By Josette Keelor
On a recent evening at her Winchester home, Daisy Vergne Marzan danced around her living room to the Zumba Fitness Rush game for Xbox 360. Afterward, she sat down at her kitchen table with a bowl of raw veggies.
"That's actually what I snack on during the day," Marzan said. She pointed out the green beans, baby carrots, chopped sweet potatoes and the broccoli, which unfortunately makes the others smell bad. The cherry tomatoes are her favorite, though.
For any other fitness-minded person, her routine might not seem so unusual, but for Marzan, 31, it's pretty extraordinary.
"Funny thing is, I wouldn't be caught dead eating vegetables, before," she said.
But that was then.
Now, she's one of two finalists from across the country selected to participate in a Zumba Fitness Rush 90 Day Challenge, which awarded both challengers a Zumba Fitness Rush video game, an HTC Radar smartphone, a subscription to Zumba's lifestyle magazine "Z-Life," a customized digital scale, a personal visit from celebrity Zumba instructor Melissa Chiz and a giant check for $2,000.
Marzan's goal was to lose 25 pounds in 90 days. She lost 27.
"It was an awesome experience," she said. "It was life changing."
Marzan, who moved to Winchester from Puerto Rico three years ago, grew up dancing to Latino music, but after moving to Virginia, she said, she allowed her skills to subside. No one she knew danced to that type of music, she said, so she conformed.
At her job as a disaster housing inspector for FEMA contractor PB Disaster Services in Winchester, Marzan sits at a desk for eight hours a day. She also travels to disaster zones around the country, and when she's deployed, she said, her diet takes a nosedive.
It was during the 90 day challenge, in fact, that Hurricane Isaac blew her plans off course.
"I was in New Orleans and I was working 16 plus hours a day," she said. Though she started off the challenge eating healthy foods every three hours, in New Orleans pizza and cookies were what was commonly accessible. "And you ate when you could," she said.
She would make plans to eat healthy when arriving back at her hotel room each day. But, she said, "By the end of the day, you're not going to eat a salad."
She was in New Orleans for two weeks, she said. "I took my Z-box with me." Still, by the time she returned home, she had gained back almost all the weight she had lost so far.
In October, she started to get back on track with her weight loss.
"Then boom, Sandy," she said. The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy had her traveling to New Jersey and New York, and in one hotel lobby, she said, a buffet of little more than hot dogs, hamburgers and French fries was all that was available.
"I felt like I was doing the 'Super Size Me,'" she said. "When you eat crap, you feel like crap."
"But," she said, "a good thing is I learned a lot. I learned that I don't have to just give up. I can start over."
Despite the series of bad luck she had during her 90 day challenge, she still managed to exceed her weight loss goals, primarily by exercising up to three hours a day once at home, sticking to her new healthy eating plan when she could, and relying on the support of those rooting for her.
She names her boyfriend as her greatest cheerleader, followed by Liz Buckley, vice president of marketing for Majesco Entertainment, and Chiz, who both would email, text and talk with Marzan throughout the 90 days.
"They were very motivational," Marzan said. They told her, "We're here for you; we're committed to helping you succeed. In my phone I [still] have Liz's number, I have Melissa's number. It was amazing."
Marzan also kept in contact with fellow participant Shad Wanless, of Chicago, who, she said, lost 52 pounds.
"We would be a source of motivation for each other," Marzan said.
The 90 day challenge did not specify a meal plan, she said, but she totally revamped her diet anyway.
"I figured if I was going to go for it, I would just do the whole thing," she said.
"Sweets are not allowed in my house, period." She allows for a rest day each Sunday, but then it's back to the plan on Monday.
"My weakness is Fruity Pebbles," she said. "And that's why I don't have sweets in the house. I'll say, 'I'll just have one more.' I'm not at the point where I can have sweets yet."
Currently she eats meals from Nutrisystem, but she wants to wean off of the plan, she said, "just because I need to learn to do it for myself."
She sometimes uses recipes that Chiz and Buckley recommended to her, using curry and other spices for flavor. She favors low salt or no salt recipes and has replaced one of her favorites, ground beef, with ground turkey.
"And oddly enough, I think I like it just as much, if not a little bit more," Marzan said.
"Like I said, I know how to do it now," she said. "If I do things right, the weight's going to come off."
Now at the start of a new year, Marzan has set another goal for herself: losing 30 pounds by March 31.
Besides continuing to work out with Zumba games, she also teaches Zumba now at Body Renew Fitness at the Winchester Sportsplex and substitutes at the Delco Plaza location. She said what she found so discouraging about exercise in the past was that it was boring; it's the music that makes it fun for her now.
Of Zumba, she said, "I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. It's a party for me whenever I'm teaching a class."
As for the future, "I can do it," she said. "I am doing it. It's a matter of continuing to do it, so I'm not worried."
To see a video of Daisy Vergne Marzan's journey, visit www.youtube.com.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or email@example.com