Teams tackle weight loss challenge at JCC

Russell Glencoe works out at the JCC before a volleyball game Monday night. Glencoe is on one of the 56 teams taking part in the Jewish Light and JCC ‘Lighten Up Weight Loss Challenge.’


There may be no “I” in “team,” but the eyes of all 227 people on the 56 teams participating in the second “Lighten Up Weight Loss Challenge” are on one another, sizing each other up as they compete to lose weight, get fit and win prizes.

The Jewish Light and the Jewish Community Center are sponsoring the challenge. Prizes include baseball tickets, restaurant gift certificates, limo service, fitness center memberships and training sessions.

“In the first week, the teams collectively lost 1,025 pounds, which is significantly more than this time last year,” said Katie Hughes, leader of the challenge and assistant fitness manager at the JCC. Last year, 198 people competed on 50 teams. Participants lost a total of 1,421.2 pounds.

This year, teams first weighed in the week of January 10, and the eight-week competition began Jan. 17. Some teams signed up together, choosing to work out with family members or friends. Team names include The Transformers, Yogi Bear, Betty Boop and Hong Kong Pulley.

The Thundercats is a team made up of four people who previously had never met. “I think you have more motivation working with strangers,” said team member Jennifer Bernstein, 40, of Creve Coeur. “With friends as teammates, you might not worry so much about letting them down.” Bernstein’s teammates are Russell Glencoe, John Helbing and Marilyn Weaks.

“I joined the challenge to get rid of weight I gained when I had a baby a couple of years ago,” said Bernstein, coordinator of the child abuse prevention program at Jewish Family and Children’s Services. “So far, I’ve lost nine pounds, and would like to drop 20 more.” She works out four days a week on the elliptical machine and she now eats smaller portions.

Another of Bernstein’s teammates understands the importance of portion control. “I eat healthy, but my portions aren’t always the right size,” said Helbing, 65, of Ballwin. “I’m from the generation that was told to eat everything on the plate.” Helbing works in occupational safety and health for Bunge North America, an agribusiness.

Helbing joined the JCC right before the program began and has lost “six or seven” pounds to date. He hopes to lose a total of 15 pounds by June. “Twenty would be great, but I think 15 is more realistic,” he said. He attends spinning classes, plays racquetball, does cardio exercises and also “a little weight lifting.”

Helbing said he joined the challenge because “it always helps to have a support group.” Because of conflicting work schedules, the Thundercats do not work out together and have not met in person, but they communicate via email a couple of times each week.

Glencoe, a mechanical engineer at Intelligrated, is behind the email contacts. “I’m already motivated, and the best way to push myself harder is to motivate others,” said Glencoe, 46, of Oakville. “It always helps me too when I try to help others gain an awareness of how great it is to have a fit life.”

Glencoe said his highest weight was 320 pounds. He got down to 245, gained some of it back and now weighs 260. Since the challenge began, Glencoe has lost about 10 pounds. He wants to lose some more, and then maintain the loss. He moved here from Chicago six months ago and in October, Glencoe joined the JCC, which is close to his office.

“I also train at the YMCA and at the Workout Company in South County,” Glencoe said. “I lift weights, use the machines for cardio, do pushups and sit ups, switching them up all the time for long-term conditioning and so I don’t impact my joints in the wrong way,” he said.

“Life gets in the way of fitness sometimes,” Glencoe added, “so I also use flash cards I made to remind myself to eat well, choose more whole foods, drink more water, and generally make good choices. I believe if you can get this all into your mind, you can get it into your body.”

The “Lighten Up Weight Loss Challenge” is styled along the lines of the popular television program “The Biggest Loser.” Prizes will be awarded to the team that loses the largest percentage of weight, as well as the woman and the man with the largest percentage of weight loss. Winners will be featured in a future issue of the Jewish Light.