On January 7, 2008, seven local residents will embark on The Journey, a three month fitness challenge that will transform their lives and raise money for seven area charities.


The Journey participants range in age from 21 to 43. Their weights range from the 200s to over 400 pounds. One has had two heart surgeries and wants to live to see his grandchildren grow up. One went through a family members near-fatal illness and knows she needs to make a change. A coach is tired of feeling like a hypocrite for failing in his own fitness; another woman dreams of becoming a mother but knows she isnt in shape to do it.


Fitness changes lives, states Mel Royster, the founder of Body Styles by Mel personal fitness center and, along with his wife, Kim, the force behind The Journey. I love what we do, and I wanted to go beyond our regular work to really do something to help people who need it and to help our community.


Royster and his staff of personal trainers regularly help a wide range of people at all fitness levels improve their health and enjoy life more. Starting on January 7, 2008, eight personal trainers and four group fitness trainers will give their time and effort to help seven people change their lives over the course of twelve weeks with personal training sessions, nutritional counseling, group fitness and more. And as they do this, area businesses will be sponsoring them, providing goods and services to help The Journey participants discover what it means to have a healthy lifestyle and also making cash donations, 100% of which will be distributed to seven area non-profits.


For us as trainers, The Journey is really a capsule of why we do this job, Royster says to explain the staffs willingness to give their time to the event. Its very rewarding. The participants are definitely going to face some hurdles, and theyll need to give 110%. Theyve tried it all, and it didnt work. And theyre very emotional about where they are. We want them to see what they can do and what can happen to their body when they stay dedicated to improving themselves.


Each of the participants will have a medical check-up and then will be paired with one or more trainers. They have committed to work out with their trainer three times a week, attend five group fitness classes each week and do 30 to 60 minutes of cardio twice a day, seven days a week for 12 weeks. Along the way, theyll also receive nutritional counseling and learn how to prepare healthy meals at home as well as how to dine out, courtesy of The Journeys sponsors. No specific goals for weight loss will be set, however. Instead, The Journey will equip each of the participants with the tools they will need to make a lifestyle change that will help them enjoy their bodies and their good health in ways theyve never explored.


To date, almost 25 area businesses have made donations valued at more than $15,000 for The Journey, and more sponsors are joining the team every week. Along with the cash raised for charity, sponsors have donated everything from dinners to makeovers. Participants will learn how to prepare healthy food and will even go out for lunch and dinner and learn how to make healthy choices off the menu at area restaurants. Cash donations will be disbursed to the seven participating local charities: Annas House, the ARC Northern Chesapeake Region, Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County, Harford Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army of Harford County, SARC Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center Inc and RERSI Royal Equine Rescue and Sanctuary Inc. Sponsors are welcome to make additional donations at any point in The Journey.


The Journey participants were selected from a pool of 25 applicants. Of those, twelve individuals were personally interviewed and the seven finalists were selected based on their physical/health needs, motivation and determination and their ability to meet the program requirements within their current lifestyles. The Journey participants are:


·         Melinda Bokeno, 43, of Forest Hill, MD. Melinda is a stylist and owner of Bella Amici salon. After her husbands near-fatal illness last year, Melinda knew she needed to make some lifestyle changes for both of their sakes. I need to take this journey for me, she says. I got myself into this, but I need help to get out. The Journey wont just change my life, it will save my life and my husbands as well.

·         Kevin Cole, 27, of Aberdeen, MD. Kevin is an application developer who is ready to create a better me. He says, Other than round, Ive never been in shape. I dont like being morbidly obese and hearing that Im at a high risk for death. Its been a struggle ever since my pediatrician called me husky. Im ready to do something better for myself.

·         Michael Kutcher, 40, of Bel Air, MD. A computer programmer, Michael underwent two heart surgeries in two years and is diabetic. With his first grandchild born in 2006 and another on the way this year, Michael wants to live to see them grow up.

·         Craig Reddish, 38, of Abingdon, MD. Craig is a physical education teacher and coach whose excess weight is starting to affect his job. I feel like Im living the life of a hypocrite, Craig says. I teach fitness, but I dont live it. Its about time I start listening to my own advice and start living a healthier, happier life.

·         Scott Reiber, 27, of Perryville, MD. Scott is a mortgage company manager and musician who says, I have everything in the world I could want, but Im not happy with me. I am big, and Im tired of being this way.I need this change.

·         Jimmy Smith, 21, of New Park, PA. Jimmy works in customer service and claims he was in the best shape of his life at birth, but its all been downhill from there. He says, I want to be able to travel without having to buy two seats on an airplane, but most of all I would like to not have to constantly think about whether or not Im going to break the chair Im sitting in.My goal is not just to be thinner but to learn a new and healthier lifestyle that will help me stay healthier, happier and alive for a much longer time.

·         Chiwy Webster, 33, of Edgewood, MD. Chiwy works as a school secretary and is studying to be a teacher. She says, When was I in the best shape of my life? Birth! I am well over three hundred pounds and have been in this range almost my whole adult life.I have hit rock bottom with trying to do this on my own. I think The Journey is going to be my chance to be successful.


The Journey is a major undertaking for the seven participants and for Body Styles by Mel. The fitness studio is donating almost $15,000 worth of training and support to the effort, and Royster is excited about the program. I just wanted to do something to really help people, he says when asked why hes putting so much effort into The Journey. Were helping charities and changing lives with this. The Journey is a lifestyle change. I want them to walk away and never look back at where theyve been just ahead to where theyre going. And these seven people are ready to embrace a new way of living.


To learn more about The Journey or to become a sponsor, call Mel Royster or Debbie Limpert at Body Styles By Mel at 410.838.1444 or visit www.bodystylesbymel.com/journey1.html.