Daniel Zuber, 26, of Downsville said he was "always big."
But the only noticeably big thing about Zuber on May 26 was his smile, following notification he had earned the top spot in a regional weight-loss and fitness contest.
Zuber, who started the competition in early March weighing 370 pounds, beamed as he shared that he had reached his goal of 285 pounds. But he insisted he was not stopping there.
"I'm continuing on, I'm not quitting now," he said. "My outlook and habits have changed completely. I've learned so much from my training."
Zuber and other motivated contestants had gathered in the Malone Stadium Strength and Conditioning Room at the University of Louisiana at Monroe early Wednesday morning to see their final results. As winner of the Shape Up ArkLaMiss contest - determined based on total percentage of body weight lost - Zuber will receive a cruise trip for two provided by Anytime Fitness. ULM, Anytime Fitness and KTVE sponsored the contest.
The combined weigh-loss total of all contestants was phenomenal, according to Brian Coyne, director of ULM's Human Performance Laboratory, who saw contestant's combined losses approach several hundred pounds.
"All made great strides in their fitness levels and lost varying amounts of weight," he said. "The important thing for each of them is to continue their current behaviors; they made many modifications during the competition. They are very motivated now and should continue to excel."
Coyne and six graduate assistants, including Braden Guidry of Branch, Whitney Golston of Shreveport, Kathleen Gancayco of Arlington, Texas, Jeff Forsse of Monroe, Shilpa Vesu of Secunderabad, India, and Drew Jones of Bryan, Texas, helped with the overall physical assessments on the competitors at the start and end of the weeks-long competition.
The assessments consisted of resting measures of heart rate, blood pressure, circumference measurements, symptom limited treadmill test with EKG, muscular fitness testing, including grip strength, push ups, partial curl ups, and flexibility testing, including sit and reach, and range of motion testing.
The assessments were valued at roughly $3,000, excluding time volunteered by ULM experts and students for administering the weigh-ins and the performance testing on specialized equipment to evaluate and monitor each person's progress, according to Coyne.
"Each contestant received a fitness profile comparing their before-and-after assessments," said Coyne. "The profiles also gave them recommendations on what to do to continue to increase their fitness levels and help to lose more weight."
Coyne said ULM was invited to be part of the contest by Anytime Fitness, and he and his staff found all the candidates' journey truly inspirational.
"It's wonderful for us to see your progress," Coyne told the contestants at the final weigh-in. "Thank you for coming to do this, for yourselves and your families. You're going to be glad you did down the road."
Local media came to the ULM campus to do live remotes, film the final weigh-ins and interview contestants. Also on hand for interviews were ULM Department of Kinesiology staff, including Coyne and Forsse.
As for Zuber, he already has plans to bring what he has learned about healthy living to friends and family at Mount Tabor Church in Bernice.
"I've learned so much," he said. "I want to pay it forward."
The assessments provided by Coyne and his staff at ULM is also available to the local community to assist in reaching fitness or weight-loss goals. To schedule an appointment or for more information, call 318-342-1310.
Photos by ULM's University Relations