Biggest losers? Hardly. Jackie and Dan Evans, mother-and-son contestants in 2008 on the popular “Biggest Loser” TV series where large people shed weight on screen, lost 89 and 136 pounds respectively that season in the televised boot-camp style weight-loss program. They didn’t win the contest but are now touring the country hosting “The Biggest Loser Half Marathon and 5K RunWalk” events, touting the benefits of exercising and healthy eating.
We met up with Jackie and Dan in Panama City Beach, Florida, over the New Year’s weekend, where they were hosting the inaugural event, one of many they’ll do in the coming year, from Florida to Oregon and a bunch of places in between, licensed through the NBCUniversal Television Consumer Products Group and Shine America. They also do “Off Road Challenge”events and a “Get Fit, Get Ready” race series.
We had dinner with them one night at The Boatyard in Panama City Beach, one of the destination’s most popular restaurants, and where they looked like they’d kept their weight off. And for good reason: In 2011 alone, they did more than 20 half marathons, and have embraced a healthier lifestyle. For the record, at the Boatyard they ate fish and didn’t finish, taking their leftovers back to their hotel.
“I’m not saying I couldn’t eat that whole thing,” laughed Dan Evans,24, when I pointed to a giant bowl of insanely good crab dip. “I’m just saying I won’t.”
And this is a guy who for much of his life was a frequent fast-food flyer by day, gorging himself at all-you-can-eat buffets by night. He was working as a director at his family’s summer camp in Illinois when the idea came to his mother to try out for the show. She was a big fan.
“I’d watch with a huge bowl of popcorn coated with about a stick of melted butter,” she said with a rueful laugh.
Dan Evans, a young man blessed with an abundance of personality, tried out and got the nod, and then the producers thought a mother-son angle would work well. They did almost six months of grueling exercise and dieting, with cameras watching every single move, recording every bit of drama and infighting among contestants. Dan Evans said one of the guys on their team was a former college football player who claimed his gridiron workouts were nothing like those on “The Biggest Loser.”
Along the way they became fast friends with others on their team and their team’s coach, Bob Harper, with whom they remain friends. The support they got, in what they termed the family feeling of the show, got them through. But then when it was over, it was a cold slap in the face.
“When you’re done, you’re done, that’s it,” Dan Evans said. “The night I lost, they had a car waiting with all my stuff in it. And a psychologist to talk to, to make sure I was OK.”
The hard part, he said, “was leaving the daily ritual and going home to television, the internet, friends and family, all the things denied to you for months while you’re on the show. Getting back to normal isn’t easy.”
Some relapse and go back to their old bad-eating ways. The Evans did not. They’ve got this gig going now, and Dan Evans, a lifelong musician, cut a record soon after the show, “Going All Out,” which he said made it to number seven on the country-music charts that year.
“The one thing you learn is you can overcome struggle,” Jackie Evans said of their time on the hit show. “We were convinced early on we couldn’t do it, that we’d fail. But then we realized we could, we did have the willpower. You can make excuses, that your weight is genetic, that you’re predisposed to being fat, and maybe that’s true. But then you realize it’s all on you, it’s up to you and that you can do it. They taught me that you can choose, you have the ability to do it.”
On Dec. 30, on an unusually cold Florida morning with temperatures near freezing just after dawn, thousands of participants lined up at Pier Park in Panama City Beach, waiting for the race to start. On stage, bedecked in Biggest Loser gear, Dan and Jackie Evans screamed into microphones, exhorting the waiting athletes to do their best, commending them for taking literal steps to a healthier lifestyle. And when it was over, they were there, shouting encouragement, shaking hands, hugging racers and doing all they could to keep the feeling going. All manner of people took part, from seasoned runners to newbies.
“Any of us can overcome whatever it is that makes us feel guilty about ourselves, our weight, our addiction to cigarettes or drugs or alcohol, whatever it is we’re doing to hurt ourselves,” Dan Evans said. “It can be done. It’s not easy, but it can be done.”
With 225 pounds lost between them, Dan and Jackie Evans may not have been the biggest losers that season but they’re now coming across as pretty big winners.
For more information on the Evans and the events they’re running, visit www.biggestloserrunwalk.com For more on Panama City Beach, visit www.visitpanamacitybeach.com