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May 15, 2008

Weight race a success at the regionals

Pitt has a lot of big — and far-flung — losers.

While competition in the 12-week MyHealth Weight Race was fierce in Pittsburgh, the race among teams to lose weight was just as heated — and successful — at five other Pitt locations, with some races coming down to the final weigh-ins in late April.


Five McKinney Hall co-workers formed UPT’s winning team, Twiggy and the Phat Four, which achieved 100 percent of its goal.

Twiggy, it turns out, is Ryan Eller, coordinator of student retention and assistant basketball coach. Eller wasn’t thrilled with the reference to the iconic 1960s model “but he couldn’t think of anything better, so we outvoted him,” said Cricket Wencil-Tracey, one of four women on the team. “He’s very tall and slender; we’re all short and plump,” she said.

Eller, slender though he is, set a five-pound weight loss goal and surpassed it. The four women — Wencil-Tracey, Colleen Motter, Jayme Wagner and Marlene Hamrick — each set 10-pound goals. All made or surpassed their goals and have continued to keep the weight off, Wencil-Tracey said.

Motter started walking and using an elliptical trainer after the holidays and lost nearly three times her goal “and she’s still losing,” said Wencil-Tracey.

The competition provided motivation. “We were always looking at the web site to see where we were [in the standings]. We kept working our way up.” When it became apparent the team had a chance to be No. 1, that was an incentive to step up the efforts, she said.

Wencil-Tracey, who admitted she did nothing to lose weight at first, added drama to the race.

She was still one pound too heavy the day before the final weigh-in, while the other team members had met their goals. She had to get on the scale several times before finally meeting her goal at 4:45 p.m. on the final weigh-in day.

The team provided support for the members, but each person had his or her individual strategies and motivations, she said.

“Jayme, who was going to be a mother of the bride, went four days a week to the gym,” Wencil-Tracey said. Eller is going to be married in August and wants to look his best.

The race prompted some changes among participants.

Wencil-Tracey exchanged her beloved Diet Coke for water, making her teammates take the soft drink away “because if it was here I’d drink it.” She gave it up for two weeks and felt better without it, but the soda habit has returned. Still, she’s drinking less of it now.

The teammates are not as dedicated as they were during the competition, but all are feeling healthier and plan to keep off the weight they lost.

“I think we’d definitely do [the race] again,” she said, adding that they are awaiting details on the activity challenge that Human Resources is planning for the summer months.

“Each team supported other teams and encouraged them. It did build a lot of camaraderie across campus,” Wencil-Tracey said.

UPT director of Human Resources Debra Biggerstaff, who coordinated the Titusville campus weight race, said the competition shifted to cooperation between teams as the race went on. She noted that 234 pounds was lost overall among the seven teams at UPT.

The race sparked some creative activity on campus, including a walking/running program that featured prizes of its own and had participants trying to increase the number of steps they walked each day.

A faculty and staff dodge ball game also helped the UPT community to get moving, and a volleyball competition on campus is planned. An early morning summer yoga class also is being scheduled, Biggerstaff said.


Fitness for life champion Joyce Bucchi, UPG director of Human Resources, said her campus also was enthusiastic about the weight race, with nine teams competing.

“We talked a lot across the campus about unhealthy eating. People on teams really encouraged each other by exchanging healthy recipes, passing on tips on exercising and sharing web sites with health information,” said Bucchi, who captained the third-place Waisting Away in Greensburg team. “We plan to stay together as a team during the summer to try to lose some more weight.”

Bucchi said that the campus also held a “step-off” competition during the weight race.

The step-off was the brainchild of Jesse Callaro, an admissions counselor who captained UPG’s winning Melt-Aways team, which achieved 81.33 percent of its goals. Participants contributed lottery tickets, which were awarded to those who walked the most steps during the week.

Callaro noted that his teammate Denise Kerns, who delivers campus mail, had a step-off advantage since walking is part of her job. “But we tried to give her a run for her money,” he said.

Other members of the Melt-Aways included Heather Kabala, director of Admissions; Richard Graham, admissions counselor, and Brian Root, a resident director in Housing. The team also “adopted” a staff member who did not want to participate on a team, but did want to lose weight.

“As team captain I took it seriously: I sent out a weekly newsletter of how we were doing,” Callaro said. “It was fun to watch the standings, and it was helpful to us to see progress. At the beginning, there was a lot of enthusiasm, but there were high and low points, too.”

One low came just before the mid-point weigh-in, because several on the team were discouraged at the lack of progress toward their goals.

Strategies mostly were individual, he said. One member decided to limit herself to a single scoop of ice cream each week. “Richard made himself walk an hour and a half every day. Brian Root is a hardcore gym guy. So people were doing things for themselves and for the team’s good,” Callaro said. “Chick-fil-A is a favorite around here, but now we just order salads, so there are small changes.”

But small efforts had big pay-offs, he noted. “I lost 15-16 pounds by exercising, running and walking,” he said, using a treadmill at home and also walking to Westmoreland Mall at lunchtime.

Callaro said his team joked around by sending candy occasionally to members of other teams. “It was all in fun.”

He’d definitely join again if another weight race is held. “I think we’d do it as a team again. That’s what works for us. We didn’t know until the last day how we did. When we won we weren’t exactly shocked, but a little surprised, and there was team pride as a result.”


The winning team at Pitt-Bradford — PB&JS — met its goal, besting four other teams.

The name’s play on the abbreviation for peanut butter & jelly was coined by team member Stacey Ackley using members’ first initials and names: Patty Colosimo, Bridgett Passauer, Ann Robinson, Jen Trapp and Stacey Ackley. “Strictly speaking, the team name should be PB Ann JS but it didn’t quite come out that way,” said Trapp. Trapp, Colosimo and Ackley work in Conference Services, Robinson works in campus outreach and Passauer does both.

They all coordinate events as part of their jobs, “ and every event has food. We’re always talking about food,” which added to the challenge, Trapp said.

She said the team tried to set high but realistic goals ranging from six to 20 pounds. All members came close to or reached their goals, with one surpassing hers to pick up the slack.

Although each had her own diet and exercise strategy — some were on the South Beach diet, another followed Atkins — they leaned on each other for support. “We were just all about cheering each other on,” Trapp said. They sent emails confessing when they needed help overcoming cravings, joked about lettuce lunches and reported weekly weigh-in results to one another.

“Not every week was a losing week,” Trapp acknowledged. There were some moments when she thought “Oh my gosh, I just want to go to the Dairy Queen,” but she stayed strong. “My teammates were being good, so I needed to be good too.”

Trapp initially took her goal too lightly, reasoning that it was “only” six pounds. Her teammates’ progress moved her to action. “Ann lost 22 pounds. I can’t not lose my six pounds,” she thought. “I got better about my eating.”

The team is motivated to maintain its weight loss, Trapp said, despite the celebratory lunch the women held when the weight race concluded. She said team members plan to continue to “be good” and to encourage each other to maintain their losses. “We want to keep the PB&JS mentality,” she said.

“Stacey has a cruise planned at the end of May, so she’s seriously sticking to weight management activities. Ann is continuing her walking and Bridgett continues to be a ‘crazy workout person,’” Trapp said. Trapp added that she’s maintained her weight by increasing her workout frequency.

“We would be game to do another weight race if it were offered again,” she said. “It’s so much easier to do it when everybody else is doing it. It’s better when they can’t have the cake either,” she joked.

Team member Passauer agreed. “The weight race challenge was very fun and extremely motivating. Having it be a team competition really allowed [the team] to bond and keep each other on track,” she said. “We were able to encourage one another and support one another in those weeks when the scales got the better of us. For some, the experience will be life-changing while others will continue with previously established healthy lifestyle choices. Overall, it was a great idea and I would do it again in a heartbeat — because my heart beats better now!”


At Mechanicsburg, where the School of Social Work houses its Pennsylvania child welfare training program, the team Foxes and the Hound took the top spot, meeting 94.45 percent of its goal.

The team name resulted from some brainstorming among the members. “We had one man, it seemed fitting,” Lynn Keltz joked.

Joining Keltz as the team’s foxes were co-workers Wendy Unger and Christina Fatzinger of the practice improvement unit, and Laura Borish, who is based in Washington County. The hound is the lone male employee on the team, Vince Burns of the fiscal and operations unit. Fatzinger’s husband, Tim, who is not a Pitt employee, also participated, Keltz said.

Their remote location forced some creativity in participating. Weigh-ins were done in cooperation with the local Curves, which reported results to Pittsburgh.

Team members all started with different goals. Some wanted to lose five-10 pounds, others aimed for 15-20, Keltz said. Two teammates have additional weight loss goals they intend to pursue.

Team support came in the form of encouragement rather than group-exercise initiatives. “We all enjoy working out,” Keltz said, adding that members all made sure they got to the gym on their own, even when it was hard to find the time. “We used email a lot and we see each other at meetings,” she said. “When we had potlucks here, we’d remind everyone not to make too many desserts.

“We all know we need to have good nutrition and exercise,” Keltz said, noting that diet alone isn’t enough for weight loss. “The more structured approach helped us be successful.”

Looking ahead, Keltz said teammates intend to encourage each other to keep up the exercise. “We all plan to continue to be physically fit,” she said.


Pam Sabol, director of Human Resources at UPJ, was a member of Helen’s Hungry Horde, which finished last among the 12 teams on campus, meeting 30.89 percent of their goal.

Still, the weight race was a great success campus-wide, she said.

“I didn’t really need to lose weight — I’ve been walking with a friend at lunchtime for about 10 years — but as a fitness for life champion I wanted to be involved. So I put down 10 pounds as my goal. I lost two pounds,” Sabol said.

“But reaching our goal is not the point. I did it for fun. And we did have a lot of fun during the competition.

“We’re not that competitive, so some of us needed a push to kick it off. We did encourage each other and push each other. I didn’t want to disappoint my friends on the team.”

On the other end of the weight race team spectrum, the winning Lawn Mowers, named for team captain Jeanine Lawn, met its goal.

The team also included student aid office co-workers Janet Hoffman, Pam Penatzer, Joni Trovato and Loretta Zerby.

“Since we all work together, I think the team concept was very good for our morale,” Lawn said. “We were enthusiastic and very excited at the beginning. We exchanged recipes early on. We talked a lot about how to succeed.”

The weight loss was not all smooth sailing, she said. “Some weeks some of us gained weight, but we supported each other. I learned that balance more than anything is the key: Food is okay in moderation, including the fact that you need to eat enough to keep your energy level up.”

The low point for Zerby was Easter weekend with its tempting food and treats. “I also enjoy walking, which is a little harder to do when the weather’s bad,” she said. She since has found success with exercise. “I’m on the treadmill now every night and for a longer time than when I started,” she said.

Zerby said her team encouraged each other to drink water and avoid high-fat foods during the workday. “What I liked is that we worked at it as a team, encouraging each other. We didn’t want to let each other down.”

She added, “We heard other people on campus taking about the weight race, including faculty; it became part of the conversation on the campus.

“Even though it was a competition, I think we wanted everybody to succeed.”

—Peter Hart & Kimberly K. Barlow

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