With diabetes on the rise in the Cree communities along with a whole host of other health complications relating to obesity, Chisasibi’s recreation technician Tommy Sam found inspiration from reality TV to help remedy the problem.

For many seasons now, NBC’s “The Biggest Loser,” has chronicled the extreme weight loss of dozens of its contestants as they compete for cash and prizes by dropping the most pounds possible.

Though the Chisasibi version may not be a TV program — with fancy matching outfits, challenges that involve destroying fast food or a process of voting individuals out — its basic goal is the same, to see who can lose the most.

“The reason we did this was because we wanted to promote healthy living which is the purpose of the project. Some people had come up to me and said that all they needed was for someone to challenge them,” said Roy Neacappo, who also works in recreation in Chisasibi.

In its first edition of the community contest, 198 people are participating in 99 separate teams of two. There are three different divisions — a category for men, one for women and a separate category for those over 40.

The contest will run for 12 weeks with participants going to “weigh-ins” every four weeks. Unlike the TV show, however, the contestants’ weigh-ins are conducted in private by public-health professionals and are confidential. The contest began on September 15 and ends on December 8.

To help the contestants in their endeavours, the recreation centre enlisted the help of Trevor Monaghan, a certified personal trainer from Wemindji, to get the contestants moving. Offering orientations at the fitness centre and personalized workouts for the contestants, Monaghan has been thrilled with the results so far. Since the October weigh-in, the contestants are averaging six pounds of weight lost per person.

“I probably did at least 50 orientation sessions so that each person had the chance to get a program and keep track of their weights and sets. I showed them how to use the equipment properly and told them that I would consult with them on a weekly basis and if they had any questions they could email me,” said Monaghan.

According to Monaghan, the fitness centre’s daily usage has doubled from 15-20 daily users to 35-40 and the fitness centre has broken its monthly goals in terms of memberships. The first five pairs that signed up for the contest received free memberships to the fitness centre as an added incentive.

“I have personal-trainer experience and this is great way to get back into it and work with the community. I am having a really good time as well,” said Monaghan.

The actual fitness program that Monaghan designed for the competition consists of 45-minute workouts involving resistance training on workout machines with some free weight training.

“I taught them to do a warm-up with static stretching and gave them an idea about how to do some cardio work or aerobic training. A lot of them learned it to the T. I go in on certain nights and see the same people. They are doing different stuff from the program and are all very eager,” said Monaghan.

A nutritionist from the public health department has also been on hand

throughout the contest to help out anyone who wanted nutrition advice.

The grand prize in Chisasibi’s weight-loss challenge is a Chisasibi Sports and Recreation Association (CRSA) sponsored, expenses-paid trip for two to the World Junior Hockey Championships in Ottawa, which includes hotel accommodations, gas, the tickets and $500 spending money.

The CSRA has also been contacting other Cree entities to see if other prizes could be contributed to help keep the contestants motivated.

“The Cree Nation of Chisasibi has been very supportive. The council and the administration are very happy that we are doing this,” said Neacappo, and he could not be more correct.

Chisasibi Chief Roderick Pachano was delighted to see this particular idea take off.

“It is excellent that people decided to do something. I think what they are doing is great and it’s encouraging that they are keeping it up,” said Pachano.

Though the CSRA may not be able to offer the glitz and glamour of the NBC version of the show, the same basic fundamental is there, that getting into shape, healthy eating and fighting obesity is the way to go for a healthier, happier lifestyle… and perhaps the way to go to win some bragging rights.

There will be more to come on the winners and their success stories in the December issues of the Nation.