Ruben Cavazos III and Melanie Cryer are an amazing couple of winning weight-losers of the 2013 H-E-B Slim Down Showdown.
And after Saturday’s grand finale event announcing Ruben as the winner of the third-annual H-E-B employee, or “partner,” contest – they’re now engaged to be married.
Ruben dropped to one knee in front of a surprised Melanie after receiving the $10,000 grand prize on stage with his two sons. Though the answer was not audible to the crowd of more than 500 in the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center ballroom, a long kiss through cheers and crying conveyed a solid “Yes.”
Together, they shed more than 120 pounds, shrinking several sizes. Ruben went from a 46 waist to a 34, 4X shirt to an XL. Melanie went from a dress size of 11 to a size three, and now they say they’ve been blessed with a whole new outlook on how to spend their time.
The grand prize winner of the community member Slim Down Showdown – which runs parallel to the H-E-B partner contest – Brittany Ward, was overwhelmed with gratitude towards her family, friends, classmates and team of health and wellness trainers as she accepted her $10,000 check on stage.
“We’re proof that change is possible when you commit,” she said, holding back tears. “I’m not done, but I’m off to a good start.”
Brittany lost 34 pounds and dropped her cholesterol by 62 points. She confidently showed off her success in a beautiful, snug black dress. The final event is more like a runway party than an awards ceremony; balloons, flashing lights loud pop-music, friends and families waving signs of support, hollering at their loved-ones and shaking noise-makers.
[Video: Watch several contestants strut their stuff on the runway. Warning: lots of screaming, turn your volume down to enjoy.]
When Brittany took her “before and after” strut down the runway, her family couldn’t believe the transformation. Erika James was perhaps the most outwardly enthusiastic member of Team Brittany as she jumped up and down, yelling: “You’re beautiful! You’re beautiful!”
Ward and 25 community members from all over Texas participated in the second-annual Slim Down Showdown community contest, losing more than 700 pounds combined over an intensive 12-week nutrition and fitness training. The contestants were given expert eating, cooking, and exercise advice – all of which was taken to heart, said Kate Rogers, H-E-B vice president of communications and engagement.
“On its surface, (this is a) weight loss competition,” she said. “But really it’s about changing the way we think about nutrition and fitness.”
Rogers said she continues to be impressed by the dedication of contestants to the demanding Show Down requirements. They maintain blogs, share their deeply personal – sometimes embarrassing – moments, keep appointments with health coaches, and some even go beyond to organize food demonstrations and 5Ks in their local communities.
“You’re all winners in our eyes,” said Craig Boyan, H-E-B president and COO, just before announcing the winners. “This is about creating a culture of health in Texas so you’re there for kids (and) for your grandkids.”
Approximately 66% of Texans are overweight or obese, Boyan said. “We’ve got lots of challenges … But the good news is, we’ve begun to see the tide turning – this is making a difference.”
Between both partner and community competitions – the latter of which gave $5,000 to the “fan favorite” Brad Westmoreland and $3,000 to “healthy hero” Juan Rameriez, the former gave a $5,000 check to Melanie for her wedding dress – $33,000 was awarded to the winning weight-losers.
H-E-B thanked its presenting sponsor, Dole, as well as the Metropolitan Methodist Hospital, Gold’s Gym, Avocados from Mexico, the National Watermelon Promotion Board, Organix, the Hilton Hill Country Hotel & Spa, Brita, Fleet Feet and Uncle Sam for sponsoring the contest and programs.
Beyond the competition, H-E-B also started giving its partners “Lunch and Learn” Slim Down Showdown toolkits last year. Almost 6,600 employees participated in the toolkit’s second year and lost a combined total of 32,435 pounds, a 40 percent increase from 2012.
I had the pleasure of joining Melanie and Ruben last weekend at the Capitol 10K in Austin, right after the award ceremony. It was the first time Ruben had ever participated in a race; and not only was he not the slightest bit fatigued, he was downright jubilant. While Melanie admits this wasn’t her first race, it was the first one she took seriously and was able to run the entire 6.2 miles without stopping. Surrounded by well-wishers and hounded for photo requests with their fellow Partners, Ruben and Melanie are unabashedly convinced this is their calling: to inspire others to take the plunge into this exhilarating life of fitness.
These two H-E-B partners, as well as the 12 other partner contestants, have what it takes to succeed in overcoming life’s challenges while making their health a priority. Busy schedules, caring for Ruben’s two young boys and even a death in the family was not enough to push them off course during the 12-week journey through nutrition and fitness training.
I asked all the contestants to take note each week of one key action on diet and exercise – “My One Thing.” These were very specific activities to focus on that would help drill consistent behaviors into their new lifestyle. Here’s what a typical week looked like for Ruben:
Ruben’s “One Thing:” I am going to focus on keeping my protein level up, make my protein gram goal every day. I am going to focus on cardio this week, keeping my calorie burn target at 1,000 calories at least each day.
Calorie intake– 10284 (1469 calories/day average)
Calories burned- 8736 (1248 calories/day average)
Protein– 1004g (143g/day average)
Fat– 302g (43g/day average)
Fiber– 142g (20g/day average
Carbs– 1007g (143g/day average)
“Everything is going great. I’m still pushing myself everyday,” Ruben wrote in an email to me in late March. “I had to buy some new clothes. I’m down to a 36 from a 46 pant sizes and from a 4x shirt to a large t-shirt. I still don’t believe it. I didn’t see it till I saw myself this weekend at my son’s football game. When I saw the picture – WOW – (it) was crazy looking at (myself). At the game, there were parents from last year that remembered me and asked what I had been doing. I told them my story. I am sleeping much better, at least six to seven hours (most nights). I’m almost to my goal that I set for myself. I should hit that any day now. But I will keep going. “
The best part about being a coach for the Slimdown Show Down is seeing the strength alongside the tenderness of the human spirit. These contestants were not really contestants at all. Instead, they were like a family of support and inspiration for each other: Instantly-bonded and willing to share their personal struggles in exchange for hope that healthy change is within reach.
We all know life is never easy; challenges confront us in many forms. The strength of friendship and family gives us hope and the inspiration from seeing others overcome challenges can give us determination to jump into the fight with newfound enthusiasm. The true win is sharing this journey with each other.
Suzanne Parker serves as H-E-B’s Corporate Wellness Coach. She has a degree in Dietetics and Exercise Physiology from the University of California, Davis. Suzanne believes everyone needs strength, flexibility and endurance combined with great nutrition to accomplish any goal in life. Her passion is helping people to love keeping their bodies strong through healthy fuel and fitness.
Iris Dimmick, managing editor, contributed to this story.