Throughout the year thousands of  Walmart and Sam’s Club associates take the Thrive Challenge and share their inspiring stories of resilience, perseverance, connection, and joy. Some winners are awarded cash prizes. And from that pool of winners, we select our Grand Champs — exceptional individuals who have gone above and beyond in their commitment to their own well-being, making positive changes in their lives, one Microstep at a time. 

We’re thrilled to introduce 2023 Grand Champs Julius Warren, Candie Holland, and Chris Armendariz. Not only have they overcome major obstacles and turned their own lives around, but they’ve inspired their families and friends and had a positive impact on their communities, too. 

Here are excerpts from the stories of our 2023 Grand Champs. You can read their full stories here.

Julius Warren, Sam’s Club #6572; Knoxville, TN 

“When I was in my late teens, my mom started drinking heavily, and my anxiety went through the roof. I wanted to numb the pain, and I became addicted to opiates. One day, 12 years ago, I grabbed all the pills in the house and flushed them down the toilet. Since then, I’ve been sober, and my mom is also sober. I’m 35 now and my fiancé, Ashley, and I have a six-year-old son, J.J. We were happy, but I wasn’t active with my son. J.J. has mild autism; he needs my love. I was overweight, and there’s a history of diabetes in my family. I wanted to change my life, so I downloaded the Thrive app. I started making good family meals like salmon filets stuffed with spinach and parmesan cheese. I work out every morning at the YMCA — I consider my work-outs to be my peaceful time. And family time is a blast now. We’re doing lots of activities, like taking J.J. to the zoo — he loves the tigers and elephants. We bought a house. Being a homeowner is a blessing. I can cut my own grass and say: ‘Wow this is our house and our yard.’ Ashley and I are bonding. There are hugs in the morning, before we get our day started. Giving back is also important and was instilled in me by my grandma. If I see someone asking for money on the side of the road, I’ll stop and give them $20. I’m beyond thankful. I feel like the struggles I went through in my past have led me to where I am now. And thanks to the Thrive Challenge, I’m a stronger person. I know I’ll be here for Ashley and little J.J. wherever life may take us.”

Candie Holland, Walmart Home Office; Bentonville, AR 

“My childhood was tough. My mom ran a home day care, and I was molested by one of the boys. When I was 20, I got married. We had two sons, Bradley and Gauje, but our daughter, Ariel, was born premature and only lived for four hours. My husband and I divorced. I married again. We had our daughter Alexis. But I lost our son Johnathen, who was born without a diaphragm. It was devastating. And the marriage didn’t work out. Now I’m 42 and married to Dustin. We’re very happy, but I wasn’t taking care of myself. I weighed 265 pounds, I had high blood pressure and I was smoking at least a pack of cigarettes a day. I had a health scare, and I decided to start the Thrive Challenge. My first Microstep was to stop drinking pop. We began cooking fresh food, like grilled chicken with green beans. I’ve lost 30 pounds so far, and I’d like to lose more, but I feel amazing. And I finally stopped smoking. I’d go for walks instead of having a cigarette and meditation helped. We all go hiking — there are pretty trails near us, and I enjoy breathing the fresh air and seeing nature in all its glory. I’ve cut my blood pressure medication in half, and my goal is to get off it altogether. Every morning, I write down three things I’m grateful for, like a full night’s sleep, sunshine, or my health. Thrive has helped me heal. And looking back, I know the babies I lost — my angels  — were put in my life for a reason; and one day I’ll see them again. Thrive is a way of life for me. It motivates me to be the best version of myself that I can possibly be.” 

Chris Armendariz, Walmart Supercenter #5337; Clovis, CA

“My partner, Tim, and I just celebrated our 25th anniversary. Tim was married before we met, and we have eight grandchildren — our family means everything to us. But we weren’t eating well or exercising. There was a big wake up call when we found out  that Tim had three blocked arteries and had to have a triple bypass. It made us realize life can change in a second. I weighed 222 pounds. Diabetes runs in my family — and I knew I had to change.  I downloaded the Thrive app, and my first Microstep was drinking water first thing in the morning. We began cooking simple meals like tacos with ground lean beef. Moving gives me energy. I started walking more at work, and going to the gym. I’ve lost 30 pounds and I feel like a new person. Tim and I love to travel and we decided to save for our big bucket list trips. We stopped eating at restaurants and we opened a travel savings account. We’ve been to Scotland, Mexico, and the Philippines. Here in Fresno, I got involved with the Rainbow Pride Parade. And in 2015, I helped to get Walmart involved as a sponsor. There are so many LGBTQ associates and we want everyone to know they can come to work as their authentic selves. Last year was hard for us. Tim lost his mom to Alzheimer’s; and I lost my sister, Jessica. She committed suicide. But Thrive helps me to stay strong. Tim and I spend time together doing things we enjoy, like gardening — flowers make me happy. I’m healing from grief and I’ve become my best self. Next year is my 50th, and we’re thinking of going to Belize. This is my journey, my story continues — here’s to my next adventure.”