After 12 months of hard work, the graduating members of the Healthy U Class of 2019 have lost nearly 300 pounds.

Nine students walked across the stage during Night of Inspiration hosted Thursday night at Smith-Cotton Junior High. In addition to their weight loss, the class also lost a combined 349 inches.

“This group was very laidback, an easy-going group that worked very well together, worked very well with their support folks,” said Melissa Guffin, Healthy U past board president. “They really embraced it. They had the best attendance that we’ve had in the years I can remember. They were really attentive.”

Several students — Aaron Pilant, Darcia Koetting, Kerri McGuire, April Pilant, Kelsey Bray and Melissa Johnson — were recognized for 85% attendance or higher but Michele Corpening was recognized for her perfect attendance. In addition, Corpening received the award for greatest improvement in BMI (body mass index).

Corpening, a production dispatcher at Duke Manufacturing, lost more than 65 pounds and more than 67 inches. She also decreased her 1-mile time by four minutes and 29 seconds. 

“I’m very proud of myself, it wasn’t an easy journey. I faced a lot of challenges this year,” Corpening said. “The first three months I was in a boot and couldn’t even walk so I focused on nutrition.”

Corpening said she tracked all of her food in the MyFitnessPal app, which included a lot of SC Fuel meals, and walked a lot. As someone who is legally blind, she said getting out to walk gives her a sense of freedom.

“It’s a huge accomplishment that I had success and actually succeeded in what I set my mind to,” she said. “I told the board if they would accept me into the program I would give them 100% and I gave it to them. … Even if you have disabilities — I’m hearing impaired and legally blind — and you set your mind to something, you can do it.”

Since Corpening won in two categories, she graciously donated her second prize package to Bray, who placed second in BMI improvement, “because she was right there with me.”

Bray, a paraprofessional in the Sedalia School District 200, lost more than 55 pounds and more than 58 inches. She decreased her BMI by nine points and increased her flexibility by 10 inches.

“It feels good to be done and to have it behind me and to then just keep going forward with my journey,” she said.

Bray said she’s within just a few pounds of her goal weight, but she also learned about the mental aspect of starting a healthier lifestyle. 

“The mental part of it has really been a big impact on me,” she said. “I know if I don’t feel good inside, I won’t work on what’s going on outside of that.”

She also reminded anyone who is trying to start a similar journey that “you’re worth it, you just have to go for it.”

Koetting had the greatest overall improvement in flexibility, hand release pushups, 1-mile time and her nutrition test.

Koetting, a retired Sedalia 200 teacher, lost more than 23 pounds and more than 38 inches. She no longer has to visit her cardiologist regularly because her cholesterol is now in the normal range. Heart disease runs in Koetting’s family and her parents served as her biggest motivator. 

“That was my ultimate goal to get healthier,” she said through tears. “I lost my mom in October and my dad in July, so it’s been a tough year. But the motivation was there to get stronger and healthier and to overcome some family history with bad heart problems.”

Through watching calories and keeping herself moving every day with yoga, trail walking, going to the gym, biking or swimming, Koetting is on her way to reaching her goal weight. She said it was also thanks to the Healthy U coaches and classmates. 

“Each day is a new day. And just because you had a bad day doesn’t mean you have to give up,” she added. “You need to pick up and start over each day with a new goal, achieve that goal and move on to the next one.”

This year’s class also included a unique twist: student April Pilant, who was participating with her husband, Aaron Pilant, found out she was pregnant after being accepted to the program. Even with her pregnancy, April still lost more than 35 pounds in 2019 and Aaron lost almost 60. The new parents welcomed a son, Donald Leon Pilant, on Christmas Eve.

There will not be a student program in 2020 as the Healthy U board plans for a revamped program to launch in 2021. This year will still include the Couch to 5K that starts in February and monthly community events. 

“In 2021, to replace the student part, we hope to have weekly or biweekly seminars that are free and open to the public to learn the skills our 12 students have been so graciously given on an individual basis, we want to share the wealth with the community,” Guffin said.

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Nicole Cooke is the editor for the Sedalia Democrat, overseeing all newsroom operations and assisting with news coverage of Sedalia and Pettis County. She can be reached at 660-530-0138 or on Twitter @NicoleRCooke.

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