In today's hectic world, it's hard to juggle a career, family, and live a healthy lifestyle.

But 41 area residents made the decision to stop making poor choices and change their lives as they participated in the fourth annual Biggest Winner Competition, sponsored by Blue Mountain Health System's fitness center, Health Works Health and Wellness Center, located in the Carbon Plaza Mall in Lehighton.

The competition, which promotes healthy lifestyle changes, took place from Jan. 2 to April 2.

Tim Kocher, certified fitness professional and manager of Health Works, said this year had fewer participants than last year, and he thinks the rocky economy may have played a role. But, overall, he felt the competition was a success.

Health Works began the Biggest Winner competition in 2008 to try and give people an incentive to lose weight and also to bring awareness to the fact that obesity is a problem in this country.

Kocher noted that he felt doing a competition, which is mirrored off the show "The Biggest Loser," would help people find the motivation they needed to change their lifestyle.

Free day passes to Health Works are available at the gym for individuals who would like to see what they can do to start on their weight loss goals, Kocher explained.

Contestants who entered had the opportunity to work with certified trainers, attend fitness classes, work out at the gym, learn how to read food labels, make healthier choices, and regain control of their weight. Some used this opportunity as a way to learn how to use the equipment in a gym to benefit their needs; while others decided they would find out how to lose weight at home.

For Nancy Piekarski of Lehighton, who lost 26 pounds or 13.7 percent of her body weight, and Doug Bowman of Lehighton, who lost 34 pounds or 19 percent of his body weight, this competition was the motivation they needed to start working toward their health goals.

Piekarski and Bowman were this year's "biggest winners," having lost the most weight out of all the competitors. They each received a free month gym membership, monetary prize, and were able to designate a quarter of the competition's proceeds to the charity of their choice.

Piekarski's weight loss journey began when she decided that she needed some incentives.

"I thought if I really put my mind to it, I could lose," she said, adding that it took her a while to figure out how much she needed to exercise to lose the weight. "I had to keep adjusting."

After some trial and error, Piekarski found that three hours of cardio and one hour of circuit resistance training was what her body required to lose pounds.

"The last two to three weeks, the weight really came off," she said.

It was apparent as she showed off her new, thinner self last Wednesday.

But Piekarski's weight loss journey is not over yet. She said her goal is to lose another 30 pounds.

For being named the Biggest Winner, Piekarski chose the Gregory "Segal" Ebbert Foundation, a nonprofit organization set up in the name of the late Gregory Ebbert of Lehighton, as her charity choice. The foundation gives two scholarships in the Lehighton Area School District annually and helps special needs projects in the greater Lehighton area.

Piekarski and her husband Ron have three children, Ronnie, 15; Meghan, 25; and Tara, 23.

Bowman's weight loss story began shortly after he competed in his first Tough Mudder competition last November. Tough Mudder is an extreme 10-12 mile obstacle course, where participants compete and team up to complete various obstacles.

According to the Tough Mudder website, the meaning behind the military-style competition, which was designed by British Special Forces, is to test "toughness, fitness, strength, stamina and mental grit," as well as experience camaraderie with other participants.

Bowman finished in the top 5 percent and qualified for the World Tough Mudder competition, a 24-hour event, which will take place this December.

Following the Tough Mudder, Bowman decided that he needed a little extra push to prepare for the world competition. He joined the Biggest Winner Competition and the rest is history.

Through diet changes and a lot of running, Bowman said he exceeded his weight loss goal and even signed up for his second Tough Mudder competition, which was held this past Sunday in the Lehigh Valley.

"I lost more weight than I expected," he said, adding that he hoped to drop to 150 pounds, but actually hit the 145 mark.

Now, Bowman hopes that his weight loss and interest in healthy living will help him finish the World Tough Mudder competition.

For being named Biggest Winner in the men's division, Bowman chose People's Evangelical Congregational Church in Lehighton to receive the donation from Health Works. He explained that it will help the church raise the needed money for its upcoming mission trip in July.

Bowman is the father of two children, Samantha, 18, and Dylan, 14.

For more information about Health Works, call (570) 386-8080.