Soccer balls were flying on the practice fields at Francis Marion University on Saturday as part of the first fitness event for the United Way of Florence County’s 2019 Florence’s Biggest Loser program.

The fitness event was a soccer-themed workout and was led by the FMU Women’s Soccer team. This is the third year the team has partnered with Florence’s Biggest Loser to give the contestants a challenging yet fun workout outside the gym. For the first time though, the contestants were able to bring their family members and friends to participate in the workout with them.

“I think it’s awesome that these individuals and their families have taken the initiative to come out today and do something fun to take control of their health because good health is so extremely important,” said FMU Women’s Soccer Head Coach Lindsey Morgan. “We as a team also love doing this because it gives our student athletes the chance to run the show, interact with the contestants, teach them what to do, build those leadership skills, and just have a great, fun day.”

The event started like all workouts should with a warm-up to get the players and contestants ready for the main workout. The players led the contestants through jogging, lunges, high knees and side-steps. Then the contestants broke into their training teams that were led by two of the soccer players before heading out to seven different soccer-themed stations.

At Station One, the contestants tested their speed and coordination by quick-stepping through ladder rungs on the field. As soon as one contestant started, another followed quickly behind them until the whole team was quick-stepping through the rungs in a continuous loop.

At Station Two, the contestants were put into two rows and had to go through a set of cones before catching a ball that was passed to them by one of the players. The contestant then quickly passed the ball back to the player and ran back to the start. To challenge the contestants, the players would switch up how the contestants came through the cones by telling them to run, jump or hop on one leg.

At Station Three, each contestant partnered up with the other and practiced passing the ball back and forth using the inside of their feet.

At Station Four, the players spaced out long sticks that were stuck into the field and the contestants had to dribble the ball while weaving in and out of the sticks.

At Station Five, the contestants not only practiced scoring a goal, they also got to face off against each other as the goalie. One contestant would start off in the goal and the other would try to score on them. After the contestant kicked their shot, they would then move into the goal and the next contestant would try to score on them.

At Station Six, the contestants gave their legs a break and instead worked on passing the ball to one of the players using an overhead throw. The players made sure to stand back at a far distance so the contestants would have to really engage their upper body strength to get the ball to them.

At the last station, Station Seven, the contestants had to use their heads both literally and figuratively. The players first taught the contestants how to properly head the ball and then set the contestants up in a circle. To challenge their ability to think fast, the player would yell out “catch” or “head” before throwing the ball to a contestant. Instead of catching the ball when the player said “catch”, the contestant would have to do the opposite and head the ball back and vice versa.

After the contestants learned the different elements of soccer at each station, then they put their new skills to the test with soccer-themed relay races. For the first relay race, one contestant had to dribble the ball down to one cone, turn around, and then dribble it back before passing it to the next contestant. For the second relay race, the first contestant dribbled the ball down to one cone and then passed it to the next contestant. For the third relay race, the contestant had to dribble the ball down again to the cone, but then they had to pick up the ball and throw it to the next contestant.

Contestant Team Ice Cream Sunday, Team Speed and Team Pump Day won the first three relay races and there was a fourth relay race to determine the winner. For the final relay, the contestants had to run down to the ball at one end of the field, do five toe taps on the ball, and then run back before tagging the next player. The race was close, but Team Pump Day ended up being the final winner of the event.

While some of the contestants had participated in the event or played soccer before, this was the first time in the competition that their family members or friends had been able to participate in the competition together. Although the workout was challenging, many contestants enjoyed the event and being able to have their family members out there with them.

“My biggest motivation for losing weight has been to get healthy so I can keep up with my youngest child,” said contestant Peg Leum. “I have a child in college, one in high school, and an eight year old and I’m at a point in my life were I’m not used to running around and playing soccer, but my eight year actually does play soccer. So it was really fun to be able to do something with him that he loves and actually be able to keep up. We had a blast.”

The contestants will have three more fitness events during the competition including a volleyball-themed workout with the FMU Women’s Volleyball team, a kayak challenge with Naturally Outdoors and a football-themed workout with the Carolina Havoc team.