One family’s battle of the sexes for ‘Lighten Up’

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

For the Elder family, joining the Lighten Up Weight Loss Challenge at the JCC was about getting in better health and in better shape. “But there’s also the matter of bragging rights,” jokes Matt Elder, 28.

Eight members of the Elder family – four men and four women – decided to take part in the eight-week weight loss challenge, which is sponsored by the JCC and the St. Louis Jewish Light. Since the family was evenly divided along gender lines, a decision was made to have the guys and the gals compete against one another.

“Our family really loves doing things together,” says Matt’s sister, Kristen Elder, 24. “We’re all trying to make a lifestyle change by eating right and exercising. When we heard about the challenge we figured it was a great opportunity for us to be together, get closer as a family and fulfill our goals.”

The siblings say they received a “wake-up call” after their father, Dave Elder, suffered a heart attack a year ago New Year’s Eve. “That’s the reason we all joined the J,” says Kristen. “We wanted to get healthy as a family.”

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Each of the 50 teams competing in the challenge is named after a well-known sitcom. The Elder women’s team, aptly named “Family Ties,” consists of Kristen; her mother, Sharon, 52; her sister-in-law (and Matt’s wife) Bridget, 28, and her future sister-in-law Jaclyn Kuhl, 27, who is engaged to eldest brother Luke.

Matt Elder’s team, “All in the Family,” comprises Matt, brothers Luke, 30, and Tyler, 18, and Pete Hiltner, 24, who is Kristen’s boyfriend. Dad Dave Elder was advised not to compete, but family members report he is working out and eating healthy.

At the end of two weeks, “All in the Family” is now in the No. 1 spot, having lost a total of 57.8 pounds (the team’s starting weight totaled 1,204.2 pounds). The guys edged out not only Kristen’s team, which holds steady at No. 7 with a total loss of 20.6 pounds, but all 50 teams – 198 people – competing. The challenge ends on March 13.

“I’ve lost eight pounds so far, though my goal is to lose 25,” says Matt, who is a teacher at St. Charles West High School and lives in Overland. He works out at the J at 5:30 a.m. three or four times a week and plays racquetball with family members there on Saturdays.

Kristen is no slouch in the weight-loss department either; she’s lost 85 pounds since s0he weighed 230 pounds as a junior in high school. “For me, it’s more about toning,” she says. “I feel as if I’ve conquered the cardio stuff, but I’m trying to get into weights and taking some workout classes.”

Patty Brennan also joined the weight loss challenge with her family  – her work family, that is. Her “Facts of Life” team is made up of Brennan and three co-workers at the J’s Adult Daycare Center – social worker Patti Kirschbaum, nurse Jo Anne Lavisky and activity assistant Kathy Heitman.

“We’re really good motivators for one another,” says Brennan, 34. “Plus it builds teamwork within the agency. Even though we all work together, we are busy throughout the day and don’t see each other all that much. This gives us a chance to work out together when we can and encourage each other.”

Brennan lost 100 pounds in the last year, before the challenge began. “I did it by cutting out diet soda,” she says. “My doctor said the caffeine in diet soda makes you hungrier. So I switched to iced tea, skim milk and water, I eat healthier and I work out as much as I can.”

Now she wants to lose another 25 pounds. So far, her team is in the No. 20 spot, with a total weight loss of 13.6 pounds. Brennan says the winners’ prize package has her teammates looking to kick it up a notch.

To that end, the prizes include watching Cardinals batting practice on the field at a 2011 game and box seats, three free personal training sessions for each team member, $50 gift card for JCC services, $50 Sports Authority gift card and a feature in the Jewish Light. The individual winner will receive a one-night accommodation at the Westin Hotel with limo service and dinner at a plush downtown restaurant of their choice. He or she also will receive the same JCC and Sports Authority gift cards, three free training sessions and Jewish Light recognition.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, the last place team actually gained half a pound. But don’t count its members out yet. The team’s name, after all, is “Saved by the Bell.”