Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Oklahoma's Biggest Loser

Bethany, OK residents Neill Harmer and his wife Amanda were contestants on the last season of NBC's hit show "The Biggest Loser." If you're unfamiliar with the show, the basic premise is that overweight people come to a "boot camp"-type ranch at which they compete to see who can lose the most weight over the course of the show.

Neill and Amanda before The Biggest Loser

Since coming back, Neill and Amanda have continued losing weight and are now active volunteers for the American Heart Association's You're the Cure network, helping us fight obesity in Oklahoma.

I recently caught up with Neill and had the chance to ask him a few questions about his experience on The Biggest Loser and how his life has changed since then.

Wes: What inspired you and Amanda to apply for The Biggest Loser (TBL)? How did the process work from there?

Neill: We were sitting on the couch one night watching the show like we did every week (with ice cream and cookies in our hands!). The Biggest Loser was about the only show we watched as it happened, instead of DVRing it and watching it later, fast forwarding through commercials. Well, it paid off. During one of the commercial breaks they had a "Do you want to be on The Biggest Loser" commercial. I looked over at Amanda and said, think we could do that? She said yes!

They had a deadline for video submissions in less than 2 weeks from the day we saw the commercial, so we had to get moving! I called my cousin who happened to be a video producer, he came and shot us talking about why we would be good for the show, we sent it in. Fully expecting never to hear anything about it again, thinking they get hundreds of thousands of submissions, ours won't stand out. Wrong! Exactly 4 days after we put the video in the mail box I got a call saying, "We like you and want to pursue this further". SHOCK. The rest is history, they saw something they liked and we made the show, just by being ourselves.

We always knew we needed help to lose weight, we had both tried and tried every fad crappy diet to lose weight. We both had lost weight many times, but just as many times, put it back on plus a few more. We knew we had to learn how to do it right. The Biggest Loser just happened to come along and offer us the chance to learn these things, and to get a great start at a new way of living.

Wes: What were your first thoughts when you got to the ranch and learned what you would really be doing?

Neill: The first thought was OH CRAP?! What did we get ourselves into?!

Right out of the gate we had to run up a mountain to touch a flag to be able to pick our trainer, of which we picked Jillian, then shortly after that challenge we were in the gym for our first workout. And we are not just talking about a short little walk on the treadmill for 30 mins workout. I'm talking a 4 hour session with one of the best trainers in the world. It was intense! (Sidenote: this was also the most memorable workout for me and people that happen to recognize me, as I fell off the treadmill in spectacular fashion!)

Every day of our time on the ranch was intense, difficult, just as emotionally draining as it was physically. Short and was HARD! What you see on the T.V. is only a snippet of what really happens. The show is 1-2 hours long, 1 time a week. Where in actuality we worked out up to 8 hours each and every day.

Wes: Describe a typical day for a TBL contestant.

Neill: A typical day on the ranch was sleeping till about 8am or so, getting up and changed. Going to eat a quick (need I say healthy here? haha) breakfast. Then would go do our morning "homework" for 2 hours. (Homework consisted of Jillian telling us to get a specific workout in before she got there) Then after homework we'd have lunch and relax for a little bit before Jillian got there. Once Jillian got there, IT WAS ON. She would work us for at least 4 hours, sometimes 5. The only breaks during workout would be a snack, or if you got lucky enough to be called back for an interview with the producers or whatnot for the show. After Jillian would leave, we would eat dinner and then go do the last 2 hours of homework she had given for the night.

I also should mention, we did all our own cleaning, cooking, laundry, etc, same as we would at home. We had to learn how to do all this while still balancing the needs of running a household.

Wes: Are the trainers as mean and hard-core as the show makes them appear to be? It seemed like Jillian really rode you hard, but it also seemed that she genuinely cared.

Neill: The trainers are WAY harder than you can ever see on the show that you see aired...but, you also don't get to see how incredibly caring they are, and how much they want you to succeed. Most people are overweight due to emotional or mental type issues. I was one of those people. I had tons of emotions tied to my weight, and once those pounds started dropping those emotions came out, like it or not! She helped me work through alot of those issues. Jillian was a trainer, a dietitian and a therapist rolled into a small, but LOUD, package.

Jillian: The Total Package.

Wes: During the course of the show—for right or wrong—you were sometimes thought of as “the lazy one.” (Although, to be fair, you did have a couple of injuries.) How did that make you feel and have you been able to use that as motivation?

Neill: Oh yeah, there's that "lazy" word again. As I said , we worked out for 8 hours a day, every day. Everyone, and I mean, EVERYONE had bouts of laziness/exhaustion. It all depends on how the show is cut and aired. Not only did I show some laziness, I was also running circles around people at other times.

I have to admit, I hated and still hate being called lazy. That being said, I have used that word, and that word alone, to fuel my fire. I still use it to this day to make sure I am working as hard as I can, doing as much as I can.

Wes: Describe a typical day now in the life of Neill and Amanda as far as your diet, workout routine, etc.

Neill: A normal day now for me is to wake up at 5:30 every morning and head over to the Bethany YMCA and workout for an hour or so with my best friend, Matt. Then come home, help get our son ready for school and get out the door myself and head to a day's work. I work as a project manager/web developer for Element Fusion in Oklahoma City. After work, I come home, eat dinner, and spend time with my family. I try to get a run in before I head to our 8pm 5 night a week boot camp where we try to impart our love of exercise and eating right to our campers. After boot camp we come home and try to spend some quality time together while our son is sleeping.

Wes: Can you tell us a little more about your boot camp and how that is going?

Neill: We wanted to be a part of this boot camp since we started it back in December last year (after we got sent home after elimination from the show). I had worked with the owner of the camp, Mike Cejka, at a company I had worked for on his website. I looked him up once we got home and was like, "Do you want to train some losers?" He was happy to help! And by help I mean, kick our BUTTS. He helped continue what Jillian started, and we owe him a lot of credit for helping us out like he did.

Once the show was wrapped up, we wanted to become a part of Operation Bootcamp to try to show other people that it CAN be done, and SHOULD be done. So he got us set up and on the path to becoming lead trainers. We have been training at the camp for almost 6 months now, and enjoying every bit of it. The best part is seeing the look on the camper's face when they realize, "Yes! I can do this!" That makes us really proud and allows us to give, if only a small part, of what we have learned in the last year.

(Note: for more information on Neill and Amanda's boot camp, visit

Wes: So what’s new in your life since you left TBL?

Neill: So much newness going on! The biggest news is that we are expecting our 2nd child! We are 23 weeks along and just found out we are having a baby girl. That will round out our family and be a handful for some time to come.

Aside from that we have done some other things we would have ever thought to do: run a 5k, run a duathlon (2 mile run, 14 mile bike, 2 mile run), rock climbing, a ropes course, etc. With even more upcoming: run a triathlon, run a leg in the Bombing Memorial Run, sky diving, etc.

It's amazing, once you open that door, it's like a new freedom comes along with it. No more of that fat blocking aspects of your life! It's not just a physical limitation, not at all.

Better. Stronger. Faster.

Wes: How did your own experiences drive your interest in helping the American Heart Association fight obesity in our state?

Neill: We want to see everyone be healthy and live a long time. The easiest way to be healthy is just to take care of yourself, it's not hard! You don't have to go out and run a marathon, you just need to do something, every single day. Go for a walk with your family, park in the furthest parking spot at work, take the stairs, eat less, pass on the fried and eat the grilled, etc. And certainly changing state policies to help fight obesity can be a big help, so we're glad we've gotten plugged in with You're the Cure.

Wes: So what’s the before/after on your weight loss (and Amanda’s)? And, aside from the pound numbers, how has your weight loss changed things for you?

Neill: I started the show off at 317lbs, but for the record, that is far from the heaviest I had been. My heaviest was well over 335lbs! For the shows Finale I was down to 229, which means I lost 28% of my body weight. Since the Finale in April, I have continued to drop and am now at 215lbs, and still dropping. I have started running races (ran the Komen Race for the Cure 5k race a few weeks back), and just last weekend ran in my first duathlon (2 mile run, 14 mile bike, 2 mile run). It keeps getting better and better! On the horizon I am looking to run in a triathlon and also in the Bombing Memorial run.

Amanda started the show at 204lbs, same goes for her though, that was not her heaviest weight ever, that was in the 220lb range! For the Finale she was down to a very nice 140lbs, which means she lost almost 32% of her body weight. Since the Finale, she lost more weight, but then we got pregnant, and weight loss rules do not apply quite the same. She has been ordered by her doctor to cut the workouts to just walking, which is NO FUN for her, and she is itching to get the kid out so she can get back to the new life we have of being gym rats!

Neill and Amanda. 160+ pounds later.

For more information on Neill and Amanda, visit

Monday, October 13, 2008

OK Volunteer Taking Lobbying 101

Kelli Lynch, an AHA advocate from Harrah, is on her way to Austin, TX for a two-day seminar on successful lobbying. She is joining other advocates from across our affiliate (AR, NM, OK and TX).

I look forward to working with Kelli and her new-found expertise when she gets back.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Want to Avoid Heart Disease? Brush Your Teeth!

Look, I dislike going to my dentist as much as anyone. But maybe he's on to something. Another study has found a link between poor dental hygiene and heart disease. So break out that floss, everyone. Show some love to your gums--and your heart!

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