Ihilani Associates Learn Healthy Living Is A Full-time Job

Sarah Pacheco
Wednesday - July 14, 2010
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Roberta Mondirin and Zedrik Dana work up a sweat in the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa’s employee gym. Photo by Nathalie Walker, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Zedrik Dana and Roberta Mondirin are more than 50 pounds lighter thanks to their jobs. The JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa at Ko Olina employees are the big winners of the resort’s “Associate Biggest Loser” contest, initiated earlier this year as a way to help employees get healthy and fit for life.

Seeds for the wellness makeover were planted after spa director Robin Desha was approached by a couple of associates who wanted to start working out. At first she found a bit of space in the back of the spa, but as more folks started showing interest in the workout room, the Ihilani’s engineering team created a full-fledged gym out of a former laundry space.

Then, Christy Nakano, director of human resources, came up with the concept of a challenge based on the TV show The Biggest Loser, where contestants vie to see who can lose the highest percentage of body weight safely over a set period of time.

“For some people it was an incentive and gave them a push to try harder to lose weight and get healthy,” Nakano said. In addition to the 24-hour fitness facility and other in-house resources, the resort would offer yoga classes and nutrition classes led by HMSA to help contestants on their weight-loss journey.


“I’m so involved with the wellness and health industry that it’s my regular walk-and-talk. My assumption is that everyone knows how to use the treadmill. But if we wanted to have people lose weight, we had to educate them,” Desha said of the instructional components.

Sixty employees initially signed up for the program in March. At the June 25 weigh-in, 25 associates officially stepped on the scale one last time for the chance at the title “Associate Biggest Loser” and the grand prize - a weekend getaway for two to Kauai.

Dana, a 23-year-old buffet runner at the hotel’s Naupaka Terrace restaurant, lost 38 pounds over the three-month competition, the highest percentage of all male employees.

“I was around 207 pounds when I started,” said the Nanakuli resident. “I had a lot of water weight and belly fat.”

Working long hours around lots of food didn’t help either. He had to learn how to revamp his diet, choosing salads over pastries and sticking to 1,500 calories a day.

In addition, he also began running and weight training.

“I’m now at the weight that I started working here, around 165,” Dana said, adding that he wants to lose 10 more pounds. “A lot of people are, like, inspired by seeing me lose a lot of weight.”

Mondirin, 51, lost a total of 13 pounds to be named the top female winner. The housekeeper had begun a diet regimen prior to the “Associate Biggest Loser” but said that the competition “kinda gave me one kick to lose those extra pounds.”

“At first I was slacking, and was no big thing, but I was stuck on one weight,” said Mondirin, who has lost more than 50 pounds since 2006.

Her job was already physical, requiring Mondirin to walk as many as 23,000 steps in one day and haul heavy laundry carts from one side of the hotel to another. So the biggest change, she said, came with her diet.

“You can do all the exercises, but it’s what you put in the body,” said the Waianae resident, who now fills her plate with the fresh fruits, salads, lean meats and tofu available at the employee cafeteria.

“Another thing that was good about (the contest) was my husband and I were able to do it together,” added Mondirin. Larry Mondirin also works at Ihilani and was the second-place male finisher with a total weight loss of 36 pounds.

Success stories such as these have inspired the resort to continue providing employees with healthy alternatives, be it vending machines that offer wholesome snacks or a “Create A Healthy Burger” contest taking place later this month.

“A lot of it was just culture and change to create that same kind of culture in our work environment. We want to maintain the momentum,” Nakano explained, noting that if the desire is there, they would do a second “Associate Biggest Loser” next year.

“I really don’t feel like the end was so much the prize,” added Desha. “It was fun for everybody. People are sticking with it. If the associates want to do it again, we’ll do it.”


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