Fitness North boot camp targets weight lossAn Aitkin woman has partnered with O’Neal Hampton Jr., who has gone from 420 pounds to 223 pounds, largely with the help of the reality TV show “The Biggest Loser,” to open a weight loss boot camp on the North Shore.
By: Candace Renalls , Duluth News Tribune
When it comes to losing weight, there’s nothing more impressive than someone who has done it big time.
Like O’Neal Hampton Jr.
Hampton, 52, of Richfield, Minn., has gone from 420 pounds to
223 pounds, largely with the help of the reality TV show “The Biggest Loser,” where he and his daughter, SunShine, were fan favorites in this year’s season nine. Determined to regain the fitness and quality of life he had when he played football and was a Green Beret, Hampton started losing weight even before entering the show’s boot camp. And he has lost 21 more pounds since leaving the show.
“I know how it is to go through the daily struggles of losing weight,” he said.
So when “Biggest Loser” fan Sheryl Babbitt of Aitkin was looking to start a live-in, weight-loss boot camp on the North Shore, she called Hampton to ask if he would give a motivational talk to the participants.
He listened to her ideas for the weight loss program and recalls telling her that he didn’t just like her program, he loved it. But he
didn’t want to just be a guest speaker, he wanted to be part of the program. And he had plenty of ideas to make it better.
So a partnership was born.
The result is Fitness North, which opened this week at Surfside on Lake Superior resort in Tofte with Hampton and Babbitt as co-owners.
“His role will be chief inspirer and motivator,” Babbitt said of Hampton. “A lot of people were completely motivated by him on the show.”
It’s the only live-in weight-loss boot camp of its kind in the state, said Babbitt, who chose the North Shore for its beauty and healing effects.
Hampton said he’ll keep the participants motivated, not just through the physical challenges of six to eight hours a day of exercise, but through the psychological aspects of losing weight.
“I know about both,” he said. “There will be times when mental fatigue sets in. Mental fatigue always sets in before physical fatigue.”
Making lasting changes
The program’s first week kicked off Sunday with 10 participants. But future sessions will be open to up to 32 men and women who want to make lasting, healthy lifestyle changes, not just lose weight.
Babbitt isn’t making any weight loss guarantees, however.
“Everybody’s different,” she said. “They’re going to lose weight, but they’re also going to gain strength, endurance and muscle.”
Costs for the weeklong sessions start at $1,500 per person, including meals and luxury accommodations at the resort. Two-week or longer stays also are available.
That’s a bargain, Babbitt said of the fee, adding that similar programs around the country charge considerably more.
While participants will stay in luxury townhomes, it won’t be a kick-back-and-relax kind of retreat.
The daily 12-hour schedule starts at 6 a.m. with an hourlong walk, followed by five to seven hours of exercise, including hiking, weight training, cardio circuit and water aerobics. They’ll work with personal trainers to build strength, tone muscles, boost energy and, of course, lose weight. Participants will use the resort’s fitness room and pool, but much will be done outside, taking advantage of what the North Shore offers, from hiking to cross-country skiing.
“Six to eight hours of exercises sounds like a lot, but you need to do that to shock your bodies,” Babbitt said.
When it comes to meals, the participants won’t be waited on. They’ll shop for groceries and help prepare their own meals, tailored to their own nutritional needs.
“It’s not as simple as calorie counting,” she said. “They learn what to eat and how to prepare it. That’s how they’ll learn.”
The idea for the live-in program sprang from Babbitt’s own struggles with weight.
She didn’t have a weight problem until after she had children, had gone through a divorce and became ill. She suffered a stroke and underwent open heart surgery to correct a heart defect. During a long recovery, she became depressed and, she said, “packed on the pounds.” But when she went to a live-in fitness boot camp in another state, she experienced a life-changing makeover that led to weight loss.
“It was the first time I had focused on myself,” she said. “It was very successful. Between the diet and exercising and no interruptions and being in a controlled environment, I lost a lot of weight and inches.”
She kept it off for a couple of years, but eventually life’s stressors caused her to regain weight. But she’s once again getting it under control, she said.
Having experienced the ups and downs of weight herself, the 49-year-old Babbitt woman said she better understands the challenges program participants face.
The stressors that lead to weight gain will be explored individually with the participants to help them identify and manage them so they can make positive lifestyle changes.
“Being obese is a by-product of something else going on in their lives,” Hampton said. “Whenever you have struggles in your life, it’s letting you know that something isn’t right. You have to reverse that process. That’s what I will be there for. I will be there for them every step of the way. It’s a really important part, the psychological part.”
At times, Babbitt will join the participants on their hikes as she works on her own fitness goals.
“I did this for my own selfish reasons,” Babbitt said of starting Fitness North. “I turned my own quest for better health into a business opportunity.”
At the same time, she wants to help others get the same life-changing results she has had.
“I want to show people that sometimes, a jump-start is all you need, just to get you on track,” she said. “And if there’s a spark there, you can make a flame.”