Seven Questions for Lori Harrigan-Mack

The former UNLV softball star and three-time Olympic gold medalist on landing on 'The Biggest Loser,' channeling her competitive nature and the power of letter-writing

Photo by trae Patton/NBC

Photo by trae Patton/NBC

What’s been the biggest challenge of The Biggest Loser so far?

Peeling back layers of emotions that I hid for a long time and didn’t really deal with. I can’t say the physical part is easy, but dealing with the emotions that got me overweight in the first place is the hardest thing I’ve done.

How did this opportunity come about?

I love watching the show. I was one of those people who would sit on the couch and eat while I watched. One of my teammates from the Olympics called me and asked if I wanted to do it. She had the opportunity but she had lost 30 pounds, so she didn’t have enough weight to lose to qualify to be on the show. So she had handed me over to one of the casting people, and I filled out the application. I didn’t have time to wrap my brain around it and talk to my husband. We had to make our decision within 24 hours, and then it happened so fast. I came to L.A. and was on the show. When I got to the ranch [where the show’s contestants have to stay], I don’t even think I had realized what I had done.

You’ve attributed your weight gain to a poor diet, several miscarriages and depression. Overcoming excuses is something you hear a lot on the show. What’s been your biggest excuse?

It’s been a number of things. Every time I got pregnant it was, “I can’t really exercise” because I was so afraid of miscarrying. I didn’t know if it was something that I was doing. So after I would have the miscarriage, then I would be depressed. I would just have that “I don’t care” feeling. But then once I got out of my depression, I was feeling a little bit better [and then] I would just always use the excuses of “my work schedule is too busy; I have my son to take to school and homework to do.” I would always just come up with something that would put myself last and everybody else first.

As of Episode 4, which aired October 2, you’re down 25 pounds from the 301 at your first weigh- in. Could you have lost the weight without going on the show?

When this opportunity came up, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I believe it was part of God’s plan for me. When I got here, I started questioning, “Did I have to come here and expose myself like this, or could I have done it at home.” Of course, I completely believe that anybody can do this at home. However, in the emotional state I was in—this is something that I truly needed. And I am so humbled and grateful to the show, because it’s saved my life.

Ultimately this is a competition against yourself, but whether you stay on the show is partly determined by how your cast mates perform. Has the competitive athlete in you come out during this process?

Absolutely. One thing that’s driven me to be here the most is knowing that I have the support from my husband and my son. They want me to fight and want me to be here. When I think about going home, I look around at the other contestants and I start getting on myself saying, “You can compete with these people. Why are you not competing and getting in the game?” That’s definitely been a huge thing, so I teeter back and forth from “I’m homesick, and I miss my family,” to “You can beat these people. Why are you not fighting?” Then my competitiveness comes out, and I go to the gym. My athletic side has definitely kicked in.

After the show has wrapped, will you try for kids again?

My husband wrote me a letter that brought me to tears. He said, “I hope you love me enough when we are together again that we can talk about having children, because I would love to have a little girl–whether it’s having or adopting a girl—and have her be just like you.” Of course, I would love to have more children. I’m 44, so I don’t know how realistic that is for me. One, it’s a financial thing as far as if we tried in vitro or anything else, but even adopting is a financial thing.

How have you changed since beginning your journey on the show?

I definitely have a more positive outlook about dealing with life and stress. I know my relationship with God has gotten stronger. When you come to the ranch and you have no electronics or no TV, it forces you to figure out who you are and what you really want or what kind of outlook you want to have. It’s changed not only me as person, but it has really strengthened my marriage. My husband and I have dealt with so much pain from every single miscarriage, I think God has pulled us apart to heal us separately.

Letter-writing is definitely a lost art, and my husband’s letters have been beautiful and have motivated me to the point where I feel like our marriage is in a completely different place. I feel like I am coming back a completely different person [with] a new heart and positive outlook. I’m ready to go home and figure out how I’m going to implement my healthy life back into my old one.

It’s been a decade since you last competed in the Olympics. Did you stop working out afterward or were you just trying to take your life down a different route?

After I retired in 2004, it was very hard to transition back into my normal life. That was from playing on the national team for 12 years and going to the Olympics. I lived out of my suitcase, and I was on the road a lot. You play at the very highest level of our sport. So, when I came home it was definitely difficult to mentally transition into “you just came back from the Olympics, you won a gold medal, now go back to work, and put your clothes back in a drawer and go back and be the normal Lori prior to 12 years ago.”

Of course, in my mind, physically I wanted to take a break, but one of the biggest things that started for me was the transition from retirement to going back into normal life. I just went back to work and was trying to become this normal person, and I had just met my husband at that point. We were planning on getting married, but in 2006, two years after I retired, I had my first miscarriage. Shortly after that, I was pregnant with our son. After that point is where the weight gain really started to become a problem, because I had our son and then after that the multiple miscarriages started happening to where the depression happened even more. It just became more and more difficult to lose the weight and have the desire to even lose it.

Have you tried to lose the weight in the past?

The older you get your metabolism changes. I always tried to get back into getting healthier and losing weight, and it just became harder and harder with everyday struggles and life. I think that’s where the excuses come in. I’ve been on every diet there is and in my head as an athlete I know that diet and exercise is the only way it’s going to sustain. Instead, I took the easy way out and tried every diet that there is and everything that I could to lose it. It was just a spiral effect with everything else I was dealing with emotionally.

You work in security at Mandarin Oriental. Have your employers been supportive?

Oh, my goodness, yes. My boss was supportive since the first time I mentioned it to him. I am grateful to them because there are not many bosses who are going to bless what you’re doing and say, “Please, go take care of yourself,” especially with me being the director of security and running a department. It speaks volumes to what kind of company they are.

I was fortunate enough when I worked for MGM Resorts International to have them support me in my Olympic career and now afterward to have Mandarin do this. … This whole experience from the show to Mandarin and to my family and everybody else, I’m just completely humbled at the support that I’ve had and it’s definitely not something I am going to take for granted. It’s just motivating me even more to make sure that I maintain the healthy lifestyle after I’m done [with the show].

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