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New look, new life: Jan Vitullo wins Fittest Loser contest
By Kent McDill | Daily Herald Correspondent

Jan Vitullo expresses her gratitude to trainer Ryan LeBreux after winning the Fittest Loser Challenge in Schaumburg.


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Contestants Jan Vitullo, front, the winner, middle, Deb Mirabelli, Frank Valenti, back, Wendy Kreiser and Mike Anderson at the Fittest Loser Challenge in Schaumburg.


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Trainers, from left, Steve Amsden, Ryan LeBreux, Michelle Amsden, Joshua Steckler and Mark Trapp at Push Fitness in Schaumburg.


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

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Published: 5/31/2010 12:05 AM

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The final tally

Mike Anderson of Palatine

Trainer Joshua Steckler

Starting weight: 378

Final weight: 306

Percent lost: 19.1

Wendy Kreiser of Streamwood

Trainer Michelle Amsden

Starting weight: 347

Final weight: 317

Percent lost: 8.7

Deb Mirabelli of Berwyn

Trainer Steve Amsden

Starting weight: 236

Final weight: 208

Percent lost: 11.9

Frank Valenti of Bartlett

Trainer Mark Trapp

Starting weight: 295

Final weight: 239

Percent lost: 19.0

Jan Vitullo of Lombard

Trainer Ryan LeBreaux

Starting weight: 232

Final weight: 185

Percent lost: 20.3

Sometimes it pays to listen to your mother.

On the advice of her mom, Jan Vitullo of Lombard entered the Daily Herald's Fittest Loser competition back in December. On Wednesday, Vitullo was declared the winner of the contest, with the highest percentage weight loss among the five contestants.

"Hitting the send button was the best thing I did that day," Vitullo said.

Vitullo, a hairdresser, lost 47 pounds, going from her starting weight of 232 pounds down to 185 after three months of work with her trainer, Ryan LeBreux of Push Fitness in Schaumburg, the sponsor of the contest. That translated to a 20.3 percent weight loss, beating out Mike Anderson of Palatine, who lost the most pounds - 72 - but tallied a 19.1 percent weight loss.

Vitullo declared herself the winner before the contest started, saying her inner competitor would not let her lose. In the final week, when the contest organizers stopped publicizing weight totals, she and LeBreux worked on trying to estimate what they needed to do, and the amount of weight she needed to lose, to rein in the victory.

"I got neurotic toward the end," Vitullo said. "We didn't know how much the others were losing. I knew Mike (Anderson) and Frank (Valenti) were close. It was a shock to win, but a good shock."

Valenti, of Bartlett, lost 56 pounds, or 19 percent of his starting weight. Deb Mirabelli of Berwyn lost 28 pounds, or 11.9 percent of her starting weight, and Wendy Kreiser of Streamwood lost 30 pounds, or 8.7 percent of her starting weight.

Vitullo, 50, suffered some unique frustrations during the competition. She was diagnosed with both a nonfunctioning thyroid and gluten allergy, ailments totally unknown to her previously.

Meanwhile, she was trying to give up smoking, going from a pack a day to one or two cigarettes a day. That is a lot to deal with.

"I had to make so many changes," Vitullo said. "I was frustrated. But (Ryan) pushed me and I listened to him."

LeBreux credited Vitullo's competitiveness and drive for her victory.

"I might actually hire her to train me," LeBreux said.

Anderson, 25, saw his cholesterol number drop 25 points during the 12 weeks of work with Josh Steckler, one of the co-owners of Push Fitness. He also had a significant drop in triglycerides, a type of fat that, when elevated, signals an increased risk of heart disease. He completely altered his eating habits, eliminating fast food, and also sharply cut his alcohol intake.

"He truly understands what it means to be healthy," Steckler said.

Valenti, 54, is a former baker who wanted to lose weight in order to look good for his daughter Daniela's wedding this summer. He entered the contest taking medications for diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol.

"I was in very bad medical shape," Valenti said.

By the end of the contest, his cholesterol medication was halted, and his high blood pressure and diabetes medications were cut in half.

"I trained him hard and he adapted," said trainer Mark Trapp, a co-owner of Push Fitness.

Kreiser, 25, was slowed down by a shoulder injury but said she's come away from the contest more positive and confident, as well as more knowledgeable about healthy eating and exercise habits.

The five-meal-a-day eating plan is something "I'm definitely going to keep," said Mirabelli, 44, a grad student and mother of three who required a hysterectomy during the three-month contest. Mirabelli also plans to keep up the exercise and weight loss, saying she's enlisted her kids in the effort to get healthier.

"I was old when we started and I am a lot younger now," she said. "I feel so much more energetic."