Could You Be the Biggest Loser?

One too many snickerdoodles this holiday season? Or has the weight just been coming on for a while?

Here’s an opportunity to shed those unwanted pounds and help out the Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia at the same time.

It’s the center’s Biggest Loser challenge, set to begin Monday, January 14, from 6 to 7 p.m.

Anyone can join the challenge. All you need to do is set your mind to it—we admit, that part can be tough—and visit the center for a weekly private weigh-in. The three “losers” with the largest percent weight loss after eight weeks will win cash prizes. Entry fee is $50, which supports the Immigration Center.

Immigration Center volunteer Ethel McGarvey is heading up the effort. The whole project got its start eight years ago. That first year was a resounding success, and the following years proved just as popular. “It was unbelievable the turnout that we had, and the number of pounds people were losing,” she says. “Hundreds of pounds every time. It was brilliant.”

Participants can use whatever method of weight loss they choose—Weight Watchers, shakes, exercise, whatever responsible approach works. “We’re just the weekly weigh-in spot,” McGarvey says.

Why is the Immigration Center, of all organizations, sponsoring Biggest Loser? Turns out the center—7 South Cedar Lane in Upper Darby—is a nice, central location for a lot of the people who want to participate, most of them, but not all, of Irish descent. “It’s a good way to bring the community together,” says McGarvey. “It’s a handy location.”

Not everyone who starts the program finishes it, she adds, but most do, and the results have been amazing.

“The first year, we had over 30 people join in, and a total weight loss of 273 pounds,” McGarvey says. “Our winner was Patrick Bourke, who lost 19.09 percent of his body weight. Mary Gallagher was a close second, with 15.93 percent. Mary came back the second in season four and lost another 11.01 percent. In season two, Shaun Dougherty lost 20.32 percent of his body weight—another successful year. Paul Butcher won with an 11.46 percent drop in season three, and his wife Sinead came in second—and she came back in season five and won that season.”

And on the success stories go.

People who drop out get a friendly phone call and an invitation to come back and weigh in. “You’ve already paid your money,” says McGarvey, “and who cares if you’re up? If you’re up and see the number, you may as well get back on it again.” There’s also a private Facebook page for those taking part.

Things get competitive as the program rolls along, but again, McGarvey explains, the Immigration Center views it as an opportunity to bring the community together.

“There’s a little bit of a challenge, and people always like the cash. The prizes are very good,” she says. “So, there’s a good reason for people to keep coming, and they feel better about themselves. But you also get to meet so many people. I mean, it’s unreal how many different people have been coming in. We got to meet more Irish people that we didn’t know lived around here. It’s a great place to get together and catch up. I think there’s not a better location to have it.”

If you want to take part, it’s easy. Go online and click on “Tickets by Eventbrite.

There’s probably no better way to be a big loser.

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