I was born at 10 pounds and stayed extremely big. In school, I remember the ridicule. Other kids called me “Fatty,” “Fat Boy.” I came home pretty emotional. But my mom was a miracle worker. She sat me down and said, “Your family and friends love you. We don’t judge your size, just the size of your heart.”
By the time I entered Mater Dei High School, I was 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds. When they saw this big strong boy walk in, they signed me up for football. They treated me like a person. I was home. We worked out so hard: squats, bench presses, jumping rope, sprints on the field. But then I’d go home famished. I ate even more.
I never felt pressure to lose weight because I got so much praise for being a big offensive lineman. It was OK to be 300 pounds if I moved fast. Matt Leinart [the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, now playing for the Houston Texans] was on my team. We’d been best friends since the third grade. He’d talk about his dream of playing in the NFL, and this inspired me to have the same goal. My senior year, I got recruiting letters from Pac 10 schools. I was on the cusp of doing great things. And then it all slipped away, just like that.
We were playing our archrival, Mission Viejo, when I fell over a player and tore all the ligaments in my right knee. I’d never play football again.
That was a dark time. Wheelchair-bound, I gained 80 pounds more. I tried to go on, attending Cal State Fullerton—but I definitely underachieved. Part of that was my weight. I couldn’t fit into the desks. I felt like all eyes were on me. Finally, I had to take time off from college to deal with my weight.
My mom was everything to me then. She was my safety net. She was 51 and had her own weight problems, but she never let them define her.
Then, on the morning of July 1, 2009, I knew something was wrong. She hadn’t gone to work. She told me: “I think I need to go to the hospital.” I ran to grab my sandals and when I came back, she was on the floor of the living room. I tried to revive her. Paramedics were there in five minutes, but it was her time.
It was so tough for me, my younger brother, Ryan, and my father, Andrew. And Matt understood. He was the one who suggested the show. He knew Mom and I loved “The Biggest Loser.” So, he got me the phone number of a casting agent and said that maybe I could turn this tragedy into something positive. I was inspired.
It was tough, letting others know I needed help. But being on the show, I turned a huge corner. I went from 402 pounds to 322. I joined my local YMCA, dropped another 60 pounds and counting, and launched my own weight-loss competition for others wanting to slim down. Now I’m volunteering at YMCAs in the Kansas City area. I plan to come back to O.C. next fall to study social work at Orange Coast College.
It was the hardest thing I’ve gone through, besides losing my mom. But it has ignited a whole new passion for life. I’m excited to wake up early and work out. The show was never about winning the prize. For me, it was about inspiring other people. And I’m definitely going to keep the weight off, because I know Mom is watching me. So, no more excuses. No room for failure. Every time I step on the scale, I know she’s with me. And I know she’s smiling.
The Wellness Center in Santa Ana offers intensive 10-week weight-management programs for children 4 to 19 years old with more than 85 percent Body Mass Index. 714-919-0280.