September 14, 2008 in Features

Before Ali

First female ‘Biggest Loser’ winner, Ali Vincent, finds new life in a new body
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Courtesy of The Biggest Loser photo

Courtesy of The Biggest Loser
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Ali Vincent’s days of anonymity may be gone for good. And she’s OK with that.

“I feel like the luckiest woman alive,” smiled 33-year-old Vincent, who in April broke the gender barrier by becoming the first woman ever to win on “The Biggest Loser,” a reality TV show on weight loss and fitness. Men, who have biological advantages when it comes to shedding extra pounds, had won four seasons running.

Vincent said her win is for women everywhere.

“I stepped onto that ranch for Ali but when I left the ranch, I left for every woman out there,” she said, sipping coffee at a downtown Starbucks.

Vincent was taking a mid-summer break from television and radio appearances, photo shoots and motivational talks to visit her sister, Amber Butler, owner of Precision Pilates in downtown Spokane.

Heads turn wherever she goes, she said. It’s an exciting phenomenon she’s grown accustomed to.

“ ‘Biggest Loser’ is bigger than a TV show. People come up to me on the street and tell me they’re dreaming again and believing in themselves.” Many viewers get inspired to lose weight along with the contestants, she said.

Fans like Davenport Hotel employees Jaunita Bell and Stacy Stratton, who during a coffee break spotted Vincent in an outdoor cafe.

Politely, they tip-toed over to see if she really was the Ali Vincent. Her smiling affirmation elicted hugs, squeals and tears – all common reactions.

“We wanted you to win so badly,” the young women gushed. “We rooted for you every week,” they said, pumping their fists in the air.

Vincent beamed, posed for cell phone snapshots and invited them to work out with her over the weekend.

Since her win, she’s been doing public relations work for the program, appearing in the “Got Milk?” print ad campaign and on covers of Prevention Magazine and Woman’s World.

Vincent confessed that prior to the competition, she had let herself go and unconsciously ballooned up to 234 pounds.

“Five pounds became 50 – and 50 pounds became 100,” all of which she tried to hide in stretch pants and big sweaters. “I don’t know if I was miserable because I was fat or if I was fat because I was miserable,” said the former hairdresser from Mesa, Ariz.

Her circumstances resonate with people all over, she said. Some 200,000 Americans applied for Biggest Loser last year. Only 10 couples were chosen.

During her televised weigh-in, she teared up after stepping onto an industrial-size scale.

Now about 115 pounds, the 5-foot 5-inch Vincent has also appeared on such TV programs “The Ellen Degeneres Show” and NBC’s “Today” show. In fact, she’s been in perpetual motion “spreading the message of health and well-being” since the show wrapped.

“Now my body reflects the person I am inside,” she said. “I feel good enough to be loved.”

While America watched, she shed nearly 48 percent of her body weight and lowered her body mass index, or BMI, from 47 to 12 (the higher the number the greater the risk of heart disease, diabetes and hypertension).

Today, she’s stunningly beautiful – inside and out.

And she’s proud to be able to say she achieved her personal best by disciplining herself at meal time and enduring grueling four- to eight-hour exercise sessions with nationally-know personal trainer Jillian Michaels.

Vincent and her mom, Bette-Sue Burkland, were season five’s Pink Team. And though beloved by viewers and the show producers, a rival team voted them off in week four.

Back home, Vincent hired a running coach and continued to lose weight.

“Thank God for the writers’ strike,” she laughed. It led NBC to add a few more Biggest Loser episodes and in a twist, she earned a chance to rejoin contestants by shedding 33 pounds at home.

“From the casting call, I said: ‘I’m going to be the first female Biggest Loser.’ ” She frequently rang a tiny bell while telling herself: “Believe it to be.”

“Somewhere in my life, I quit setting goals,” she admitted. But “every day on the ranch, I did something I didn’t think I could. I started to dream again.” In fact, she visualized herself in a little black dress and shoes being showered with confetti after winning the finale.

Sweating off the weight opened her up to life and new experiences, she said.

“I realized I didn’t need to be protected anymore. And I realized I’m a strong, healthy woman,” Vincent said.

Paula Davenport can be reached at paulad@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5153.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email