Transformation Challenge

Close your eyes and try to imagine becoming a thinner, healthier, and more confident version of yourself in just three months time. Many of us spend a good portion of our busy days wishing we had a little supernatural help to make that dreamy vision come true. Maybe you’re like Li-At Ruttenberg who dreamt about a contest that could give her a makeover and the tools she needed to get in shape. Ironically, Li-At was granted her wish but in a way that she never would have expected. Recently, she and six other Santa Barbara Residents were given the opportunity to experience a true lifestyle transformation, one that can truly last a lifetime as opposed to a fleeting, momentary weight loss. Through a 12 week emotional, physical, and psychological journey, the contestants of the first ever Conditioning Specialists’ Transformation Challenge came to grasp the significance of will-power, fitness, encouragement, and support in claiming their lives back.

The Vision In November, Doug Holt, the founder of Conditioning Specialists, and three other Conditioning Specialists trainers; Jesse Brisendine, Marisa Ericson, and Stacey Cooper, dreamed up a challenge that would transform the lives of its contestants in a healthy and inspiring way, with lasting results. Although in the midst of an extremely busy season for all three trainers, Jesse says that he and the other trainers quickly recognized the value in giving others the chance to experience a perspective that had rewardingly reshaped their own lives. Many applications later, the four decided on three contestants: Li-At Ruttenberg, Nancy Patterson, and Grant McKee, and two engaged pairs for a separate couples’ challenge: Robert Kitson and Anika Carter, and Israel Wonderly and Amber Lloyd. All trainers knew taking on the challenge would mean long days, but as Marisa says, “I just kept reminding myself that if I could make one person’s day better, it was all worth it.”

For the challenge, all contestants were assigned their own trainer whom they met with five times a week. Nancy recalls the first time she walked into her session and Marisa greeted her with a hug; “Right then I knew I was going to be taken care of,” she says. “But never tell a trainer that you don’t sweat much;” Nancy laughs, “Marisa took that as a challenge right away!” The three individual contestants and their trainers also met together every other Saturday for group activities. The trainers desired to expose the contestants to outside resources around the community, such as Yoga classes with Felicia Tomasko, Pilates with IM=X Pilates, and even went bowling for a final group outing. “They introduced us to activities that we would otherwise not even have known existed or would have been too scared to try,” Li-At says. Nutritional counseling, massage therapy, acupuncture, and Muscle Activation Techniques were also key components for creating a more holistic approach to their transformations.

A Fearless Journey The trainers were not the only ones to enter the challenge head first. For some, like Israel and Amber, it was the competitive nature of the challenge that provided an extra ounce of motivation. For others, it was the push of certain people in their lives. Recalling the recent death of her father, Nancy says, “His last words to me were, ‘You’re a beautiful girl Nancy- I want you to get that weight off.’ So anytime I felt the slightest bit tempted I would think of my father’s words to me – and the thought of him watching me and feeling proud.” Now, as the challenge’s Grand Prize winner, Nancy can gladly say that she granted her father his dying wish.

For the two pairs of soon-to-be married couples, both agree that it was each of their partners that kept them going. Although blessed with a partner to enter the challenge with, these couples had their fair share of obstacles. Amber is currently working on her Masters degree and not to mention, planning for a wedding. A further challenge for Amber and Anika, also preparing to fit into a wedding dress, was seeing how quickly their fianc├ęs Israel and Robert dropped the weight. The women were reminded by Marisa and Stacey that they were losing weight at a “steady and healthy pace,” and “encouraged by many others that men tend to lose weight faster than women.”

The contestants and the trainers also engaged in an online forum where each could blog about their daily temptations or triumphs, while receiving reassurance or cheers from the other contestants, their trainers, and even the Santa Barbara community. In one blog, Grant confesses about his struggle over those spiteful food demons. “Food is a struggle, now I eat, but apparently not enough, this is a struggle, so I’m screaming and all the voices in my head can’t compete..what shall I do?” All to which his caring trainer, Jesse, responds with helpful advice: “you are not alone in this battle, I am here for you, Doug, Marisa, Stacey, your fellow transformers, your friends from what I have heard… we all are here to support you.” At the same time, Jesse and the trainers realized that while they empathized with what their challengers were going through because they had all been there themselves, Jesse explains, “we also had to push them harder because we know that the grass is greener on the other side.” Stacey agrees that it was important not to let emotions overpower the goal. Hugs and comfort were often exchanged between Stacey, whose mother had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, and her trainee, Li-At, who lost her grandfather during week three of the challenge. “But,” Stacey says, “we took turns pulling each other back up when one of us had a bad day.” All contestants remain extremely grateful for the phenomenal dedication and friendship they received from their trainers.

More than the Weight Surely the weight loss is a significant plus. As Robert and Anika, winners of the couples challenge, report, “sometimes our inspiration came from showing the other how ‘too big’ the pants that we bought in November had become.” But the ultimate victory lies even deeper within the individual. For Grant, the most rewarding outcome was quitting smoking. Nancy grew excited over having her smile back. Li-At cried when she shockingly realized that she was a size 10 and could shop at any retail store she wanted to for the first time in her adult life. Li-At’s trainer, Stacey, describes how rewarding it was to see Li-At look in the mirror and love herself again. “With Li-At, I truly believed we saved her life,” Stacey says. All contestants are aware that these new victories, as Nancy puts it, come from a tangible “physical, mental, and emotional transformation.” So while she can still enjoy meeting friends for dinner and drinks, Nancy has the knowledge and strength she needs to watch what she eats and enjoy the evening.

Twelve weeks for a Lifetime For Doug, a major part of the success of the challenge comes from the contestants’ ability to inspire others with their new lifestyles and stories. The tangible transformations of seven contestants can multiply to affect hundreds. On Sunday, April 6th, a celebration party was held at Tonic Night Club to announce the winners. But even as the challenge came to a close, the night continued to promote positive change for more individuals. The party also operated as a fundraiser which raised almost $10,000 for Partners for Fit Youth; a local nonprofit battling the growing childhood obesity epidemic facing our nation. According to Doug, it was in childhood where the struggle began for most of the contestants.

For all involved, the end is bitter-sweet. Each feels equipped with the proper tools and mentality to move forward, but each will miss daily seeing the faces that got them there. Anika says that the transition may take some getting used to, “like a child who can ride a bike really well with training wheels on, but is a little wobbly when they are removed,” but all are confident that the results can remain long-lasting. The Biggest Loser may make its claim to reality, but the transformations of these seven locals prove that the right balance of community resources, human encouragement, and a little will-power can take us a lot further than any reality TV show could. Congratulations again to all contestants and thank you for showing us how to achieve a true lifestyle transformation.

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