The mood at The Fitness Center Friday was relaxed and hopeful as the ten Erath County Weight Loss Challenge contestants gathered together for the first time to officially begin the 12-week contest.

The contestants stepped on the scale for the first time, marking their official start weight, with groans of frustration as they began their quest to lose weight and get healthy in 2007. Seeing her weight appear on the digital scale, contestant Liz Corbell quipped, “This is the last day it’s going to be that number.”

And that was the mood of the other contestants, as well. Armed with a personalized diet plan and unlimited access to The Fitness Center, the contestant who manages to lose the largest percentage of their starting weight by the end of the contest will win the grand prize package, which includes the following gifts donated by local businesses:

One-year membership to The Fitness Center; Treadmill, courtesy of Wal-Mart SuperCenter, valued at $400; A full-day spa package including massage and hairstyle, courtesy of LaBella Day Spa. A $100 gift basket tailor made for a man or woman, courtesy of Amy Looby, independent beauty consultant for Mary Kay Cosmetics; Five cases of diet drinks and three T-shirts courtesy of Dublin Dr Pepper;

None of the above prizes can be exchanged for their cash value.

The contest is sponsored by the Empire-tribune, Harris Methodist Erath County Hospital and The Fitness Center.