Advice for local teens
Matt Hoover, one of the best high school wrestlers in Iowa, allowed himself to balloon to 353 pounds after being recruited to the University of Iowa wrestling team.
He quit the team and he quit college because, he admitted, he also became "lazy."
Crazily, the help he needed, was staring him right in the face as he was wolfing down a bag of potato chips while lounging on his couch.
"The Biggest Loser," a television reality show which brings on real people with the desire to lose weight, was making a call for contestants for the second season. He doesn't know why, but he called the number, auditioned and earned a place on the show.
The Belle Plaine native worked as hard as he ever had, shedding 157 pounds to become the season's winner.
In the process, he gained his life back, he told Aurelia High School students this week during a special visit, organized by students Amanda Loucks and Megan Janssen, who had met him at the Hugh O'Brien Youth Leadership program this summer.
Always a competitor, Hoover was at home in the cutthroat TV competition. Top prize was $250,000.
One of his biggest rivals was Suzy Preston, who was the third place winner on the show and lost 95 pounds. The two fell in love, and married jus two weeks ago in Jamaica.
Hoover was happy to have the opportunity to work with the Aurelia teenagers.
He had lost sight of himself in his weight problem. When he gained control of his life again, after losing all his weight, "I found out who I was again."
With a chance for a new start, he has made the best of it. He speaks to young people at every opportunity and urges them to make goals and achieve those goals.
"I was a good athlete. My goal was to wrestle for U of I. I won two state titles in high school and then went on to U of I. I learned I wasn't the big kid on the block anymore... there were no more goals for me."
He stressed, "Never stop setting goals. You can do one of two things. You can stay where you're at or you can start going backwards. You have the potential to keep having awesome moments."
He shared that, now back in shape, he is training for wrestling again. His next goal is to try out for the Olympic team.
He told the local students not to dwell on mistakes they may have made yesterday or to spend their lives gazing into a future. "You can't go back... but you don't have much control over [the future], either. So you need to look at today. Prepare every day. Use your knowledge and your ability. It's simple - if you have a test, prepare for it, ask for help if you need it.
"Don't be afraid to ask your teachers, your parents. They're all here to help you."
After the show, he admitted that there were old friends who couldn't get accept his change. And as hard as it is, he said, he has had to leave some of them behind.
Making changes in one's life takes work and time. He uses, naturally, losing weight as an example.
"It takes a series of small changes to make the big one. I encourage each of you to set goals and set them high."
He shared that when he was young he would write down his goals - and forgot about them. He had the impression that once they were written down, that's all he had to do. "That was my problem. Life is not much different than farming. You have to work at it to get a crop, it doesn't just happen. Do something with yourself; you have the ability. I have fallen on my face many times but I always got up. That's the most important thing, no matter how tough things are, you learn by going off track and learn along the way."
He stressed that through the years, he tried to blame things on bad luck.
"Bad luck," Hoover said, "is getting cancer or getting hit by a car. It's not the same as making bad decisions. I decided to do other things and it cost me."
Students were curious about The Biggest Loser show. Although it seems it would be glamourous to be on TV, he said it was hard work and and he became so angry one time that he was ready to walk out before the completion of the show. One of the producers said to him, "I never took you as a quitter." It sunk in and he knew he needed to go on.
He is so happy in his life and that he took the time to care about himself again.
He and Suzy now live in Seattle and he enjoys traveling to talk to kids. "I don't have any credentials - just my life."
He is also working on a book.