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Fitness Challenge rewards healthy habits

OKABENA -- Southwest Star Concept School hopes to turn fat to fit once again this year with its second annual Fitness Challenge, in which community members join teams and compete to lose the most weight.

"It's not necessarily a weight loss challenge," said Cindy Owen, dean of students and SSC Wellness Committee member. "We wanted it to be more of a wellness challenge (of) becoming physically fit."

In its first year, the SSC Wellness Committee expected participation of about 40 people, and were floored when more than 100 people joined the contest.

People lost quite a bit of weight, joining the challenge in groups of four and encouraging each other, exercising together and changing eating habits together. The person who lost the most weight won a Nintendo Wii, and the team that lost the most weight received MP3 players.

SSC's Wellness Director, Jason Fisher, saw a steep increase in participation in his fitness classes and more people came to work out in the school's gym and walk in its halls to improve their health.

After last year's success, the Wellness Committee decided to repeat the experience, with a few tweaks and changes. Last year students couldn't participate in the challenge, but this year anyone 18 years of age or older may participate, providing they pay a nominal fee. People can either join as 4-person teams or join as individuals, and be put on a team.

And this year, the grand prize will be a weekend at Bridges Bay Resort, a hotel and water park in Okoboji, Iowa.

In addition, all participants who lose weight in a given week will be entered into a weekly raffle for additional prizes over the course of the 12-week contest. The raffle prizes include gift cards and coupons for Subway sandwiches, oil changes, SSC athletic event passes, health food, photographs and headlight alignments.

Anyone who joins the contest will receive a T-shirt.

Participants will weigh in Jan. 4, and every following Monday. People's weights are kept confidential, and anyone who loses weight in a given week will be entered into the weekly raffle.

"It's an opportunity for community members to become physically active and fit," Owen said.

And SSC isn't finished. In February, the school will begin a fitness program for students in grades seven through 12.

"The Wellness Committee has said 'You know, let's do something for the students, because obesity in the U.S. has become a very huge issue, and we need to look at having our students become a little healthier as far as physical activity and nutrition (goes),'" Owen said.