H-E-B selects 2 Victorians for Slim Down Showdown

Elena Watts By Elena Watts

Jan. 5, 2014 at 10 p.m.
Updated Jan. 5, 2014 at 7:06 p.m.

Jason Brown

Jason Brown

One called it destiny. Another described it as fate.

Two Victoria residents who have battled their weight most of their lives received messages in unlikely ways when they needed them most. Now, both are beginning potentially life-changing journeys.

Amber Thomas, 24, and Jason Brown, 35, are two of 30 Texans selected from more than 1,000 to participate in the 14-week H-E-B Slim Down Showdown.

"We started with our employees, saw the impact on them and decided to open the competition to the community in 2012," said Heidi Deen, health and wellness promotions manager for H-E-B.

The contestants were selected based on their stories, their persistence, their family and community support and their ability to sustain change.

"I really feel like I'm going to do it this time," Thomas said. "These are supposed to be the golden years, and I feel like my weight has stolen them."

Thomas, an administrative assistant at Kamin Furniture, gained 70 pounds during her pregnancy two years ago that she has not been able to lose. She weighs 283 pounds at 5-foot-5 and calls her participation in the competition her destiny.

"I was tired of starting diets that I couldn't finish," Thomas said. "I applied for the competition but didn't tell anyone because I didn't think I would be selected."

Thomas decided to try the YMCA's spinning class where Reuben Ybarra offered to help her adjust her bicycle.

"I thought I might make it 30 minutes, but at least I would try," Thomas said.

During class, Thomas learned that Ybarra had lost 85 pounds in the 2012 H-E-B Slim Down competition and that he had won the $3,000 healthy hero award.

Thomas finished the hourlong class that day, much to her surprise.

"It was my first victory moment," she said. "I stuck out the entire class and met someone who had accomplished what I want to accomplish."

Ybarra, 48, who has since lost 30 more pounds, drove Thomas to her contest interview.

"I always compare it (eating excessively) to drug or alcohol addiction," Ybarra said. "The light has to come on, and you have to say this is it."

Another encounter bolstered Thomas' belief that she was meant to participate in the contest.

The physician's assistant who performed her physical for the competition shared that he had lost more than 100 pounds.

Thomas' biggest concern is managing her stress and juggling all of her responsibilities.

"I'm scared this will end up like everything else, but I want to do it this time," she said. "I know I'm not this person."

Jason Brown, 365 pounds at 6-foot-3, decided to apply for the Slim Down competition at a fateful meeting.

The central checkout operations manager for H-E-B attended a work meeting in Corpus Christi. An executive told employees not to let opportunities pass by and to challenge themselves by making out-of-the-box decisions.

"I knew she was talking to me," he said. "I decided to apply, and I was selected."

Brown, who has made half-hearted attempts at diets, has never felt so committed to a program. But he acknowledged that his goals are not going to happen overnight.

"It's tough to get started when you're overweight because you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel," Brown said. "It's a long tunnel, and most give up."

Brown's biggest concern about the competition is finding the time for exercise and family during the odd hours he often works.

"I'm getting older, and I'm tired of being overweight," Brown said. "I want to see my son grow up and lead a healthy lifestyle."

The competition began Sunday in San Antonio with a six-day intensive wellness program that includes consultations with a dietician and workouts with an athletic trainer.

The contestants return home to free yearlong memberships at Gold's Gym and personal shopping tours at H-E-B.

Online resources offered by H-E-B include recipes, workouts and a mobile weight tracker.

Winners are announced April 12 at a ceremony in San Antonio in conjunction with the H-E-B Family Expo.

The $10,000 grand prize and $5,000 healthy hero prize winners will be determined by metrics that include the percentage of weight lost, progress updates on Facebook and weekly blogs.

"My advice to Amber and Jason is to grab the horns and go," Ybarra said. "I'm here to support them and keep them on track - and they keep me on track."



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