By PAUL ROUPE
Not many contests have the goal of deliberately trying to lose.
But back on June 27, five teams from Newman, Patterson, and Gustine met at the Westside Theatre in Newman to step on a giant scale in a challenge to see who could drop the most weight over the next eight weeks.
Each team consisted of ten participants, and it was up to each team to decide how they would go about trimming off the pounds in order to come out on top.
Unlike the NBC show “The Biggest Loser,” where six-figure grand prizes are routinely handed out, the victors here receive a T-shirt proclaiming the “Biggest Loser Champion,” a certificate of accomplishment, and the satisfaction of achieving a healthier body and mind.
When Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini started the competition nine years ago, he knew that communities including Newman, Patterson, and Gustine were seriously lacking in medical providers and services citizens needed to stay healthy.
He began the Westside Healthcare Task Force to expand the amount of care available, and soon he enlisted the help of urgent care specialists and medical professionals to educate people on how to eat right and combat common ailments such as diabetes and hypertension.
The focus for this education encompassed both children and adults, but he found that it was very important for kids to learn about what it takes to avoid heart disease and childhood obesity.
According to kidsdata.org, in 2015 45 percent of 5th graders in Merced County were deemed overweight or obese. In Stanislaus County that number is a nearly identical 44%.
“A lot of these health problems can be prevented,” DeMartini says. “We felt that kids today don’t get enough exercise, eat a lot of junk food, and play too many video games.”
After doing a lot of statistical analysis on what was lacking in the communities, DeMartini eventually had enough information to make presentations at school board meetings on the necessity of children eating right and exercising regularly.
Then he came up with the idea for the adults to compete in a weight loss competition as part of what he calls “the health summit.”
It is here at this summit where the five teams gather to see which one has lost the most weight over the previous eight weeks.
This year it was held at Henry Miller Park in Gustine, and also present were a handful of vendors united with the theme of nutritional awareness.
The Las Palmas Health Center had a representative who offered the services of knowledgeable and available professionals to assist with living an active lifestyle. She also had a small book filled with healthy meal choices such as tuna apple salad, vegetable quesadillas, and apple glazed sweet potatoes.
Right next to her was a table populated with watermelons, cantaloupes, squash, eggplant, figs, grapes, cucumbers, plums, and peppers.
Also present were salespeople pushing honey, bee pollen, and even extra virgin olive oil, which the seller proclaims has been around in some form for about five-thousand years and is full of antioxidants.
While the vendors sit and explain their products to interested passersby, the teams begin to form around the giant scale set up next to the wooden park tables.
First up is Shift Happens from Patterson.
They inch their way onto the small square platform placed directly on the ground, flash grins for the cameras, and once the numbers are recorded, clear out to make way for the Patterson Promontores.
Following them is the City of Newman.
Then the Ladies and the Tramp on a Mission from Patterson crowd on the scale and smile as they pose for pictures.
It takes a minute for them to all get situated, cramming next to each other breathlessly while the man from the Stanislaus County Weights and Measures Division scribbles on his clipboard.
The numbers on the reader fluctuate for several seconds, until it finally settles down enough to get an accurate count.
“Ok, you guys can breathe,” he says, and they immediately disperse to make way for the last team, but half of them don’t show up so there is no option other than disqualification.
The figures are tallied up and written with a Sharpie on a large piece of red poster board with the team’s names on it.
There is no formal announcement of the winners, but when Shift Happens from Patterson sees the board, they know that their 35 pounds was just enough to edge out the Promontores by a pound and a half.
They collect their shirts and certificate, and talks of an imminent back-to-school night send them scattering in a hasty exit.
The Promontores head to the table piled high with crates of Arrowhead bottles and to-go plastic trays of ham or turkey and cheese sandwiches, a bag of baby carrots, an apple, and a bag of chips provided by the Gustine Unified School District.
With their meals in hand, a few of them shuffle to a bench, sit, and chat.
This was their third year in this competition, and Berenice Gercelazo, the Promontore’s captain, says they “didn’t work as hard” these past two months. They cut down on their Zumba, and though they would meet at the park after dropping their kids off at school, it was tough to get the time and energy invested to adhere to a strict and rigorous schedule.
One of her teammates, Fabiola Garcia, joked that they could have knocked off that pound and a half by wearing lighter shoes.
Even in defeat, they admit they had fun and plan on doing it again next year.
But next time, Gercelazo says, “We’re gonna win.” ■