Gene Simon, Tommy Chaffins, Tim Ammentorp and Steve Shaw, the group who lost the most weight, pose together in the RUHS gym 122 pounds lighter. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan.
Julie Bassine knew she wanted to lose weight when she found herself crawling on the floor with her 11-month grandson and had to pull herself up by the arm of the couch.
“I moaned and groaned and was worried I’d fall backwards and squish him,” said Bassine, an Administrative Assistant at Adams Middle School.
Shortly after that she opened her email and saw an email from the Redondo Beach Unified School District asking employees if they wanted to participate in a 16-week “Weight Loss Challenge” with a large amount of money as an incentive for the biggest amount of weight lost.
Julie Bassine, who lost 50 pounds, the most weight of the women, poses at Adams Middle School in her now baggy clothes. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan
She immediately signed up and since beginning the program has lost 18.35 percent of her body weight, a staggering 50 pounds.
“I did it through Weight Watchers and exercise,” Bassine said. “I feel much healthier now; I even ran a 5K a month ago.”
Because of the competition, Bassine found the motivation to start an exercise regimen. She now runs weekly at the Aviation track and field and can often be found working out at the gym at Adams Middle School or at the High School lifting free weights or on the elliptical. She even keeps tennis shoes in her car so when she is done with work she has no excuse to not work out.
“The support was unbelievable,” said Bassine. “There were six or seven groups here at Adams and everybody knew who was on a team. When we had treat days people would even bring in healthy food.”
On Administrative Assistant Day, the principal at Adams Middle School, Anthony Taranto kept Bassine’s diet in mind and brought in healthy taco options.
“We’re so proud of her,” said Taranto. “She really stayed committed to her goal, even when I tempted her with cake or pizza.”
At one point, Bassine was pleasantly surprised when she stood up from her desk and a friend, commenting on her weight, said, “Oh my gosh, what happened?!”
“My knees don’t hurt and now I can pick my grandson off the floor without bending over,” said Bassine. “I even had to go in my old closet and pull out some of my skinny clothes.”
A group of four coaches at Redondo Union High School also got the same email.
Gene Simon, a health teacher and the former head football coach, Tim Ammentorp, the assistant football coach and English teacher, Tommy Chaffins, a volleyball coach and Social Studies teacher, and Steve Shaw, the woman’s basketball coach and P.E. teacher, all signed up as a team for the program, joining Bassine and 115 other employees.
Because of their competitive nature, the group of four signed up to win — and they did.
“Doing it with a group helps keep you accountable and keeps you on track,” said Shaw, who lost 19.4 pounds. “We checked in with each other periodically, but mostly we went our own way and did our own things.”
Ammentorp, who lost 27.8 pounds, tried to control portions and exercised four to five times a week. His motivation was being able to do stuff easier, like going on a walk or putting on shoes.
“We were all motivated for our families,” said Chaffins, who lost 17 pounds since the beginning of the program, and 24 pounds since starting his own weight loss journey. “We all want to live a long life and didn’t want to shorten it with the extra weight. The competition and camaraderie was good too; I didn’t want to let the guys down.”
The program showed Shaw that the district is concerned with the health of their employees and they are concerned with their staff living a healthy lifestyle. He was happy with his weight loss and enjoys fitting into his clothes better.
For Simon, who lost the most weight– 19.18 percent of his body weight, or 50.8 pounds– the image of a doctor sawing his chest open for open heart surgery was all the motivation he needed.
“I would say getting up at 5 a.m. to work out is way better than surgery,” said Simon, who dusted the cobwebs off an old elliptical in his garage. “Plus I’m a health teacher and want to be a good role model for the students.”
Nancy Billinger, the assistant superintendent for RBUSD, initially sent out the email because of the district’s strong relationship with Vitality Cities and the Blue Zones project.
“We wanted to commit to something above and beyond what we’re doing already,” said Billinger. “I was so impressed with the response I got from staff.”
Throughout the program she would periodically send out healthy tips, and even coordinated two free boot camp days for participants.
“I think what it confirmed for me was employees do respond to these kinds of district-wide events,” said Billinger. “Never underestimate the people who will respond to a simple challenge.”
Sixty-five of the initial 115 participants attended the final weigh-in, resulting in a total of 700 pounds lost. The district hopes to make the weight-loss challenge an annual event.
“I’m thankful the district decided to do this,” said Chaffins “because for year’s I’ve thought, ‘Okay, I’ll do it next week.’ We’re competitive men, this was a good recipe for us to be motivated.”