ARARAT - The concept of 'paying it forward' is being taken up by eight of the contestants who were part of The Biggest Loser phenomenon that took Australia by storm, and they will now pass on their knowledge and support to eight new 'contestants' in a program designed to help people become fitter and healthier.
Ararat Active8 is an initiative of the Ararat Kitty Committee designed to keep the community of Ararat focused on getting healthier and becoming one of the fittest towns in Australia.
The Kitty Committee comprises the four Biggest Loser finalists Craig Booby, Toni Stockwell, Sharon Basset and Katrina Pianta, Ararat Rural City manager community development and client services Angela Hunt and Healthy Together Grampians Goldfields manager preventative health Sharon Ruyg, who are the trustees of the $145,000 Ararat received as part of the hit TV series.
The Ararat Active8 Biggest Loser mentors will include Sharon Basset, Katrina Pianta, Craig Booby, Toni Stockwell, Kerry Stockwell, Rodger Turner, Jane Jantzen and Mary Reid.
A number of personal trainers from Ararat will also be part of the progam and will include Christopher John Provis-Vincent from CPV Fitness, Kelli Holtham-Felini from Felini Health and Fitness, Lee-Ann Moana from Crave Mobile Personal Training as well as three trainers from the Ararat YMCA.
Each of the eight contestants chosen will be allocated a mentor from the Biggest Loser contestants involved and a personal trainer.
They will receive two personal training sessions per week, a three month Ararat YMCA gym membership and other incentives for healthy living. Comprehensive lifestyle information will be provided by Healthy Together Grampians Goldfields.
"It's about keeping that pay it forward idea running," Katrina said.
"The cameras and lights are over, but then that focus can shift and we feel, as the people who were lucky enough to spend time in Sydney, it is part of our responsibility to make sure that that's not lost."
The Kitty Committee is hoping the event becomes an annual one, with the eight Active8 contestants to become the new crop of healthy people to 'pay it forward'.
Both Katrina and Sharon agreed that while it is about losing weight, it's more about changing your life and life style.
"It's about engaging in fitness and health and not about who can be the skinniest. Even though the show is like that, we're not trying the replicate the show," Katrina said.
"It's not about who is Ararat's TBL, it's about who wants to be part of a group of eight dynamic people that take the baton from us and move forward to be fit and healthy and then maybe next year they're passing the baton on.
"We can always be there ticking away in the background, but it doesn't always need to be about us.
"It's not about being a star or celebrity it is about keeping that message, that Ararat has done a great job, but we can't stop, Ararat can't stop."
None of the Biggest Loser contestants want the momentum from the TV show to stop.
"I won't let them," Sharon said.
"And it won't just be about them (the contestants), because they've got their little support group around them too and it then takes it out further to the next group."
For the Biggest Loser contestants, Katrina said the easy bit was going to Sydney and losing the weight.
"The hard bit's doing it in real life and that's why we want to get these eight people who are real people, have real jobs, have family, maybe are older, may have a disability," she said.
"It's certainly not about a certain age bracket, it's for all abilities, we want to show that you're never too old, you're never too young, you may have a disability, but it doesn't mean you can't get fit and healthy and participate."
Applications are invited from any one from Ararat Rural City and applications will also be accepted from people in the Stawell region.
The applicants are required to complete an online application at www.ararat.vic.gov.au or if they don't have access to the internet applications are available from the Ararat Regional Library.
The only prerequisite is that applicants must be prepared to undergo a medical examination.
From all the applicants received the Kitty Committee will come up with a short list and from that shortlist, the eight contestant will be chosen at random.
Both Sharon and Katrina stressed that, having gone through the humiliation of a public weigh-in for The Biggest Loser, there will be no public weigh- in for the eight chosen contestants, however, they must be prepared for the public to know who they are and what their starting weight is, as their profiles will be featured in The Ararat Advertiser.
The three month challenge will begin on July 11 and will finish with a Gala Ball on October 11, the 12 month anniversary of filming of The Biggest Loser Finale.
The contestants won't be weighed in at the event, but will be presented to those who attend the event after a 'makeover', and their 'after' shots will again be featured in The Ararat Advertiser.
"It will be about celebrating the end of their 12 week journey, and it will still be about trying to engage the town people, so come and have a fun night, celebrate how well Ararat's done, that we've just done another 12 months of being fit and looking great," Katrina said.
The Biggest Loser contestants are looking forward to mentoring their chosen 'Active8ed' contestants.
"I'd love to meet up for general walks and give them our phone numbers and say ring us if you have a problem," Sharon said.
Katrina hopes to attend training sessions with her mentee and also organise private get togethers such as a walk and talk.
"Like for those hard days where you think 'I just want to eat 5000 Tim Tams and give up', then they can give us a ring and that might be the perfect opportunity to say 'Right, stop, put your runners on and we'll just go for a walk around the lake', so they've got a support network," Katrina said.
"They've got their own friends, but they've also got us."
The mentors hope to be a net that can catch the contestants if they fall.
"We want to be there to catch them, pull them back up," Sharon said.
Sharon and Katrina stressed that the contestants will not undergo the strict and challenging training that The Biggest Loser contestants experienced.
"We don't want it to look like we're trying to push them and train like crazy like we did, it's not like that, it's a couple of hours a week, tops, and then after that what ever they can fit in," Katrina said.
"We'd really love people to apply just to have a go, you're not going to turn into a body builder, we just want you to start and at the finish see a difference, it's not about reinventing yourself.
"The small changes are easy to maintain, we're not talking about changing your entire world because that doesn't work."
Now that the hype of The Biggest Loser is over and the show has finished screening, all contestants have been relieved to get back to their 'normal' lives.
Many contestants have also been on the public speaking circuit around the region.
"I've been going out a lot, doing a lot of talks and that just makes me feel so good because, it's like, it makes you feel good to make other people want to change their lives too," Sharon said.
"It makes you feel happy."
Both women encouraged anyone who wants to improve their health and fitness to apply for Ararat Active8.
"It's about small steps, people think we must lead these amazing lives, but we're just like everyone else, we battle our weight fluctuating, trying to fit fitness in around full time work and families and houses and all these other things you're expected to do, we're not any different," Katrina said.
"We all have our own battles - it's how you approach them. We all have our down days, but you pick yourself up.
"That's the good thing about The Biggest Loser being in town, it taught us not to give up."