"The Biggest Loser": Catching up with Season 8 superstar Shay Sorrells
Posted: Thursday, June 16, 2011 7:00 am | Updated: 10:45 am, Thu Jun 16, 2011.
"The Biggest Loser": Catching up with Season 8 superstar Shay Sorrells By Jen Wielgus Calkins Media, Inc.
Shay Sorrells admits she came a little unglued on the night of "The Biggest Loser" Season 11 finale. She went online and saw viewers expressing disappointment in some of the contestants' weight-loss results, and she just wasn't going to stand for that.
"I kind of got crazy with some of the people on Twitter," says Shay, who started Season 8 of "The Biggest Loser" at 476 pounds and was, at that time, the heaviest contestant in show history. "I was like, 'Shut up!'
"...That's what I think is the hardest part of being on the show, is that all these people, all these strangers, have expectations of you."
A year ago, Shay learned just how high those expectations can be when she appeared at the Season 9 finale to cap off The Shay Subway Challenge.
Shay lost 172 pounds on Season 8, but Subway then promised her $1,000 for each additional pound she dropped between her finale and the end of Season 9.
She lost 52 pounds -- and earned $52,000 -- on her own at home in Costa Mesa, Calif., while working full-time as a social worker at Boys Town and raising her two stepsons, ages 12 and 7, with her husband.
Some of the feedback she received was disappointing, to say the least.
"People were like, 'You only lost 52 pounds? For $1,000 a pound, you should have lost 100,' " Shay recalls. "Because it's that easy, right? Lots of people said those things, and even some former Biggest Loser [contestants] said those things. I'm like, well, I did the best I could, and that's all I can say. I can't do any more than that."
Shay's experience trying to lose weight in the harsh public eye twice -- once on her own -- makes her a unique "Biggest Loser" ambassador, and one whose voice I think needs to be heard loud and clear.
But first let me emphasize something: Shay is not a bitter woman! When I chatted with her Monday she was upbeat, energetic, funny and full of life -- her good old self. She's doing great now, still balancing her demanding career (she has worked at Boys Town for seven years) with her family, fitness routine and occasional "Biggest Loser"-related commitments.
Shay says her life has improved since she left the show because now she loves working out and eating right; it's not a chore or an obligation. Over the past year, Shay, who grew up in foster care, has found a way to share her passion for health and fitness with her kids at home and at work.
What I really want to focus on here is her passion for finding non-scale-related happiness in her life. Shay, who weighed 252 after her Subway Challenge, refuses to answer questions about her weight anymore.
"I find that with Biggest Losers, the general public base their success upon ours," she says. "I don't think that's right for them or for us. It's not realistic. The other thing is, people focus too much on the scale. The fact that I can run five miles and finish CrossFit workouts faster than other people...I don't care if I'm 250 or 350 [pounds]. It doesn't matter. And so that's why I stopped talking about my weight. I refuse to do it, and people get so mad at me for that. But I'm like, 'Look, I'm not going to do it, because it doesn't help anyone. It honestly doesn't help anyone.'"
Shay's words probably help more people than she realizes.
For example, I know how challenging and humbling CrossFit workouts can be. Anyone who tackles them as enthusiastically as Shay does must have a lot of energy -- not to mention be in great shape. And we all know being in shape has nothing to do with weight.
Shay says she started doing CrossFit because she couldn't run to stay in shape, due to knee issues, digestive issues and cold-induced asthma. She always enjoyed lifting weights and demonstrating her strength. CrossFit gave her that opportunity, while also helping improve her cardiovascular endurance, and she didn't have to go run a marathon to get an exhilarating workout.
Speaking of marathons (you know I purposely brought that up)...if you were wondering what happened with Shay's second Subway Challenge -- running a marathon with Jared Fogle to double her money from the first challenge -- Shay can clear that up for you.
She did attend the New York Marathon last year to support Jared but only was able to run five miles herself. While training for the marathon, she re-injured her knee and had to take a break from working out. She also had a bad reaction to some soup that led to an important discovery: she has a gluten intolerance.
"My body just kind of shut down for a while," says Shay, who still takes advantage of the food portion of her Subway deal, but can only eat the salads. "I'm getting back on the horse now, and Subway has been great. They still want to work with me, but my body has just been refusing to cooperate."
Shay says she's been talking with the Subway people about running a couple half-marathons, 10Ks, 5Ks "or whatever my body can handle" in the near future.
"They've really been amazing about the whole thing," Shay says of Subway. "They're more worried about my health than anything."
That's something Shay and her sponsor have in common. Shay might be slowed down on occasion by sickness or injury, but never by her weight. She already has accomplished great things on the scale and would like to tackle some new frontiers, if you don't mind.
"I tell people, 'I was 500 pounds. I will never be 100-and-something pounds,' " she says. "It will never happen. People expect me to show up one day and be 125 pounds, and I'm 5-9, and [Biggest Loser physician] Dr. Huizenga clearly, explicitly told me, 'You will always be an Amazon.' I take that as a compliment. When I met Laila Ali and saw that she was 200 pounds and looked frickin' phenomenal, I was like, 'I'm good with this. I don't have to be 100-and-something pounds.' I figured it out."
Shay is always on the lookout for fellow "Biggest Loser" alumni who share her attitude. As she puts it, everyone who has competed on the show is part of a big family "and you love them automatically, but then over time you find out if you like them and want to be around them." Among her closest "Biggest Loser" friends are Abby Rike from Season 8, Stacey Capers from Season 6 and Ada Wong and Jesse Atkins from Season 10.
Recently, she was impressed by Season 11's Larialmy Allen (Red team), who made a habit of posting "Non-scale victories" on Facebook after being eliminated from the show.
"She talks about things that she's doing that have nothing to do with her weight, and I love her for that," Shay says. "It's not about the scale at all, it really isn't. It's about the healthy living. I love when I see people who get that."