Family bonds helped propel Lighten Up Challenge winners


A team of two sisters, one husband and one daughter took first prize in the annual Lighten Up Challenge for the second year in a row. But all the competitors in the weight-loss contest were winners, says Bernie Suddarth, fitness manager at the Jewish Community Center located in Chesterfield.

Lighten Up is co-sponsored by the JCC and the Jewish Light. In the eight-week session that ended last month, 151 competitors lost a total of 1,147 pounds. “That averages out to seven and a half pounds per person, which is a pound a week,” Suddarth said. “That’s good healthy results right there.”


The winning team — sisters Laura Meyer, 47, and Kathy Freet, 46, Bobby Meyer, 50, and Elizabeth Freet, 15 — will receive four hours of limousine service, dinner at a restaurant and a night at a hotel. The details of the prize were not available at press time.

The biggest prize, Laura Meyer said, was the family bonding that helped the team come out on top. “When four people know each other very well, there’s a lot of communication going on. My sister called me many days and got me to a spin class I wouldn’t have gone to if she didn’t call.”

Kathy Freet had entered a similar contest at St. Luke’s Hospital, where she is a nurse, and had not been successful. “It was harder because you only see your team at work,” she said. “With my family, we worked out together, we spent a lot of time together, we talked about diet. It was a very bonding time for all of us.”

The sisters give a lot of credit to Laura’s husband, Bobby Meyer, who not only encouraged his teammates, but always had a friendly word for others working out at the JCC. Meyer won the individual competition as well, losing more than 20 percent of his body weight.

“Bobby’s really funny,” his sister-in-law, Kathy, said. “He’s a very good motivator.”

The prime motivator for the family to enter the competition both years was to support Freet, whose weight had become a serious health issue. Before last year’s contest, she had lost 100 pounds but still needed to lose more. “Last year, I lost 34 pounds, but I gained most of it back,” she said. “This year, I lost 27 pounds and I still have about 100 to lose. This year, I’ll try not to gain it back.”

Freet is also inspired by her daughter, who was the only one on the team not to gain back any of the weight lost last year. She continued the habit of running — on the treadmill and on the trails at Babler State Park. When she entered Lafayette High School as a freshman last fall, Elizabeth Freet joined the cross-country team to keep on running.

“It was good exercise,” Elizabeth Freet said. “It’s good to work out every day, run five miles. It helped me maintain my weight more.”

Her family remains her favorite workout team, Elizabeth said. “We support each other. That’s when I do the best, with other people. We set goals for each other.” 

The competition also brought mother and daughter closer. “I like my mom a lot,” Elizabeth Freet said. “We’re like friends. She was really helpful, working out.”

“It was very bonding,” Kathy Freet said. “We’d go in there to get weighed, and she’d have a big smile, because she lost. She was really excited.” 

While family support was key for the winning team, support of a different kind was key for Mary Harris-Hayes, 46, who came in 10th overall and lost more than 11 percent of her body weight. She is a maintenance tech at the Chesterfield fitness center and said she got a lot of support from the staff there.

“Most of the trainers out here gave me lots of free advice and tips,” Harris-Hayes said. One of the most helpful tips was to avoid sabotaging herself by too much denial. “Once a week I would allow myself one thing, a cookie, some ice cream. My thing is Panda Express, orange chicken and chow mein.”

Harris-Hayes has stayed away from her worst habit: drinking large amounts of sugared soda. “When I cut out soda, I cut out almost 2,000 calories a day,” she said. “Each big bottle of Mountain Dew has 700 or 800 calories. I started drinking tea, water and Crystal Light.”

Harris-Hayes also gains motivation from her mother, but in a different way than Elizabeth Freet. Harris-Hayes’ mother, 66, has suffered from adult-onset diabetes since she was 50. “She’s lost much of her sight. She’s had major surgeries. People don’t understand the toll eating habits take on their body … I don’t intend to end up like that.”

Better health is the ultimate goal of the challenge, Suddarth said. Harris-Hayes’s weight loss was consistent, a few pounds a week. “If she continues to do what she was doing, she’ll keep losing,” he said. “I was very proud of her.”

This was the third consecutive year for Lighten Up. Last year’s 227 participants lost a total of 1,881 pounds.