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Whether at Hershey Park, on the Wildwood, N.J., boardwalk or at the hometown playing field, Jacky Cunningham Kmet ’95 always answered “No” to her children’s requests. Ride the roller coaster? “No.” Parasail over the ocean? “No.” Coach the softball team? “No,” said Jacky, even though she was a standout pitcher for the Lions during her college years.

“Because of my weight, I was held back from doing all these things. And so my kids think I’m scared of everything. I want to be able to do adventure things,” said a tearful Jacky during her 12-week journey as a contestant on the 17th season of NBC’s reality show “The Biggest Loser,” known for its dramatic weight-loss makeovers. Jacky and her teammate—college sweetheart/husband Stephen Kmet ’94—competed against seven other two-person teams for a shot at the Biggest Loser title and $250,000 prize.

Piling on the Pounds. Jacky, a high school counselor with three master’s degrees, was a competitive athlete in her younger years. She began to gain weight after the sudden and emotional loss of her father to a massive heart attack. At the time, she was 26 years old. Her weight continued to climb after the births of her children, Kayleigh, 12, and Jack, 6.

Stephen, too, was a fit athlete before his weight gain. At Albright, he started the ice hockey club. After college  he earned a master’s in business administration from Rutgers University, and in the ensuing years began to climb the pharmaceutical industry’s sales and management ladder. But Stephen, too, was dealing with emotional setbacks: his father’s diagnosis of and eventual death from ALS, and Jack’s Type 1 diabetes diagnosis when he was just 18 months. During this time the numbers on the scale, like Jacky’s, began to climb. And climb. And climb. Then the job layoffs started. “In sales, presentation and image are everything. Companies don’t want to hire an obese person to represent them and their health products,” he said.

The Kmets finally realized that their health, their livelihood and, most importantly, the well-being of their children depended on each of them losing a considerable amount of weight. “We have a food addiction,” admitted Stephen to show host Bob Harper. “We don’t want to pass on our bad habits to the kids.” Determined to get the job done, Jacky and Stephen headed west to the “Biggest Loser” ranch in California, leaving their young children behind in the care of family. At the show’s initial weigh-in, Jacky tipped the scales at 304 pounds, and Stephen weighed 309 pounds.

Home on the Ranch. The “Biggest Loser” ranch boasts a state-of-the-art gym where the contestants worked out with trainers Dolvett Quince and Jennifer Winderstrom at least three hours a day, plus an additional three to four hours on their own. With the guidance of nutritionist Cheryl Folberg, they ate healthy meals totaling around 1,300 calories a day for Jacky and 1,500 calories a day for Stephen. All were under the watchful eye of a physician.

Eliminating distractions is part of life at the ranch—no TV, no internet, no phone calls, no letters from home. For seven weeks the Kmets had no contact with family, which proved difficult for Jacky, who knew Jack would be starting kindergarten while they were away. “I know we’re here for the right reasons, but my kids are my world. Harder than a workout, harder than eating right, being away from the babies is the toughest thing,” said Jacky.

Temptation was the show’s theme, so contestants were enticed off-track by real-world distractions from food to money to electronics. They spent more time away from the ranch than in previous seasons, learning to deal with everyday diversions that can easily detract from healthy lifestyle choices.

Makeover Week. T he tenth week of the competition, makeover week, is one of the most anticipated episodes for viewers and contestants alike. Each of the seven remaining competitors had lost a considerable amount of weight—several lost 60 pounds or more—and were treated to a clothes and hair makeover to accentuate their hard work.

Looking dapper in a tailored suit and new haircut after losing 71 pounds, Stephen said, “The old Stephen is back. I see myself when I was back in college when I felt great about myself. When I felt like I could conquer the world.”

Jacky, who was 66 pounds lighter at this stage of competition, dazzled the audience with her shapely new figure. Pretty in a shimmering blue dress and stylish hair, she giggled, “The last time I felt beautiful was at my wedding 18 years ago. I feel beautiful. I feel like the old Jacky.”

Referring to daughter Kayleigh, who shares the family struggle with weight, Jacky continued, “I absolutely came here to be a role model for my family. So bottom line is: health. This is the turning point. I do believe we are becoming the role models we want to be for our children.”

Rebirth of the Kmets. Nearing the end of the competition, Jacky was eliminated in week 12; she finished in the top four. At the final weigh-in she was down to 187 pounds, a 117-pound weight loss representing 38.49 percent of her body weight. “I started this whole process because my kids thought I was scared. I’m not scared anymore. I’m ready for the adventure. And I’m ready to not be limited by my size,” said Jacky. “The entire process was a crazy journey. Missing my kids was torture, but I feel like Stephen and I can now set our own children up for a healthy life. In my mind it really was a short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain.”

As for Stephen, he was a fierce contender for the Biggest Loser title throughout the competition and was still in the running at the live finale, broadcast on Feb. 22. Over his 12-week journey, Stephen lost 133 pounds, or 43.04 percent of his body weight. Down to 176 pounds, he came in second place.

“We did it. We both lost 100 pounds,” Stephen said. “We didn’t win the competition, but we won our lives back. This is not the new me. It’s a rebirth of the old me. This is who we were. Jacky wanted to show the kids that she’s an athlete. The kids saw it on the show, and now we’ll make time for that again in our so-called ‘normal life.’ This has been an amazing journey.”


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