Electra Merrell (right) reaches out with a cup of Shine Shack’s chili to serve a fellow cook-off competitor during the 14th annual Wabash Cannonball Chili for Charity Chili Cook Off on Saturday, Oct. 15. Photo by Emma Rausch
By Emma Rausch
Tickets nearly sold out at Wabash Cannonball’s Chili for Charity Chili Cook-Off Saturday, Oct. 15, with more than 5,000 guests in attendance,.
With 85 teams registered to serve on Saturday, the Chili for Charity committee prepared 5,000 voting ticket packages and was less than 100 away from selling out when 2:30 p.m. hit.
“We stopped selling at 2:30 p.m. but continued to take donations until 3 p.m.,” Committee member Steve Weir said. “Out of 5,000 voting strips, we had less than 100 left so we easily had over 5,000 chili tasters.”
By Eric Christiansen
For the second year in a row, the Manchester Squire girls' cross country team will compete at the New Prairie Semi-State, while Drew Jones from the boys' team will join them.
The girls' team finished second to advance as a group, while Jones was the eighth boy competing individually to cross the finish line to move on.
Warsaw won the girls' team title with 30 points, with Manchester second with 101. Maconaquah was third (112), followed by Western (117), Lewis Cass (136), Rochester (142), Northwestern (163), Culver Academies (163), Logansport (196), and Plymouth (258).
by Eric Stearley
Personal trainer Jakae Francis, owner of Wabash’s F.I.T. personal training, got the surprise of a lifetime when it was revealed that two of her most successful clients set her up for an appearance on The Steve Harvey Show.
“It was just so unbelievable,” said Francis. “It’s still so surreal that this even happened. I feel like I had tunnel vision. I don’t remember a lot of what I said or what Josh said to me.”
Josh Steele was the mastermind behind the surprise. A client for the past year and a half, he shed nearly half his body weight after deciding to get serious about losing weight two years ago.
“My starting weight was 579 pounds,” said Steele. “Basically, to sum it all up, I hated life. Just getting up in the morning, just doing normal activities that normal people take for granted like tying shoes, going up and down stairs, getting in vehicles. That kind of stuff, it was all a struggle for me every single day. I basically gave up all hopes of my dreams and passion for the future.”
Inspired by weight loss shows on television, Steele tried out for Biggest Loser and nearly made it onto Extreme Weight Loss, but ultimately came up short. Two years ago this week, Steele decided he wasn’t going to let it stop him, that he was going to make big changes whether he was on television or not. After six months of dietary changes and religious trips to the gym, Francis took an interest in him and decided to take him on as a free client, something she had done once before.
“Josh had lost 100 pounds before he even came to me, so I had seen the commitment in him before taking him on,” said Francis. “He was on the right track. Basically what I gave was, I taught him what he was capable of doing that he didn’t realize he was. My job is to take people out of their comfort zone.”
Along with Jakae’s training, Josh had support through a Facebook page he set up called “The Steele Project.” This allowed people from across the country to track his weight loss and watch a real person with real responsibilities succeed in losing an enormous amount of weight. Today, Steele is down to 304 pounds. He’s still a few pounds off his target weight of 280, but is now able to do everything he used to, even fitting into many of the same clothes he wore in high school, more than a decade ago.
“I’m 6’9”, so I’m never going to be 190 pounds or whatever,” said Steele. “I do basically everything now that I did in high school, and actually, I’m in better shape now than I was then. I really have no limits to what I can do now.”
After taking people out of their comfort zone during workouts, Francis was taken out of her own comfort zone when she was asked to appear on national television as a guest on Steve Harvey’s daytime talk show. The producers told her that they discovered her through her business’ Facebook page, F.I.T. Personal Training. They told her that she would be one of four personal trainers featured on a fitness-themed episode. Each of the trainers would be interviewed individually and then engage in some sort of personal training competition, teaching a stay-at-home mom something new that they could do without equipment or a gym membership. The winner of the competition would receive a prize.
“I’m thinking, oh my gosh, I cancelled clients, I have so many people that know I’m coming up here, I’ve gotta win this prize!” said Francis.
She said that they had her convinced, but she was still a little suspicious, because she couldn’t figure out why a nationally broadcasted talk show would choose a personal trainer from the small town of Wabash.
“She was texting me the day before like, ‘If you have anything to do with this, I’m gonna kill you,’” said Steele. “She was freaking out because she didn’t have a clue what they were going to talk about.”
Nonetheless, she took the stage for her individual interview with Harvey, and the true reason for her appearance was quickly revealed.
“Steve made a light joke, because he’s very funny,” said Francis, “and after I answered a few questions and talked for, it was very short, maybe three or four minutes, and he turned to me and said, ‘Well Jakae, you’re actually not on the show to talk about your job or your passion,’ and instantly, I started crying.”
Harvey went on to tell her that there were two people that wanted to thank her for something that she had done for them. She looked around the audience searching for her clients, and onto the stage walked Josh and his mother Mindy, who has lost 80 pounds while training with Francis and her son. She knew it would be Josh and Mindy as soon as Harvey revealed that it was, in fact, a thank you show and not a training competition.
“I think I was so shocked and so overwhelmed at what was happening that basically, when they were sitting there, all I did was cry,” said Francis.
She doesn’t remember much of what she said after the reveal, but she’s looking forward to the broadcast, which she will be viewing with Josh and Mindy at Harvey Hinklemeyers on Wednesday.
Steele is still working on trimming a few more pounds, but two related endeavors are equally as important to him right now. This week, he will take the American College of Sports Medicine test to become certified as a personal trainer. He hopes to extend the opportunity that Francis gave him to client of his own by offering free personal training to a selected individual. In addition, he is working with Francis to train a local 13-year-old who hopes to follow in his footsteps.
“That’s why I put my story out there so publicly,” said Steele. “I don’t if you’ve watched The Biggest Loser or anything like that, but you always hear people say, ‘If I can do it, anyone can do it.’ Well, technically that’s not true, because you’re not in that perfect world. I’m the normal person that has worked 50-60 hours a week and still found the time to work out. So that’s why I put my story out there. I want to let people know that anybody can do it. You just have to believe in yourself.”
In Francis’s mind, she should be the one thanking Steele.
“Josh, in training him, his story has brought me so much, and I didn’t ever intend for that to be the case,” said Francis. “His story has helped me and my business so much that I owe him more than he has ever thought he owed me. Every time I turn around, he’s thanking me, and I’m all the time telling him, ‘Josh, we’re even. You have done so much for me.’”
To watch the big reveal and catch the reactions as they are broadcasted across the country, tune in to NBC tomorrow afternoon. The Steve Harvey Show airs at 2 p.m. on Fort Wayne’s WISE-TV. For more information about Josh, check out The Steele Project on Facebook.