It’s early. Really early. Committing to the sixth annual Biggest Winner competition means showing up four days a week for seven weeks at 6:30 a.m. for team workouts. Chances are pretty good that the Observer-Reporter Biggest Winner team members will pass Paul Setto while walking or jogging on the track of the Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center. He’s there most mornings, and he’s there really early. He’s also walked in their shoes.

“I’ve always been relatively active but I was probably 20 to 30 pounds overweight, maybe a little more,” said Setto, a Canonsburg resident. At 72, Setto was taking medication for high blood pressure and high cholesterol and would lose weight only to gain it back again. This time, he vowed, things would be different.

“I had a lot of anxiety because I had never even been in a gym before,” he recalled. “I walked, and I’m relatively active, but I was very apprehensive in the beginning.”

ep-1702195561That beginning was January 2015, when Setto joined the O-R’s Biggest Winner team for the annual competition.

“I’m competitive by spirit, so I had my mind made up that I wasn’t just going to go there and mail it in,” he said.

He didn’t, and he won.

His goal was to improve his health and to inspire other seniors, since he was the oldest member of the O-R team.

“I lost the biggest percentage of weight on the Observer-Reporter team and the prize was for a free membership for a year, so that was my incentive. I was serious.”

He showed up and worked hard every day, watched his diet and wound up losing 20.2 pounds, or 9.76 percent of his body weight. It wasn’t easy, and Setto still remembers feeling the burn and the utter soreness after exercise.

“I came home one day and I put the car in the garage, and I could not get out of the car,” he said with a laugh. “I called my wife to help me. I went in and filled the bathtub up with hot water and just soaked. I expected to be sore, but not that sore!”

The Biggest Winner competition ended, but Setto’s devotion to health and exercise did not. He kept showing up at the wellness center, kept eating right and kept off the weight. Once his membership ended, he joined for another year and is still going strong.

“I try to go up three or four days a week,” he said of his routine. “I try to maintain. I lost 20-some pounds, which was my goal, and I’ve maintained that. I’ve kept that off.”

He was even able to stop taking the high blood pressure and cholesterol medications. His weight loss and good nutrition helped improve his numbers so much that he doesn’t need them anymore.

ep-1702195562Now 74, Setto’s goal is to stay healthy. He weighs himself twice a week and gives himself a five-pound window before he really starts to cut back again.

“My wife helps with my diet and says I shouldn’t be eating certain things,” he chuckled. “She keeps me pretty straight. She eats a lot of vegetables and salad and prepares those for me all of the time. I eat very little red meat anymore. Lots of chicken and fish.

“I just want to be as healthy as I can be and enjoying life.”

What’s his advice for current contestants as they near the end of the competition?

“I think it’s a mindset of your own,” he said. “My mind was set that if I’m going to do this, I’m not just going to waste a year and lose 20 pounds and, like I always did before, gain 20-some pounds back again. I’m gonna make up my mind that this is it. I’m going to maintain a certain range of three to five pounds. If you gain that over Christmas, then you have to lose it again.” Exercise is crucial, but even a setback last February with a torn Achilles tendon did not derail his weight maintenance and healthy lifestyle. Once it healed, he started walking as much as he could.

“I don’t deprive myself, but I watch a lot of times what I’m doing and what I’m eating,” he said. “It’s your own determination and willpower. If you have that mindset that you’re doing it for yourself and your family that you want to be a healthy person … if people have a desire and they’re consistent in what they want to do, all things are possible. I’m a living witness to that.”