did it for ourselves and the kids."

It was hard at first with the caffeine withdrawal, Jennifer added.

Jennifer likes to use the treadmill at home while Shannon enjoys playing basketball to help take off weight.

Participant Suzy Rummel always sets losing weight as part of her annual New Year's resolutions.

"I've lost 25 pounds on Weight Watchers and I want to keep that weight off," Rummel said. "I didn't want to drive to Dickinson or elsewhere to keep the weight off having to work out somewhere else. I needed an accountability factor for myself close to home."

Having the contest close by has helped her keep the weight lost momentum, she added.

"I like to walk and sometimes I'll use the equipment here in the hospital," Rummel said.

Traveling weekly to Richardton is Kristen Wolff from Golden Valley who is hoping by being the biggest loser she'll win first place.

"I'm doing this to win, but mainly because I want to be healthy," Wolff said. "I want to exercise and feel good about myself."

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