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The Biggest Loser helps shed pounds

Participants in the Regional Fitness Center's eight-week Biggest Loser competition lost a total of 163 pounds. (Kim Ukura/Sun Tribune)1 / 2
Michelle and Ryan Schamp were the session's winners, shedding 19.2 and 46 pounds respectively.2 / 2

MORRIS, Minn. - The moment Ryan Schamp realized he needed to change his lifestyle was when a doctor didn't bother to tell him his weight was a problem.

On a visit to a local physician for an unrelated issue, Schamp weighed in at 360 pounds.

"I was just flabbergasted," said Schamp. "The thing that bothered me most about it was that the doctor didn't even care because it was the first time he'd ever seen me. Back in my hometown, when my doctor saw me he'd just rag on me - 'Come on man, you used to be an athlete! You need to get back in shape!'. This guy, he didn't care, he'd only ever known me as a very large, morbidly obese guy."

"That's what really shocked me," said Schamp.

Since the wake-up call in March 2011, Schamp has lost about 150 pounds - the last 46 while participating in the Regional Fitness Center's eight-week Biggest Loser group fitness program. This week, Schamp was named the programs "biggest loser" by shedding about 15.9 percent of his body weight.

Schamp's wife, Michelle came in second place, losing 19.2 pounds (9.7 percent of her body weight) during the program. In total, the 25 program participants shed 163 pounds.

Although this is not the first time the RFC has held a "biggest loser" competition, it is the first time the organizers have emphasized the community and team-building aspect of the program. To help, Stevens Community Medical Center sponsored the program, buying Gold Team and Blue Team shirts for participants.

"If you're working out hard and you're tired and you can see everyone else is tired you can keep going," said Cory Hemphill, a personal trainer at the RFC and team leader for the Gold Team. "The team aspect of it has been a really big motivator for these guys; the competitiveness is fun."

Hemphill, a 2010 University of Minnesota, Morris graduate, returned to the area last fall as a defensive backs coach for the Cougars. He became certified as a personal trainer while living in Korea for a year.

The other team coach, Jen Lund, is a member of the UMM campus police. Lund began working at the RFC about five years ago as an instructor and personal trainer.

"We are gym rats, so we like to have other people like it," said Lund. "A lot of them didn't come to the gym at all, and now they're here all the time. It's really cool to see."

Most of the 25 participants met with Lund and Hemphill twice a week, the Blue Team on Sunday afternoons and the Gold Team on Tuesday nights. The entire group met Thursday evenings for a weekly weigh-in and workout session. Angie Berlinger at the RFC also worked with a small group during the day.

In addition to the weekly group workouts, Hemphill developed progressive weight training workouts for the participants, which has helped develop familiarity with the RFC's equipment.

Each week, the "biggest loser" - the participant who lost the highest percentage of weight loss - received a free half-hour training session with Hemphill.

"These guys are really committed," said Hemphill. "They're a lot more committed than other people I've met. That's what makes it fun for me to come in - these guys are going to work hard no matter what we do."

Not everyone who participated wanted or needed to lose weight. Some hoped to develop muscle, others just wanted to learn how to use the gym equipment, lower their cholesterol or just generally feel healthier. But many said that the accountability they found working out in a group helped them stay motivated.

"I do well in groups; it motivates me to be around others," said participant Lisa Harris, who lost 11.6 pounds during the program. "My team is still counting on me."

Participant Kristi Krusemark said she first signed up to help support her husband, but soon realized it was important to participate for herself.

"It's way easier to have instruction," said Krusemark. "I looked forward to each workout."

For Ryan, the program offered a chance to build more focus into his weight loss routine, and he encouraged Michelle to join him.

"I knew I needed to lose weight - and I still would like to lose more weight - it was kind of a nice way to do it and actually be held accountable," said Michelle.

Outside of the group workouts and weight training, the Schamps said they've focused on watching what they eat. Ryan also works out on a recumbent bike for about 45 minutes a day while watching television.

As University of Minnesota, Morris employees in the Office of Residential Life, both Ryan and Michelle have meal plans at the university.

"That's really nice - you don't have to cook for yourself - but it's also all you can eat whenever you want," said Michelle. "Because of that, I know I had personally gained more weight last year."

However, now that they are focusing on weight loss, Ryan said the university has "the best salad bar in town" with vegetarian and healthy options.

The changes the Schamps are making outside the gym are reflective of the broader goals of the Biggest Loser program.

"The big thing we've been expressing is that it's a lifestyle change," said Lund. "Most of them know that they aren't going to change overnight with a pill."