A year ago The Journal and Real Radio launched its Fit Factor 2013 competition to help local people turn their lives around with an intense health and fitness programme.
It attracted hundreds of entrants and the six finalists chosen lost more than 22 stones between them in just 12 weeks.
From day one, the team stuck together to encourage one another to stay positive as they pushed themselves to the limit in a bid to transform their lives.
Winner of Fit Factor 2013 was John Thompson, 39, a mental health nurse, of Ashington, Northumberland.
The father-of-two lost more than five stones in weight and still wants to lose a further two stones by March this year.
He said: “Things have been going well since the end of Fit Factor.
“I completed the Bupa Great North 10k and the Great North Swim, but I was then unable to take part in the Great North Run as I had to have a knee operation at the beginning of July, and the recovery of a micro fracture is a very slow one.
“I was not able to walk for the first 10 weeks, then very slow physiotherapy three times a week over the next 10 weeks, before moving up to the advance physiotherapy class that I’m still continuing twice weekly.
“My knee is feeling stronger and I should be back to jogging and running in the New Year, and as a reward to myself I have enrolled in the next Great North 10K.”
Before John started the competition he tipped the scales at 22st 11lbs due to his bad eating habits and lack of exercise. His weight affected his health and he needed to have an operation on his knee in the summer.
John said: “Since I had my operation I found my mood dipped and motivation also dropped, but because I knew that I could not exercise I was still keeping with the healthy diet and started to introduce other things into my eating plan, but I’m happy to say that I’m still not eating crisps and takeaways.
“When I started my physiotherapy sessions and came off my crutches I have been down to the beach boot camps to see the trainers and the friends I have made through the Fit Factor. This did help bring my mood up even though I was not able to partake in the sessions - hopefully I will back at the boot camps in the New Year.
“My weight loss is still the same as it was at the end of the Fit Factor and I have a goal for another two stones off before my birthday in March.
“I do feel disappointed that I have not lost more weight since the end of the Fit Factor, but limited exercise after my operation and rehab, and not being as strict as I could have been, has not helped the weight loss situation.
“I will be back stronger and more focussed in the New Year.”
As winner of the Fit Factor, John won a trip to Malta with his wife, Donna, who was behind him every step of the way, sharing the joys of losing each and every pound.
John’s family also benefitted from the Fit Factor as they too followed a health eating and exercise programme to help him on his weight loss journey.
Donna, 36, lost three-and-a-half stones, and teenage children Phil and Sadie shed four stones and one-and-a-half stones respectively.
“One thing that was brilliant was the Fit Factor prize which was the holiday to Malta,” said John.
“It was a brilliant holiday and even though my knee was still recovering, my wife and myself had a great time and the hotel was amazing and was way above my expectations of a five-star experience.”
The original target for the Fit Factor group was to lose 20st 13lbs by the end of this year, but they smashed that in just three months by shedding a total of 22st 6lbs.
Training co-ordinator Kerry Robertson, 36, of Shiremoor, lost a staggering 3st 3lbs, dropping from 17st 9lbs to 14st 7lbs.
Since the end of the competition in May this year, the mother-of-one has lost even more weight and is determined to shrink her size even further.
Kerry said: “Life after Fit Factor has been odd, being in a bubble for 12 weeks offered a protection from ‘normal’ life and all the temptations that everyday life offers.
“I resisted and fought to carry on with my routines and stuck to what I had been taught. I joined David Fairlamb Fitness and continue today with weekly personal training sessions which keeps me focused and with a sense of direction.
“I continued training as we had the Great North Swim and the BUPA Great North 10k to do in June and then the Great North Run in September.
“I found training for a specific event helps focus your mind on your goals and keeps you motivated.
“The swim was hard and exhausting, I did the 10k in 1hr 10min and the Great North Run in 2hrs 26mins, which considering I couldn’t run up the stairs in March 2013 I think is quiet something.
“I did all the challenges for Marie Curie and raised a total of £1,033 which I’m very proud of. I’ve raised enough to give over 50 hours of palliative care to a person and family dealing with terminal cancer.”
Kerry has set herself new goals for this year, which include losing a final stone in weight. Since the Fit Factor started in March last year she has lost a total of 4st 10lbs.
“I have another stone to lose and I’m in training for the North Tyneside 10k and hopefully the BUPA 10k in Gateshead,” she said.
“I’ve framed my medals that I achieved in 2013 and they are hung up in the hall so that I can see them every day to remind me of my achievements and how far I’ve come. I’ve left a space so I can add more medals in 2014.
“I’ve stabilised and maintained my weight, but I do want to lose a little more. My heaviest known weight from December 2012 was 18st 4lbs, so since then I’ve lost 5st 5lbs in less than a year.”
Kerry said 2013 was one of the best but hardest years of her life.
“There have been some major highs and some hard lows,” she said. “But I have discovered that nothing is impossible and if you have the right support and tap into your motivation you can achieve anything.
“I feel great and think I look much better which has increased my confidence and my energy levels are through the roof. I enjoy running round with my little boy, Max, and go on the play frames at soft play and I don’t get out of breath or stuck in tight spaces.
“The future for me is healthy and happy, I’ve vowed never to be fat again and it’s all thanks to DF Fitness, David Fairlamb, The Journal and Real Radio - oh and me too a little.”
All six finalists of the Fit Factor were entered into the Great North Swim, the Bupa Great North 10k, and the Bupa Great North Run.
For Kate Pickard, 25, from Chester-le-Street, County Durham, completing these physical challenges was something she could never have imagined she would be able to do.
The dental nurse started the Fit Factor weighing in at 15st and she has so far lost a staggering 5st, with just over a stone left to lose to reach her target weight.
She said: “Things have never been better since Fit Factor. I haven’t found it hard to stay focused as I continue to go to the gym.
“I joined a gym straight away when I finished the competition and I joined up for a full year so I have no excuses not to keep exercising.
“When I look back on last year it is so surreal. I’ve done so much, and so many things that I never thought I ever could do.
“The Great North Run and the Great North Swim were the best experiences ever and things I can always say I did.
“I still get compliments from people telling me how good I look. I’m able to do more things and I feel confident. I enjoyed my first holiday in August and I actually had a bikini on and felt amazing, I never felt as if people were staring at me.”
Cheryl Whiffen, 38, from South Shields, has found a new lease of life since shedding four stone and is looking forward to what 2014 has to offer.
The custodial officer started the process at 17st 5lbs and is determined never to return to that weight.
She said: “Things are really good since I finished the Fit Factor. I’ve been working really hard and hoping for a promotion this year.
“Staying fit is helping me to keep motivated. I work crazy hours sometimes, but I find it easier now that I have a lot more energy.
“I have managed to keep the weight off and have lost four stone in total. We’ve just been on holiday and I admit the diet took a little wobble while I was away, but I was straight back to it the day I got back and no extra pounds have been added.
“My favourite thing about the weight loss is that I’ve taken up horse riding again after many, many years of being too heavy to do it. I jumped back in the saddle and I’m loving it. It’s great exercise for the core and my bum. We’re even planning a ranching holiday in the USA next year, cowboys and cowgirls.”
Fellow Fit Factor contestants Gary Hailes, a coach driver, from Newton Aycliffe, lost 4st 8lbs during the competition, and business network director Sarah Green, 39, of Jesmond, Newcastle, lost 3st 8lbs.
Fit Factor trainer David Fairlamb was with the team throughout their quest to lose weight and is proud of what they have achieved.
He said: “After the six finalists lost an incredible 22st in 12 weeks it was another very successful Fit Factor in 2013 and I was very proud of all their efforts.
“Of course, the really tough part was maintaining their food and exercise once they were out of the 12-week bubble.
“Like last year they have all found it tough but some have pushed on better than others and are in regular contact via personal training and beach bootcamp classes.
“I gave the six the knowledge, both with the food and exercise, to continue to make a big difference to their lives, remember they were the lucky ones to be picked out of hundreds of entries and had the luxury of 12 weeks’ free training - it was up to them as individuals to keep focused.
“The six learnt that the changes in food and exercise can easily be implemented in to everyday life. Once you have lost the weight maintaining it becomes easy, you can then enjoy life to the full having regained your self-confidence, self belief and a new shape.”
For more information about David Fairlamb Fitness visit www.davidfairlambfitness.co.uk , call 0771 3640 899 or go to @DF_Fitness