Eric Melnyczenko has lost more than 40 pounds since the beginning of the year, not just for himself. He's doing it for Kyla.

She is his 3-year-old daughter, who has cerebral palsy. She is nonmobile and nonverbal. So he has to be in good physical shape to care for her.

Also to give his wife, Lynn, a break. She has multiple sclerosis, so she fatigues easily. 

This is his motivation for participating in The Times' Lose 17 in '17 weight-loss contest.

"I wouldn't be doing as well without them," said Melnyczenko, 35, a middle school administrator from Schererville.

He and his fellow contestants have various reasons for trying to lose weight, from wanting to set better examples for their kids to achieve certain fitness objectives. It appears to be working — the 17 participants have dropped nearly 300 pounds in the past five months.

Jane Bogordos, exercise physiologist and supervisor of wellness for Franciscan Omni Health & Fitness in Schererville, said goals motivate people who are trying to get fit.

"Keeping that goal in your view at all times helps put you back on the right path if you are struggling," she said. "Getting in shape is achievable and more fun if you sign up for a run/walk, do a bike riding event, or participate in a color run, for example."

For Ed Bermes, of Portage, the catalyst for joining the contest was to return to marathon-running shape.

He ran his first Chicago marathon in the year 2000. But the time he did his last marathon, in 2014, it was a struggle because of his weight. He vowed to never run another one weighing more than 200 pounds.

Earlier this year, he registered for the Chicago race, which takes place in October. He's already more than halfway to his goal, having dropped his weight from 252 to 223 since January.

"I can only imagine how good I would feel at 200 pounds," said Bermes, 57, a personal custom clothier.

Contestant Barb Swanson is running a 5K with her 12-year-old grandson on Saturday. They are out to beat their times from last year.

"I am just excited that I can actually have something in common with a 12-year-old boy," said Swanson, 68, a Schererville retiree.

Her longer-term goal is to run the Disney World half-marathon in January.

Darin Bensinger and his wife, Julie, entered Lose 17 in '17 because they hoped to be positive role models for their children, ages 5 and 7.

It's having the desired effect.

"The kids are now starting to talk about it, how they want us to win," said Darin, 35, a Munster accountant. "They ask if I'm going out running. They're keeping on me."

The kids no longer question why their parents are serving pancakes, doughnuts and pizza less often. Their mom and dad are in it to win it.

As for Melnyczenko, he's had more energy since he's been getting back into shape. He used to get home from work and want to pass out on the couch. Now, with the weather nice, he takes his daughter out for a ride in her adaptive bike or jogging stroller in the evenings.

"I want to get out there and run," he said. "I've never been fond of running. But I want to do it for Kyla. Because she enjoys being out there. Without her, I don't think I would have any gumption to do it at all."


Health reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.