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Amy Carlson Gustafson, Published February 03 2014

Minnesota woman makes 'Biggest Loser' transformation

Rachel Frederickson has been an inspiration to many. As a teen at Stillwater (Minn.) High School, she was a state swimming champion three years in a row. Now, at age 24, Frederickson has folks nationwide rooting for her on the “Biggest Loser,” where she has shed more than 100 pounds.

The popular TV weight-loss show features overweight contestants competing to see who can lose the highest percentage of weight. When Season 15 debuted in early October, Frederickson’s starting weight was 260 pounds. During her last week on the “Biggest Loser” ranch, she won the show’s first-ever triathlon, earning her a place in Tuesday’s live finale. She’s vying for a $250,000 grand prize along with David Brown of Edmond, Okla., and Bobby Saleem of Chicago.

“It’s exciting, it’s nerve-wracking – it’s everything,” Frederickson, who works as a voiceover artist in Los Angeles, said about the finale. On the most recent episode of the show, she weighed in at 150 pounds.

Her time on the ranch

The time Frederickson spent on the “Biggest Loser” ranch in California ran from late June through October.

At the ranch, Frederickson worked out with trainer Dolvett Quince and was considered a frontrunner, winning various challenges including curling and bobsled competitions along with the triathlon, where she swam competitively for the first time since high school.

“The triathlon, for me, was just such a symbolic way to round out my journey on my last week on the ranch,” she said during a recent phone interview from Los Angeles. “To finish strong and to show myself how much I’ve really grown and how much I’ve found respect for myself. I’ve taken charge and that confident girl is back, that athlete is back.”

In one episode, the remaining contestants got a makeover with help from fashion guru Tim Gunn and hairstylist Ken Paves. Frederickson traded in her sweats for a little black dress, leaving Gunn to exclaim, “Good heavens. I didn’t even recognize you.” Host Alison Sweeny’s jaw dropped when she saw Frederickson’s post-makeover look. She had gone from a size 20 to a size 6.

When Frederickson was done on the ranch and had placed in the final three, she had to go home and try to figure out how to continue her new lifestyle, which included lots of physical activity and healthy meals.

A couple of weeks ago, Frederickson returned to her apartment in Los Angeles.

“I’m not going to lie, I’ve gained weight coming home,” she said. “I’ve lost weight. I’ve binged. I had a hard time over Thanksgiving. Those are all natural adversities I faced, but to overcome those is what’s made me strong and what I’ve learned so much from.”

Her struggle with weight

While a star swimmer in high school, Frederickson was offered scholarships to several colleges but decided to follow her heart instead. She quit swimming and moved to Germany with a German foreign exchange student she was in love with. The two split, she came back to the United States and worked in various cities.

Eventually, she ended up in Los Angeles working as a voiceover artist. Over the course of six years, she had gained more than 100 pounds.

Frederickson recalls her lowest points when she turned to food as a way to numb her feelings. A “sweets girl,” she often binged on a diet of a bag of mini-Twix bars, two to three pints of ice cream, cheeseburgers, fries, malts, pizza and soda.

“For me, if the food was gone, I would feel lost again. I had to buy a lot of it to make sure I had enough there. At that point, I couldn’t even connect with the emotions I would have. … Now, to be able to understand the feelings and connect with them, versus drowning them in food – that’s a huge accomplishment.”

Her mother, Julie, said it was hard to watch her daughter struggle with her weight.

“I was definitely worried about Rachel,” Julie wrote in an email. “She is young and I wanted her to be happy and enjoy her life. I never really learned how to cook and I think my lack of knowledge hurt her. Luckily, through her journey on ‘The Biggest Loser,’ she has taught me a lot about living a healthier life.”

It was during Season 14 of the “Biggest Loser” when Frederickson decided she was ready to do something about her health. She planned to watch the show and wanted to lose weight along with the contestants; instead she ended up gaining 30 pounds. During the finale, there was an announcement for an upcoming Season 15 casting call.

“It was fate,” Frederickson said. “I knew I needed to apply.”

No regrets

Watching her “Biggest Loser” transformation on TV has been emotional, Frederickson said.

“It was pretty amazing to see that even at my lowest point, that determined girl wanted to get out,” she said. “I found her again – little by little. As I watched the journey from an outside point of view, I could see the light coming back in my eyes.”

Frederickson said thanks to her past as a swim champion, she was able to “keep pushing” herself during her “Biggest Loser” run.

“Having that athlete’s mindset definitely helped,” she said. “I’ve done it before. It’s something I can draw on from my previous swimming career and it was there. I just had to draw it back out.”

She has no regrets about giving up a promising future in swimming and, eventually, landing on the “Biggest Loser.”

“I think life is about learning and I think how much I’ve grown,” she said. “I would never take that back. I’ve learned so much and I’ve found a person in me that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I needed all of those moments and all those decisions to find that person.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.