Thirty contestants strutted their stuff on a long, white runway in the ballroom of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center Saturday afternoon: striking posses, waving to a screaming crowd and showing off fancy new clothes with walks of confidence.
For these models, confidence didn’t come from what they had on. It’s about what they had worked off. The 30 contestants lost a combined total of 1,123 pounds during the H-E-B Slim Down Showdown, a 14-week health and wellness program that took 15 H-E-B employees and 15 community members on a physical and often emotional journey. This year’s winners:
- Marie Pechacek (Laguna Vista) – Community Slim Down Showdown Winner ($10,000 prize)
- Ashley Trimble (Belton) – Partner Slim Down Showdown Winner ($10,000 prize)
- Richard Arrington (Aransas Pass) – Community Healthy Hero Winner ($5,000 prize)
- Elizabeth Sandoval (Corpus Christi) – Partner Healthy Hero Winner ($5,000 prize)
The journey started with a five-day fitness and nutrition boot camp in San Antonio, after which the contestants returned to their hometowns across Texas to continue the program with the knowledge they gained. After those 14 weeks of hard work and shopping spree paid for by H-E-B the contestants, they stormed the runway in a dramatic makeover reveal.
[Read More: The Inspiring Fortitude of a Showdown Contestant]
H-E-B concluded the event by naming two $10,000 grand prize winners – one employee and one customer – who showed the most health improvement, participation and fan engagement. The company also awarded $5,000 each to two “Healthy Heros” who made the most progress on a variety of health markers. The real prize, however, was the new confidence and lease on life that showed in every contestants face.
“I’ve just been hiding, and now I’m living. This is really going to change my life and I’m going to continue for sure,” community grand prize winner Marie Amber Pechacek said. “One of my proudest moments was at the midpoint, when I came and they looked and me and were like ‘Oh, my god!’ I had visibly lost nine or ten inches off my stomach.”
About 9,600 people signed up for the Slim Down Showdown online challenge and lost 71,429 pounds through a 10-week healthy living course with recipes, workouts, summaries, videos, and a mobile weight tracker.
Pechacek had dropped 53 pounds and four dress sizes. But even more importantly, she had saved herself from the depression she had been struggling with.
The change was no less significant for fellow grand prize winner and H-E-B employee Ashley Trimble, who had been seriously considering a weight-loss surgery only a year ago.
“I was preparing my life for those horrible (surgery) side effects and for my life to be completely different from what it is now,” Trimble said. “Knowing that I can just eat right and work out and it works – it means the world.”
“I like to say January 5 is my new birthday, because that’s when I got a second chance at life. Going though this has opened up opportunities for me that I didn’t even know existed,” Trimble said. “Just having enough energy to do my job to the best of my potential and then still have time to hang out with friends and accomplish everything I want to – it’s been amazing.”
Above all, the H-E-B Slim Down Showdown was about becoming healthy. Contestants didn’t lose drastic amounts of weight to look like movie stars. The contest is focused on a variety of health indicators such as body mass index (BMI) and cholesterol level.
Healthy Hero winner Richard Arrington weighed 385 pounds at the beginning of the program. Arrington couldn’t do many of the exercises as long or often as others – the result of a heat stroke he suffered in 2009 – so his battle was less about pumping iron and more about having the willpower to eat right and monitor those invisible health indicators.
“I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, you know? I’m only 40 years old and I wake up in the morning feeling worse than when I went to bed,” Arrington said. Because of his condition, “I had to attack it primarily from an eating standpoint rather than working out. I worked out as much as I could, but not as much as I would have liked to.”
Arrington may still look like a big guy, but his cholesterol has improved 75 percent and his triglyceride indicators – a measure of fat present in blood – went from 817 to just 140. Oh, yeah, and he lost 67 pounds.
“When I graduated high school in 1993, I weighed 330 pounds, and I haven’t been under 330 ever since. The other day when we weighed-in, I weighed 317 pounds,” Arrington said.
Throughout the program, the contestants worked with personal trainers and dietitians to learn both exercises tactics and proper eating/meal preparation techniques.
They learned to plan their meals and workout schedules to ensure a low-calorie intake and high-calorie burn rate every day. The contestants also kept up with personal blogs so that friends and family could follow their journey.
H-E-B started the Slim Down Showdown in 2010. At first only employees could compete. In 2012, the event started including community members. The 2014 event just ended, but pre-registration is already open for 2015 on the H-E-B website.
*Featured/top image: From left: H-E-B Vice President of Communication and Engagement Kate Rogers, H-E-B Senior Vice President of Human Relations Tina James, Grand Prize Winner Marie Pechacek, and H-E-B COO and President Craig Boyan. Photo by Andrew Moore.