published Thursday, April 21st, 2011

2 strategies, 1 goal: Get healthy

Abby Rike, a  2009 contestant on the "Biggest Loser" reality show, left, speaks to BlueCross BlueShield employee and fan Crystal Vergara during a health fair Wednesday afternoon. 
Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Abby Rike, a 2009 contestant on the "Biggest Loser" reality show, left, speaks to BlueCross BlueShield employee and fan Crystal Vergara during a health fair Wednesday afternoon. Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press

“Biggest Loser” contestant Abby Rike, who dropped 100 pounds on the show, told BlueCross BlueShield employees Wednesday to ditch fad diets and tackle their health the hard way.

“Health and wellness can help you live your best life,” said Rike, who lost her husband and two young children in a car accident a few years before she became a contestant on the NBC show “The Biggest Loser.”

“You can choose to move forward and live that purpose designed for you,” she said. “There is no secret. You have to make changes: smart eating and moving more.”

Two events in Chattanooga on Wednesday showcased different approaches to improving city residents’ overall health. Rike grabbed attention at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s annual corporate health fair, and the Bethlehem Center offered screenings and education to Alton Park residents.

The Bethlehem Center event, attended by nearly 100 people, offered screenings for diabetes, asthma, pregnancy and HIV. It is part of the center’s New Start program to encourage healthful living in the low-income neighborhoods nearby.

“People in low-income communities don’t always have the education or people reminding them to be conscious of their health,” said Lurone Jennings, executive director of the Bethlehem Center. “There are too many diseases we bring upon ourselves.”

More than 2,000 BCBS employees lined up for information from vendors including the Chattanooga Area YMCAs, Chattanooga Outdoors, the city’s parks and recreation department, Crabtree Farms and Memorial Hospital.

Tina Paul, who started working in the BlueCross marketing department in January, said promoting wellness is important to the health insurance company. The fair is just one of the constant reminders of that priority, she said.

“It has to start at home,” she said.

Other BlueCross BlueShield employees said they were encouraged by Rike because her struggle with her health in the wake of grief over lost family members shows the value of putting wellness first.

“It resonates,” said Kristiina Braden, who has worked at BlueCross for more than a year as a communication consultant. “To have someone nationally known here [at BlueCross], is motivating.”

Rike, who has brought her health and fitness message to schools, churches and businesses since being cast in season eight of the popular weight-loss show, also was promoting her recently-published memoir, “Working it Out.”

She said the book focuses on her challenges to recover from the loss of her family and reclaim her health. It also reveals some behind-the-scenes facts about “The Biggest Loser,” she said.

When she auditioned for the show in Louisiana, she said she was at her “ugliest,” weighing 247 pounds, and she told the show’s producers she was ready to make a dramatic change.

“I said, ‘If you don’t pick me this season, I won’t be fat the next,’” she said.

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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