Ryan Lavis/Staten Island Advance
on July 08, 2013 at 9:10 PM, updated July 09, 2013 at 5:31 AM
Staten Island University Hospital Slim Down Challenge finalists with their trainer Tony Books Avilez during awards ceremony at the Ocean Breeze campus. From left: Eileen Lappin of New Spingville, Jennifer Deddo of Huguenot, Avilez, Peggy Diamond of South Beach, Maria McCabe of Tottenville and Linda Spadafina of South Beach.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- While only one received the grand prize, each participant in Staten Island University Hospital's Slim Down Challenge went home a winner.
Modeled on the boroughwide Slim Down Challenge that Dr. Maureen Becker, a physical therapist, and Tony Avilez, a trainer and lifestyle coach, hold each year, hospital officials requested that Avilez bring his patented brand of healthy living to the medical center's staff. The results, he said, were overwhelming.
"It's indescribable how proud I am of them," he said during an award ceremony held Monday at the Regina McGinn Education Center at Staten Island University Hospital, Ocean Breeze.
About 125 hospital employees participated in the 10-week fitness challenge. Of that number, five were selected as finalists, each receiving prizes for their efforts. Maria McCabe of Tottenville, a nurse practitioner at the hospital, took home the gold -- a $1,000 grand prize -- for the most dramatic improvement.
"It was a lot of hard work, not just with me but with all the contestants," she said, calling the entire experience "rewarding."
If the before-and-after pictures were any indication, each participant gained more for his or her well-being than any monetary prize could ever bring. Writing a short essay on what the experience meant to them, the finalists admitted there were points during the program at which they felt hopeless, but that with Avilez's guidance, they pulled through.
"That first meeting I was probably the most unpopular person in the room," quipped Avilez, noting that the program involved cutting out caffeine, alcohol and other unhealthy foods and substances. The reactions to exercising consistently, he said, also weren't great.
But attitudes changed once the weight started to drop.
"Looking at these before-and-after pictures, it's unbelieveable what kind of transformations people have gone through," he said.
More important, he added, were the benefits to their overall health. "The essence of the program is about saying there are certain aspects of my life that I need to take control of. Our health and wellness is probably the most precious thing we own and if we don't have that there's not much we could do for other people."
The other finalists were: Eileen Lappin of New Spingville, Jennifer Deddo of Huguenot, Peggy Diamond of South Beach and Linda Spadafina of South Beach.