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Stillwater native a finalist on 'Biggest Loser'

Rachel Frederickson in Episode 1501 of "The Biggest Loser." At left is Dolvett Quince. (Photo by Trae Patton/NBC)1 / 2
Rachel Frederickson with fashion guru Tim Gunn in Episode 1513 of "The Biggest Loser." (Photo by Trae Patton/NBC)2 / 2

By Amy Carlson Gustafson

St. Paul Pioneer Press

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.

She also needed a strategy to win the “Biggest Loser” title. She spent the holidays in Stillwater with her mother and exercised regularly at the Lifetime Fitness in Woodbury, Minn. She even worked out with Lisa Rambo, a Hudson, Wis., native who competed on Season 14 of the show. (“She kicked my butt,” Frederickson said.)

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.”

Olga Espinosa, Frederickson’s coach on the St. Croix Swim Club, hadn’t seen her star swimmer for more than five years before recently running into her at the gym. She looked “determined,” said Espinosa, who isn’t surprised Frederickson is doing so well on the show.

“Ever since she was little, she was 9 when I met her, whatever she put her mind to she was able to do,” said Espinosa, who admits she was disappointed when the two parted ways years ago. “I knew she was an athlete deep down. You don’t lose that ability, I think. No matter where you go with your life, you’re still going to be competitive wherever you apply yourself. For her to see that in herself again gave her the confidence and dedication that she always had, but maybe lost for a little bit.”

On Tuesday, practice at the swim club will end by 8 p.m. so everyone can get home in time to watch the “Biggest Loser” finale.

“We’re all rooting for her,” Espinosa said.

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. She returned to Minnesota for a while after her parents divorced. She even ran a mobile ice cream business with her mom, Julie.

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.

“I would eat a lot of food,” she said. “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. I’d put the Twix bars in the freezer and then I wouldn’t even remember eating them. Now, to be able to understand the feelings and connect with them, versus drowning them in food — that’s a huge accomplishment. I know I’ll never go back to binge eating and to emotionally overeating because I understand what the emotions are and I’m not hiding from them anymore.”

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.”

Julie helped her daughter make a video to send into the show.

“I am so proud of her for putting herself out there for the world so see at a time that she was basically hiding,” Julie said. “That took a lot of courage. Everything Rachel has accomplished is through hard work and dedication. I am amazed by her but not surprised she has been so successful. She is my hero.”

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. Wow, it had really been gone.”

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.