A cleaner bill of health

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec Lee Schell spots for Jen Ruffaner in the weight room of the Northern Blair County Recreation Center recently. Schell lost 66 pounds and claimed the title of biggest achiever during the 2017 Corporate Wellness Challenge.

Lee Schell is a determined man.

“When I went into it I made up my mind I was going to win it. I put my mind to it and did it. That is what I did,” said Schell, 27, Tyrone, an employee at PGW, Tipton.

Schell lost 66 pounds and claimed the title of biggest achiever during the 2017 Corporate Wellness Challenge.

“I started at 350 pounds and have lost a total of 115 pounds, 66 through the competition. I am down to 235. It took a lot of willpower. I feel like I have more energy to get things done in my everyday life,” said Schell, who wants to get in better shape to play for the Ebensburg Silver­backs, a semi-pro football team.

The challenge, which started in 2014 as the Northern Blair County Corporate Fitness Challenge, has grown rapidly since its beginning.

The 2014 event had 11 teams and 178 participants who lost a total of 1,090 pounds.

This year’s event included 378 teams with 820 participants who lost a total of 5,896 pounds.

Last year, the event was divided into three divisions — Northern, Central and Southern Blair.

The event was founded by Richard Bishop, director of the Northern Blair County Recreation Center and Murray Fetzer, director of the Tyrone Fitness and Wellness Center. Both are excited about the growth of the event.

“We are excited to see it continue to grow and touch people in a lot of ways. It is exciting to see, and it has been a really fun ride to see this explode to where it is today. It brings a lot of folks to a common goal to get moving and to get healthy,” Fetzer said. “We were trying to move people in the right direction, getting them to their optimal status of health.”

“Both Murray and myself, we feel we are making a significant impact on the overall health of Blair County. That was our original goal. We feel we are making an impact,” Bishop said. “We have seen some people stop smoking, come off diabetes medication or reduce hypertension because they had to make healthier choices.”

The event was held Jan. 3 through March 31.

Over the three-month period, challenge calculations were based on simple BMI measurements and other scaled measurements that take into consideration the varied fitness levels of individual participants.

Measurements were taken five times during the three months. The first and last are most important, and the others were added as incentives, Bishop said.

The layout of the event has stayed the same over four years.

“We take body weight, body fat percentage and total BMI measurements on each and average them, first as an individual and then together as a team. We set it up in a competitive atmosphere. People flourish in a competitive atmosphere. We had some companies splitting up into teams to compete in-house,” Bishop said.

Christine Panaro, director of occupational health at Nason Hospital, the Southern Division sponsor, said the event was much more competitive this year.

The Southern Division was comprised of seven teams this year with 189 participants. Last year, the division had only four teams with 143 participants.

“It seemed as though we were just getting our feet wet last year because this year the competition was much more serious with a noted competitive edge not only within each team, but between the teams of the Southern Division. This was apparent by the amount of weight that was lost in total this year,” Panaro said.

Last year, the Southern Division lost 641.8 pounds, and this year, 1,566.4 pounds was lost.

“I feel that was due to the participants and leaders of the teams being engaged in the challenge,” Panaro said.

Bishop said the biggest challenge of the event was not getting people involved but keeping them involved.

“Everyone does the first and second challenge. With the third one some give up in the middle. We see a lot of fat percentages and BMIs start to go back up. When we put out the standings, the companies do encouragement with each team and then we see a spike for the fourth and fifth measurement. There is a large learning curve for people who have eaten unhealthy all of their lives,” Bishop said.

Keystone Dermatology, one of 11 teams in the Northern Division, captured the overall team championship.

“We had a pretty small group (11) so we are shocked that we won. We helped each other out and pushed each other. I lost some weight. I am eating healthier, drinking more water and am exercising more. Most of our participants are,” said Gretchen Black, team leader.

Altoona Area Public Library captured first place honors in the 20 team Central Division.

“We all worked really hard. There were seven in our group. It was motivational to have a team working toward a goal. Personally, it motivated me to make working out and eating right a part of my every day routine,” said Josh McConnell, team leader.

Appvion, Roaring Spring, captured first place honors in the seven team Southern Division.

The top three individual achievers were Schell, Christie Taylor, a health occupations teacher at Tyrone Area High School who lost 52.2 pounds, and Tim Hale of Family Services Inc.

“I revamped everything. I am focusing on getting five veggies, two to four fruits and lots of water, cutting back on alcohol and exercising at least an hour a day. I feel better. All of my clothes fit better and my blood pressure is down,” said Taylor, who also is a registered nurse.

The Tyrone Area School District team was comprised of 46 members.

The event was beneficial to those participating.

“We found that the participants found a bond with each other and a support group of employees joining together for a common goal. The camaraderie that each team had was enjoyable to see as you were able to tell that the participants were able to boost the morale of the worksite,” said Phyllis Baker, business development director at the Hollidaysburg Area YMCA, one of the four Central Division sponsors.

“Through promotion of healthy eating habits, exercise and lifestyle modification, our participants were able to see how easy it is to succeed in this process. Not only do these participants feel better but they have more energy, are more positive and more productive. This is a win-win for both the participants and the companies involved,” Panaro said.

The overall division winner — Northern, Central or Southern — will be announced before the Altoona Curve game this afternoon at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.