‘Biggest Loser’ couple inspires healthy change
Jerry and Estella Hayes, former contestants on "The Biggest Loser" television show, traveled to Sky Fitness in Buffalo Grove on Jan. 19 to inspire others. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
A SIMPLE PLAN
The Hayes taught that one of the keys to weight loss, at any age, is simply planning ahead to replace negative habits with positive replacements.
• At bedtime, set out exercise clothing, so they will be the first clothes available the next morning. “It’s not going to happen by itself,” Estella said.
• Keep some snacks and treats at home, so they will not become “forbidden fruit,” but keep them in the back of the refridgerator or pantry — behind the healthy, daily options.
• Have workout partners, or at least someone who will provide reminders about goals. “You’ve got to do this journey together,” Jerry said. “You need to be accountable.”
• Go into any weight-loss regimine understanding that it will take weeks to see results, and months to cause real change.
Updated: February 1, 2013 8:37AM
BUFFALO GROVE — Around the suburbs this week, many New Year resolution-makers are disappearing from the health clubs they joined a month ago and getting re-acclimated with their couches.
At Sky Fitness in Buffalo Grove, one couple who faced and blasted through most of the usual roadblocks delivered a pep talk to an audience looking for renewed motivation.
Jerry and Estella Hayes, Wheaton residents who became winners on a recent season of reality weight-loss show “The Biggest Loser,” came to Sky on Saturday to inspire those who are losing grip on their dreams of health and those who are driving forward with theirs. Like every other great success story, they came close to never happening, several times.
Primarily because it had to start in a place they never went to: The Wheaton health club they belonged to.
“This magical thing I was looking for, it was in the gym,” Jerry said. “It’s just that I wasn’t in the gym.”
In the spring of 2009, both at the age of 63, Jerry and Estella Hayes competed on the seventh season of “The Biggest Loser;” the object of the show’s game is to be the contestant who loses the highest percentage of their body weight. As with all reality game shows, though, a contestant is eliminated every week, and the couple were the first to get the boot, in the season’s second episode.
With the $250,000 grand prize and access to the show’s personal trainers and extensive workout equipment lost early, the couple set out to win the show’s consolation prize — the $100,000 reward for the eliminated player who loses the highest percentage of weight. On May 12, 2009, the couple stepped on the program’s official scale for the final time, and Jerry’s improvement – done almost entirely on his own, in the Chicago suburbs instead of the show’s California compound – earned him the $100,000 “at home” purse.
A senior citizen and grandfather who beat kids one-third his age at a fitness game takes few excuses, but he understands the obstacles his audience in Buffalo Grove faced.
“You know it, but you don’t believe it,” as Jerry put it.
The couple knew in the summer of 2008 that they needed to change – Jerry weighed 369 pounds, and Estella 242 – but did not believe that they could. They belonged to a gym but never went; Jerry saw a dietician, but the eating changes she recommended made no difference. Jerry’s daily routine included three pills for his high blood pressure, two for his diabetes and one for his gout, plus other treatments for sleep apnea and glaucoma.
Their son-in-law, Jimmy Lewis, saw that “The Biggest Loser” would hold an open casting call that July in Schaumburg. The couple had no interest in putting themselves on TV, but hoped that, after they were weeded out of the selection process, they would receive some health and fitness brochures or information packs.
“It was hotter than hell,” Jerry said of the line they stood in. “We almost left a couple times.”
They went through the entire screening process and got no pamphlets or goodies at the end.
“I left kind of pissed off,” he continued. “And then we promptly went to Portillo’s and had hot dogs and french fries. And then they called us. We ended up on the show.”
Nearly a year later, after only two weeks of Biggest Loser training followed by months of newfound self-discipline, Estella had dropped to 159, while Jerry was back to 192 — 47 percent of his starting body weight gone. Along the way, he dropped all of his medications, because getting his body back to its natural state eliminated the need for them.
They have been on the road ever since their season’s finale, they said, speaking to corporations, churches, non-profit agencies, schools, parks-and-rec departments and more. When asked where all they have travelled, both chuckle and say “Oh, gosh” at the same time, then recall the Kentucky Derby, the veterans’ group in Milwaukee, the nursing home in Pennsylvania, 10 speeches at a single Chicago hospital so far…and using their fame to get out of a speeding ticket in Ohio.
Again, the after-the-show success came as close to never happening as the $100,000 prize did. Before their season’s finale, all of the contestants met for final talks with the Loser’s staff psychologist; the doctor told the Hayes that he feared that they, like some contestants from previous seasons, would fall back into their old habits.
“He said our behavior profile did not change,” Jerry recalled.
“Our bodies did,” Estella said.
“He said ‘Whatever caused you guys to get heavy is still there,’” Jerry said. “I thought I’d changed …”
Fearing what might happen, the couple asked the doctor for advice. He said they should become licensed personal fitness trainers (both have) and, as some past contestants have done, go on the speaking circuit.
“You can’t go out and say ‘Look at us’ without walking the walk,” Estella said. “You have to be accountable. It’s another way to encourage us to keep doing what we’re doing.”
So their journey to healthier lives continued in Buffalo Grove, where they urged resolution-makers to focus on small, practical decisions (see sidebar). Success in this field will take months of daily commitment, they said, but with self-discipline, anyone can do it.
“That’s the real fall-down with us in this country,” Jerry said. “We want instant gratification … and it ain’t gonna come.”