More than 200 participants are still going strong in the McKenna New Braunfit Biggest Loser Challenge.

On Tuesday, they met for a celebratory group meeting at the halfway point of the six-month challenge. Though about 50 people have dropped out of the program, so far 3,156 pounds have been lost and 5,961 miles have been walked.

Contestants have attended and logged thousands of hours of fitness and nutrition classes to meet individualized weight-loss goals.

Throughout the program’s six-month duration, participants must attend three exercise classes a week along with a nutrition class run by a registered and certified dietitian. In addition, several “boot camps” — intensive hour-long programs to help manage weight loss — are offered to balance the fitness and nutritional elements.

Classes begin as early as 5:30 a.m. and span the day, with some beginning in early evening to accommodate to participants’ schedules.

The New Braunfels YMCA and 360 Personal Fitness each donated 20 free memberships to the first people to sign up, and Anytime Fitness waived its enrollment fee for 20 participants. Both 360 and the YMCA have trainers leading some of the boot camps and exercise classes.

Some participants stood up before their peers and discussed their motivations for joining in the challenge.

“I’ve had nine knee surgeries in the last 11 years, two of them in the same year, tore my cartilage two weeks after surgery during therapy. My doctor didn’t believe,” participant Rick Kiesling said.

Others said it wasn’t lack of movement that kept them overweight and out of shape, but rather a high-calorie diet.

“I’m Eric, and I am a big loser. I’ve lost 41 pounds and my goal is to get to 220. I started at 285 so I’m on my way,” Eric Couch said.

“I’m the worst kind of overweight person. I didn’t know I was overweight. I’m very active. I coach volleyball. Last fall, I completed two bicycle rides, each over 60 miles, but then I go to the doctor — and he said you need blood pressure medicine, why?

“Well, after a Saturday morning we’d ride bicycles 20-30 miles, then go to Hooters and we’d order 10-piece buffalo wings and an order of fries, fried pickles for an appetizer, maybe two three Dos Equis,” he said, as someone in the audience interrupted with, “you can stop now.”

“That’s OK because I don’t miss it,” Couch replied. “It’s funny because as I’m learning how to eat and what to eat. I’m learning that, that Saturday afternoon meal I was eating was 3,000 calories. I was consuming probably 5,000 or 6,000 calories a day without realizing it.

“Right now with the weight that I’m at, I can have about 1,800 calories a day. I have not changed what I eat; it’s how I eat and when I eat.”

Mel Koehler became emotional when describing the way losing weight had changed his family life.

“When we started this I weighed 391 pounds, and I’ve lost 78 since we started. I’m nowhere near my goal of 250, but we’re cruising. This program’s awesome,” Koehler said.

“My daughter did something this weekend at H-E-B: She hugged me and she said, ‘I can reach all the way around you, Daddy.’”

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