Jabbar Al Tameemi has always strived to be a “model for (his) family.”
He came to the U.S. from Iraq with his family seven years ago – thanks to a special immigration visa granted by the U.S. government for his linguistic work for the U.S. Army – and while working security at the local H-E-B at Cypress Towers, attained a post-graduate degree in engineering from UTSA last May. While his accomplishment is surely “model” worthy, Al Tameemi knew of another area that needed his attention: his health.
Over the past five years, he gained 70 pounds, he said, a result of working a desk job and over eating.
That’s why he competed in the 6th annual H-E-B Slim Down Showdown, a 12-week weight loss and healthy habits contest held in Texas. Al Tameemi, who lost a total of 57 pounds, was just one of 30 state-wide contestants in the competition. They, along with their families, friends, and hundreds of other supporters, gathered at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center for the grand finale event on Saturday, an occasion complete with lights, balloons, and upbeat music to celebrate each participant’s decision to lead a healthier lifestyle.
Each contestant strutted down the runway when their name was called to show off their progress to the crowd. Audience members held signs emblazoned with the names of their loved ones in the competition, cheering and applauding when they made their “makeover” debut at the celebration. While all received praise for their weight-loss accomplishments, cash prizes were only awarded to the four contests who lost the most weight.
Al Tameemi was awarded the H-E-B Slim Down Showdown Partner, or “employee,” Healthy Hero Award. He was proud to receive the award that allows him to be a good example to his two teenage sons who he fears are already on track to being overweight.
“You can talk about (losing weight) for as long as you want, but you have to lead by example, and that’s something I really, really wanted,” he said after receiving the award. Throughout his journey, his family not only supported him, but also adapted healthier habits. “I see my kids now going to the gym more than ever, so I’m happy for that change.”
The Slim Down Showdown is broken into two competitions – one for community members and another for H-E-B employees – with 15 participants in each category. After being chosen to compete, contestants have the opportunity to participate in a tough six-day wellness program, or “Fit Camp,” and then return home to lose some weight using what they learned.
This year’s Slim Down Showdown competitors lost more than 879 pounds, logged more than 30 million steps, wrote 1,100 blog posts, and organized 150 various community events collectively, said Kate Rogers, H-E-B vice president of communication and engagement who emceed the event.
“In a lot of cases, (the participants) have inspired people they don’t even know with their courage and their commitment,” she said. Because of their efforts, she added, “thousands of other Texans have gained the knowledge and confidence they need to make positive changes in their own lives as well.”
After 12 weeks, competition winners are determined by assessing three factors: overall health improvement, participation, and fan engagement, which contestants facilitate through hosting programs in their communities and maintaining a blog about their experience. The grand prize winners in each category win $10,000, and two smaller awards – like Al Tameemi’s – grant $5,000 to recipients.
“When I heard my dad’s name called, I was really happy, but surprised,” said Al Tameemi’s son, Husham. “He was doing really great (throughout the competition), he even has blisters and stuff from walking and running, so in the end I wasn’t that surprised. I am really proud of him.”
Community grand prize winner Zachary House, communications director for Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, he lost 22 pounds, 7% body fat, and received more than 2,872 comments and shares on his blog. House said he joined the competition after he was diagnosed as pre-diabetic, a diagnosis that he feared would keep him from watching his newborn son grow up.
“I wanted to be a good role model, a good father, and good husband,” he said. “It’s been an amazing journey, but I’m not done. Being a good role model or influencer doesn’t end with this competition, it’s going to keep going.”
The other winners included Jesse Cano, a Corpus Christi native who was the H-E-B Employee grand prize winner, and Carlos De La Garza from New Braunfels, who was the Community Healthy Hero winner. Cano, a type-2 diabetic, said his experience was truly life changing, since his weight loss allowed him to be taken off insulin shots.
“It was the greatest feeling in the world,” he said. “To have to inject yourself everyday is a horrible thing, it’s no way to live.”
The grand finale event is held each year in conjunction with the H-E-B Health and Wellness Family Expo, which features free health screenings, fitness suggestions, cooking demos, and product sampling. It’s those efforts and more that make the entire Slim Down experience much more than just a weight loss competition.
“(The Slim Down Showdown) is an experience that changes the way people think about fitness and food, and helps them build the skills they need to be successful in the long term,” said Mark Long, creator of Pocket Protein and one of Saturday’s emcees. “It gives people the tools they need to make changes that will literally last a lifetime.”
Top image: Michelle Giles flashes the audience a smile on the runway at the HEB Silmdown Showdown finale at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Photo by Bria Woods.