Debra Hardy, of Nacogdoches, took home the grand prize, a 2014 Dodge Dart donated by Allen Samuels Tyler, in Thursday night's Lighten Up East Texas celebration and prize ceremony.

The 60-year-old lost 15 of the whopping 9,310 pounds — the equivalent of three Dodge Darts — that East Texans collectively lost throughout a four-month period.

"I was surprised, but I just had a feeling," Mrs. Hardy said, after test driving her new car for the first time.

Records show that 3,165 weighed in for the contest, while 950, 30 percent, of participants returned to weigh out. That's up from 18 percent at last year's contest.

Of those who weighed out, 309 lost 5 percent of their body weight, 77 lost 10 percent, 21 lost 15 percent and eight people lost 20 percent.

Mrs. Hardy lost weight by watching her food intake and consulting with a health coach.

"I've worked on my weight for the last 10 years," she said. "It's not easy. It helps to have events like this. I think it's an awesome idea, and it helps motivate people."

The rain stopped in time for LUET officials to announce winners, as well as give away thousands of dollars in gift certificates. Live entertainment and appetizers added to a festive atmosphere on FRESH by Brookshire's patio.

"We're very blessed with the weather, and we had a great evening with great food and fellowship," said George Roberts, chief executive officer at Northeast Texas Public Health District and a Lighten Up East Texas organizer. "I think we'll see if we can do this again next year."

Five people walked away with $1,000 gift cards from Brookshire's Grocery Co. Three teams won gift cards ranging from $25 to $100 for Fit City Foods.

Team Collette members, Steve and Andrea Wieczor, took home the first-place prize in the team awards. They lost 48 pounds combined, a 12.3 percent weight loss.

Wieczor, a firefighter, used CrossFit and followed the Paleo diet. He said he had gained as much weight as his wife while she was pregnant with their now-5-month-old daughter, Collette.

"We had been losing weight, and at the end, we lost a few more pounds than we were expecting," Wieczor said.

The couple said accountability was important in weight-loss success.

"Get with a group of people or other people losing weight," Wieczor said. "Focus on trying to lose weight together."

Mrs. Wieczor pulled out the stroller and took walks with their daughter. She said breastfeeding helps with weight loss as well.

The second-place team was Team Shredders with Tim Walker, Jose Ortiz and Matthew Ramirez. They had a combined 11.48 percent weight loss. Third place went to Team Tyler P.D., with Christian and Matthew Killmeyer losing 11.39 percent.

Bill and Brenda Reynolds, of Tyler, were among the six people who won an Inspiration Award. The couple, who have been married for 39 years, had fought to lose weight individually. This year, they teamed up to provide each other the support they needed.

Reynolds has lost 48 pounds so far, and 21 pounds during the challenge. Mrs. Reynolds dropped 47 pounds for the year and 15 during the challenge. Her husband works out five times each week, and they've both given up diary and simple carbohydrates, such as white bread and sugar.

The couple said they both feel better and are enjoying buying new clothes.

"He keeps going to the store, saying, ‘I've gotta get new pants. I've gotta get new pants,'" Mrs. Reynolds said. "It's fun to buy clothes again."

They said they still have some work to do. Mrs. Reynolds is about 30 pounds from her goals, while her husband wants to lose another 20. She said weight loss goes beyond dieting and exercising.

"It's all up here," she said, pointing to her head. "You have to want it really bad."

Other inspiration awards winners were Fred Peters, Angela Norman, Tosha Bjork and Kim White and the Lindale Early Childhood Center.


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