My Story: Season Two Winner of The Biggest Loser

April 12, 2010
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Matt Hoover. Then and now.

If you’re a fan of the hit television show The Biggest Loser, then you already know the story of Matt Hooveror at least part of it. Hoover was a two-time state wrestling champion in high school that went on to wrestle at the University of Iowa. But his dreams of a successful college career didn’t materialize due to an injury. That’s when things began to get out of control. On this My Story edition of Endurance Planet we hear Matt’s story, how he won the grand prize on The Biggest Loser, and how triathlon is now part of his healthy lifestyle.

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Comments (37)

  • Dean Blanchard says:

    I think that is great that he finished the Ironman. Never give up.

    3 years ago I weighed 250 lbs and could not even run 100yards or ride a bike 1 MILE to top that off I couldn't swim 25 yards without stoping. I am now down to 200 and just rode 56 miles of hills. I also did 3 half marathons last year ( It took me almost 3 Hours to complete). Now I am doing Boulder Ironman 70.3 in Aug. I am hoping to just finish this event.

    I believe in "Train Endure Achieve"

  • Art Stafford says:

    I saw pics of myself at the beach two years ago and decided I needed to do something. After joining the local YMCA, I found out about a triathlon they do to raise money and decided to plan for that. I started learning to swim (haven't been swimming since I was a kid), bought a bike and started learning to ride it right, and took up running and lifting weights again. I finished the sprint in 1:24+, then did an international distance a few months later in 3:55+. I'm not good at triathlons, but I've finished all three I've done (my third was to repeat the local sprint, this time in 1:20+). This week I run my first half-marathon and I'm planning for a 70.3 in the fall before defending my last-place finish at the international again.

  • Joe C says:

    I agree. He has had his moment in the sun. Now let's give someone that has a true passion, love and dedication to Triathlon a chance. Many many athletes that are in the best of shape can't get in like you have said. It's really tough to have a dream dashed year after year on a lottery system. Is there another way to let more enjoy the Championship?

  • Paul M. says:

    LOL! Thanks Devin! I know an athlete can attempt (and should attempt) to qualify. You actually strengthen my argument. If he qualified and had the story to boot, I would not have made the first post.

  • Gordon says:

    But Paul aren't you attempting to get a "lottery" slot? Isn't that the same thing as being "given" a spot? Why don't you just qualify for a guaranteed spot?

    You seem hypocritical to me. You want to be given a lottery slot, but you don't want the race directors to pick someone else with a story that will obviously promote the sport well.

    I don't think you and others understand the idea behind these sponsor exemptions because of your own selfish desires. The sponsor's exemptions have a good purpose. Get your head out of your own backside and open your eyes, mind, and heart.

  • Darin Layman says:

    Kona has always served two purposes in my mind. First, as a consistent setting for the world championship of the Ironman distance. Allowing Matt to participate certainly doesn't take away from that. Second, as a venue for ordinary athletes to participate in an extraordinary event. There have always been Ordinary athletes with special circumstances that have been allowed to participate in Kona, independent of the lottery system and qualifying age-groupers. Will all serious, dedicated triathletes get to realize their dream of competing in Kona? No, but if we all could then what would we have to strive for? Hurray for Matt and all those ordinary people whom he has inspired!

  • Paul M. says:

    In order to receive a lottery spot, one needs to be able to complete at least a 70.3 in the previous 12 months. That wasn't done. If a person puts in the time and effort as the rest of the "age groupers", then receiving a sponsors exemption would seem fair. There are many triathletes that meet the "qualifications" to compete in Hawaii year after year, but are not lightening fast. My point is that it would be better to "give" a spot to someone that busts their tail to be fit and ready to race and meet the qualifications. Being allowed to race just because you are famous is a the issue I have with the whole thing. No need to get belligerent, Gordon. This is simply an opinion.

  • Jones says:

    Actually Paul, he had to do a 70.3 before he could go to Kona. He says on his site that he did one in August. The same is the case with all of the media slots, it seems. There's a book called "Iron Heart" about a young man who races in Kona after a near-fatal car accident, and he had to do a 70.3 also. Even though the people that are granted media slots get some obvious perks, they still have to put in the work. Likely they train every day or almost every day, just like the rest of us. I say more power to them – let's support everyone who wants to try.

  • Jorge A. says:

    Joe Friel's next book will be "the elitist Triathletes whining Bible"… Get over yourselves… Don't get mad because someone got in and you didn't… Great argument too: I work just as hard so I should get in… Since I've actually achieved a junior Olympic spot as well as a national team spot in oly style tkd in my lifetime, I can really attest to what it truly takes to earn a spot as some have so eloquently put it… My challenge to you is instead o whining about it, get past your ego and put in the work…

  • Peter M. says:

    The guy's an inspiration to us "non lean" athletes. I heard his story and said to myself, If he can do it why not me? The mental strength necessary to finish makes him an elite and deserving.

  • Paul M. says:

    As much as I love to hear stories like Matt’s. To see him race in Hawaii was a bit disheartening. Many of us work hard, race hard and can’t get a lottery slot in Kona. I know someone that has tried for 8 years and still hasn’t received a lottery spot. But there’s Matt in Hawaii in 2009, wearing his kswiss shoes (ironman sponsor), riding his ceepo bike (ironman sponsor), and wearing his “Biggest Loser” shirt (an NBC show, the Ironman is also televised on NBC). I appreciate the fact Matt is a great story, but there are thousands of triathletes out there that deserve to race in Kona way more than a Reality Television contestant.

  • Jim Hash says:

    OMG Matt’s story could be mine!! He has given me so much inspiration.

  • Maka says:

    I agree with Paul M. Kona should be reserved for those who Live / Bleed / Sweat Ironman, not for an individual who is a marketing tool with a heart felt story. It’s great that Matt was able to lose his excess weight but it shouldn’t grant him access to the Most Elite event in the World of Triathlon! I believe this is an event that deserves to be exclusive and you need to earn your way to be able to experience / appreciate the magnitude of it. Nor does the market even understand what it takes to compete in an Ironman

  • Devin B says:

    Well… you could always qualify.

  • Christian says:

    I agree with all of you that kona is very special and it’s a race of a lifetime. However, I’d like to play devil’s advocate. Obesity among children and adults is on the rise. Perhaps, America needs to see that a big hefty guy can drop some weight and do something incredible and daunting. Yes, it will boost NBC’s rating, but we all win here. The triathlon gets more publicity and interest. More people get involved in a healthy lifestyle and I believe the sport lives stronger because of this.

    I weighed 255 in high school with a double helping of put downs and fat jokes. Now down to 212 and finished oceanside 70.3. Got my eyes set on cozumel. There are no cameras on me, but the sport lives strong in me.

  • Bjorn says:

    I say you should all get over yourselves. “Live / Bleed / Sweat Ironman”… Really? Then why even bother with the lottery? Do any of you know the reason behind the lottery, why it’s there? No, from your posts I guess not. If you really “Live / Bleed / Sweat Ironman” then freaking qualify for it or shut the hell up!

  • Liz R. says:

    I agree with some of the others that Matt’s story is great. It gives a lot of others hope for losing weight, etc. but for us triathletes that bust our butts every single day (7+ years for me), seeing that article was a bit disheartening. Kona should and continue to be for those that have truly earned it… blood, sweat and tears.

  • William C says:

    On the other hand guys – Kona wouldn’t happen without sponsors (neither would the Boston or NY Marathons, or just about any race you want to name). It costs a lot to put an event on. If a sponsor – say NBC – wants a slot for a “star” or a favored client, then what’s wrong with that. Corporations only sponsor a race for the promotion value anyway. They are only using the qualifying athletes for their own purposes. But all the qualifiers get something out of it too, don’t they? What are a few extra bodies – and usually slow ones, at that – gonna do to screw things up??

  • Gordon says:

    The people who put on this event decided who is allowed to compete. They decide how many people will be able to earn a guaranteed spot and what the qualifications are to earn that spot. They decide how many people will be given a lottery opportunity to compete and what qualifications are needed to have a chance at that gift. They decide how many people will be given a sponsor’s exemption and what qualifications are needed in order to be given that exemption. This is all planned out and decided on by the people putting on the event. They do this to make the event the best they can.

    To say that Matt Hoover took someone’s spot is just plain incorrect. He took a spot that was offered to him by the race directors and from listening to the interview it appears to me that they approached him first and asked him to champion the cause. I believe they were confident that he could inspire others and bring good to the event. It is difficult for many to identify with the type of elite athlete you have to be in order to earn a guaranteed a spot at Kona. They have a lottery, but that still does not guarantee that they will fill slots with people who they feel can most effectively champion the cause of Kona and Triathlon as a whole.

    Matt Hoover should be praised in his efforts, not condemned.

  • Paul Weber says:

    I agree with those that work so hard to get to the Holy Grail of triathlons (Kona) but can’t. I don’t sympathy for this guy because he balooned after high school. Like others, I’ve worked my can off my entire life to maintain my weight, a healthy lifestyle, and have sweat my dues to qualify for events. I’m 50 now and it isn’t any easier as time goes by. As for the comments about no sponsors, no Kona, I beg to differ. Ironman Kona is there because of demand for the event not because of sponsors; basic economics of demand and supply. As for America’s weight problem, sorry, no sympathy there either. America has a self-discipline problem, not a weight problem.

  • Fernie says:

    I’m torn. Yah they’re screwing everyone else out of a spot. But what about this guy, may be it’s part of his contract. And honestly If anyone offered me a contract to workout and be part of events I would take it! Wait that sounds like a professional athelete. However we mustn’t forget that this guy can be doing more damage than good by jumping into Kona before he’s fully ready!

  • Jeff says:

    If he filled out the paperwork for a lottery slot, then fine. What has everyone tweaked about it is that somebody (NBC, whoever) GAVE him a lottery slot – big difference. Most of us can’t qualify. I’m a good athlete, but I don’t have a 10:10 (about what it will take to qualify at IMLP when I race there this year) in me to qualify for the M40-44 age group. Earn it if you can, otherwise play the same odds as everyone else that fills out the forms and crosses their fingers.

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  • Batman says:

    Kona and triathlon are a business, no different than Microsoft, Bank of America, Major League Baseball or the NFL. Those who run it are not all that interested in anyone's blood, sweat, desire or passion for the sport. The only important thing is the bottom line. "What can we do this year to beat last year's profit? What will get more people to turn on their TV sets and watch the event?" That's what promoters for an event like Kona care about. Someone in the thread said that sponsorship is necessary to run events like Kona, the Boston Marathon, etc and that's true. But that hasn't always been true. I doubt they had the same level of sponsorship 100 years ago during Boston, but then again the event probably didn't bring in the kind of money it does today. And not all those competing are simply in it, "for the love of the game." The prize money for these events is outrageous, not to mention individual sponsorships. Money, money, money…after all, it makes the world go round.

  • The sport of triathlon has definitely grown in popularity over the years, and yes companies will always look to monetize on that. But, the sport has helped many find a way to compete, train, and live a healthy lifestyle. And to many people, a well run local sprint IS their Kona Ironman.

  • Mike says:

    i do think that Matt is an inspiration but I do know how hard it is to qualify. Many of the Ironman that make it into Kona are business owners who can afford the time to train far more and at higher intensities then the average working joe or joanne. I have seen where stay at home moms or dads qaulify. I have been a member of several gyms; many of the stay at home athletes drop their kids off and go train. I am grateful for the lottery so that the average middle age Joe and Joanne have a chance.

  • Richard R Senior says:

    Sooooo many thoughts. A wide range of opinions are offered in the ”comment” section about Matt an his Ironman effort, an his getting into Kona…
    I then went to the audio piece done by Matt,an got”the rest of the story” for a complete picture of how all this Kona effort got to be.
    Once done with the reading of the varied opinions,an the interview of Matt,I came away feeling impressed with Matt’s completeness of effort,lesson’s learned an most of all his new found respect for this sport of Ironman racing.
    I too have tried to get into ”Kona”via the lottery,8 times,an haven’t made it.I feel that Matt’s opportunity was a well earned adventure from his past efforts in other areas of life, be it the biggest looser,being a champion wrestler or getting past those sweepers on Kona,an finishing this event,later then mid night,but getting to the finish line.
    I am glad that Matt Hoover had the chance to compete in the Ironman in Kona,an was even more respectfull of him after I heard ,an felt, the restect he has for this event.
    His journey was,an is, more than just the destination.
    Respectfully;
    RRS

  • Susie says:

    As an athena athlete and burgeoning triathlete, I LOVE Matt’s story. I hate always being the “big” girl and feeling out of place. I feel inspired by him because he doesn’t fit the profile–yet he did do what needed to happen to qualify (70.3)! Not to mention that he finished the damn race, which can’t be said for a lot of the other people who were DNF’s and supposedly “earned” their spot. If he had sucked at the race, then the whiners would have had a reason to complain, but really–get over it. Just keep trying to qualify, and if you don’t get in, I guess it just means you didn’t get in the lottery. As the Rolling Stones say….you can’t always get what you want.

  • Tri Guy says:

    I dont agree with people saying Matt ‘took away’ a spot from someone. WTC has the say as to who competes in Kona. They like storys and bring in athletes that will give them a story. Nothing wrong with that. These slots are reserved anyway. Look at their race number and that will tell you if they qualified or were ‘given’ a slot. If Matt was in it solely for the glamour and spotlight he wouldnt have been at his Tri Clubs’ Saturday morning ride. I know because I was there too. He has a USAT sticker on his car just like a bunch of us do. He enjoys the sport like everyone else, he just got there in a different way. Would I like to do KONA? Sure. I plan on entering the lottery next year. Do I resent that HE got to go and I didnt? Hell no. He did the 70.3. Let him be inspiration to others out there and get off his back. With all the corporate fluff and Tv cameras and pomp and circumstance that KONA has the athlete still has to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 and run 26.2 ON THEIR OWN regardless if the shoes, bikes and swag were free.

    Race your own race before you judge others…….

  • BCTRI says:

    I can't help but make a few points after reading this. Gordon seems to champion the idea of having people race who cannot finish an Ironman simply because they are a good story. If you want to argue he finished, fine do that, but he didn't make the time cut off. There is a time limit for a reason. I appreciate Matt taking on this challenge and I enjoy his story, but people make huge sacrifices to qualify for Kona, so to see someone get a slot because they have a warm fuzzy story is a little upsetting.

    For those that think everyone needs to be quiet and go qualify I pose this question to you. Have you qualified? Can you even qualify? Do you know what it takes to qualify? The people that are qualifying generally have the time and money to train. They have the financial ability to hire coaches, travel to races, and buy the best equipment money can buy. For someone like me who is a father, full time employee, and in graduate school, training 30 hours a week is impossible even when I wake up at 4 everyday to train. So don't act like we are not putting in the work. The point is that there are people out there that are dedicated to the sport who are passed over because of someone's weight loss story.

    Rather than having people qualify for a 140.6 by doing a 70.3, make them do the whole enchilada before they can race. That seems fair to me. All that aside I want to reiterate that I appreciate Matt's effort during the race, his determination to cross the line even when time had expired, and his ability to bring awareness to a what many consider an "elite" sport.

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  • PaulJackson says:

    Who said life was supposed to be fair…
    Some win more than others. Thats the up and down of life.

  • Jorge A. says:

    Bctri- I think your missing the point about the while thing. The argument is, did Matt take someone elses spot away & could that spot have been yours? The answer is possibly. And to that I say who cares? I’m a dad too, working and in graduate school and I have achieved national rankings albeit in another sport. My point here is everyone in our boat including Matt in this sport have as much a chance as getting a spot as the next guy. No one is guaranteed anything. If you want a guaranteed spot than yes turn your world upside down and qualify. I gave up a good portion of my life when I was at my best. Sacrifice is what it takes and we all do the same thing, 4am runs, long bike rides etc… The point is, you have to give up more to get a guarantee like the Macca’s of the world. That other really lucky like Matt did. Kudos to the few that are lucky… To the rest of us, quit whining or take up knitting as a sport. Requires a lot less of a commitment…

  • Mike says:

    To all those that are whining about him getting a slot….QUIT !!
    He is helping to make the sport of triathlon more well known. Appreciate what he has done to help the sport. If you want a lottery ticket so bad then you get obese and and join America’s Biggest Loser and then ask for a ticket yourself. Or better yet you get creative and figure a way to get a ticket.
    Good job Matt !!!

  • Amy says:

    I can't help but make a few points after reading this. Gordon seems to champion the idea of having people race who cannot finish an Ironman simply because they are a good story. If you want to argue he finished, fine do that, but he didn't make the time cut off. There is a time limit for a reason. I appreciate Matt taking on this challenge and I enjoy his story, but people make huge sacrifices to qualify for Kona, so to see someone get a slot because they have a warm fuzzy story is a little upsetting.

    For those that think everyone needs to be quiet and go qualify I pose this question to you. Have you qualified? Can you even qualify? Do you know what it takes to qualify? The people that are qualifying generally have the time and money to train. They have the financial ability to hire coaches, travel to races, and buy the best equipment money can buy. For someone like me who is a father, full time employee, and in graduate school, training 30 hours a week is impossible even when I wake up at 4 everyday to train. So don't act like we are not putting in the work. The point is that there are people out there that are dedicated to the sport who are passed over because of someone's weight loss story.

    Rather than having people qualify for a 140.6 by doing a 70.3, make them do the whole enchilada before they can race. That seems fair to me. All that aside I want to reiterate that I appreciate Matt's effort during the race, his determination to cross the line even when time had expired, and his ability to bring awareness to a what many consider an "elite" sport.

  • Frank says:

    To Matt, hooray and I’m definitely inspired by you!!!! You’ve earned your slot and my respect. We also have a similar story. My employer recently conductee a “Biggest Loser” challenge and I won. I was near 250lbs too and got down to 192lbs. I was also a wrestling champion for three consecutive years in high school more than 25 years ago. I just finished my first XTERRA triathlon and I hope to one day qualify and maybe get a spot to do Kona, too. But if I’m not as lucky as you, I’ll still be forever grateful to you and everyone else who is responsible for keeping this sport alive as you are all an inspiration to people like me.

  • Steve W says:

    This one is such a double edged sword: Four years ago, I was out of shape, smoking, drinking and just not happy with myself. I saw the Biggest Loser and found inspiration through their results. It was that inspiration that got me into distance running, cycling and eventually, triathlons. I have done three sprints and two Olympic distance events but want a half and an Ironman. (I want my tattoo.)
    Watching the Kona live feed at the finish line, Mike Reilly began to talk about Matt even being on the course. I was thrilled because the show has meant something to me. Matt missed the cut off by 3 minutes and I had that “aw shucks” moment. I wanted him to do it and validate the show. Days and weeks after, I began to hear rumblings that the slot had been offered to him and not earned. Oooh. It is hard to know how to feel about it, because as others have said here, training and earning a spot in Kona is not something that is easy. Should Kona only be the elite few? No. I don’t believe that. Sister Madonna Buder, Jon Blaze, Sarah Reinertsen, Rudy Garcia- Tolson… These names and others are not elite, but they all are motivational forces in my little world. (Plus Sarah is like the hottest girl in America!) If you want the elite few, there is always the ITU. Those races are brutal. Qualifying for Kona, which is the World Championships, should be hard, which it is. Winning your age group in another Ironman or even in a half Ironman is harsh. Know how many 40-45 year old men there are out there that want to out run me? Dude! “Just do it” sells a lot of sneakers, but if you could ‘just do it,’ I would have done it by now.
    I think Matt was between a rock and a hard place. Had he finished in time, I think the triathlon community would have been even more harsh and critical toward NBC, Ironman and Matt about his getting a slot. As it stands, I think the very best things happened, The Biggest Loser gets its validation helping a man go from obese to running in an Ironman, NBC gets its feel good story, Matt validates his own efforts by finishing the course, but because he did not finish in time, the Ironman finish still stands as an athletic achievement that can’t be bought by a network. It must be earned.

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