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U of M faculty member loses pounds for health competition

By Jason Jones
On February 29, 2012

  • Former Rock 103 D.J. Ric Chetter owns and operates Radio Memphis, which features music by local and unsigned bands from across the Mid-South. “Memphis music should be on the radio in Memphis,” he said. Christopher Whitten

Melynda Whitwell plans to win it all by losing it all in a nationwide health contest hosted by Genghis Grill.

Whitwell is an academic services coordinator for the Loewenberg School of Nursing and said she loves to eat at the Mongolian stir-fry restaurant.

Genghis Grill hosts the Health Kwest Khantest yearly across the nation to promote a healthier lifestyle for participants and give them a chance to win the grand prize of $10,000.  

Whitwell knew about the competition last year, but didn't apply in time. This year, she was chosen from 1,500 applicants to represent the Genghis Grill in Memphis, located at 5849 U.S. Hwy 72.

"I was and still am very surprised to be chosen to represent Memphis," Whitwell said.

The competition lasts from Feb. 1 to March 31. Contestants are judged by the number of pounds lost, number of blogs posted online and number of votes received from the public.

The only rule is that all participants must eat once a day at Genghis Grill, which they are allowed to do for free.

Whitwell is nearly at the halfway point in the competition, with her second official weigh-in on Thursday.  She feels her workout regiment, diet plan and motivation from friends and family have her on the right track of reaching her weight loss goal of 40 pounds.

"So far so good," she said.

To help reach her goal, Whitwell began a workout consisting of 5:30 a.m. swims and runs on the treadmill, attends Zumba classes after work and adheres to a low-carb diet that originally began as a low-fat and low-calorie diet.

She relies heavily on outside motivation to help push through the health challenge, she said.

The manager of the Genghis Grill on Poplar Avenue, Royce Estes, sends text messages to Whitwell nearly every day, making sure she is doing well and giving her daily reminders to eat healthy.

"My staff and I try to give her as much support as we can in everything she does," he said.

Estes was the manager of the Cordova location that participated last year in the competition, and whose participant – a U of M graduate – received second place nationally.

Whitwell's stepmother, Nancy Long, is one of Whitwell's supports her stepdaughter motivationally and by helping to acquire public votes.

Long, a Cook Convention Center employee, used her extensive email list to send out links and reminders for people to vote for her stepdaughter online, but she said winning is not the most important thing.

"She's not focusing on the money although it would be nice to win.  Even if she doesn't win, this contest has changed not only her life, but her family and friends' as well," Long said.

Whitwell keeps a daily blog that records her journey. Through blogs, contestants are allowed to advertise themselves in order to get votes from the public. Votes count for 25 percent of the judging and so do the number of blogs posted. The amount of weight lost is 50 percent of a contestant's final score.

"The hardest part about the entire experience is fitting my workouts in with my family and job," Whitwell said.

With one more month left in the contest, Whitwell is finding that more is coming from the competition than just a healthier lifestyle.

"It may sound cheesy, but I've learned through this experience that I am capable of change in a big way," Whitwell said.

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