O’Neal Hampton, shown working out at Lifetime Fitness, was a contestant with his daughter SunShine on NBC’s weight-loss show “The Biggest Loser.”
Jerry Holt, Star Tribune
Before and after photos show the difference competition on “The Biggest Loser” made for O’Neal, top, and SunShine Hampton.
Minnesota's 'biggest loser' pays it forward
- Article by: JEAN HOPFENSPERGER
- Star Tribune
- March 14, 2012 - 8:30 AM
O'Neal Hampton lost nearly 170 pounds as a contestant on NBC's "The Biggest Loser." His teammate and daughter SunShine lost 100 pounds.
The Richfield resident, whose weight-loss ordeal was watched by 1.5 million Americans, has received so many e-mails and Facebook messages from across the country that he's decided to share the hard-won lessons learned from reality TV.
Next weekend, Hampton will launch the O'Neal Hampton Wellness Foundation, to help schoolchildren combat obesity and to offer adult scholarships to an intense weight-loss ranch similar to that on "The Biggest Loser."
"Tens of thousands of people applied to be part of 'Season 9 Biggest Loser.' They were desperate to make a change in their lives," said Hampton, 53, a former post office manager in St. Louis Park and now an unlikely celebrity.
"Through this foundation, I want to be able to help people who can't be on TV."
Hampton has been paying it forward since leaving the show, which features extremely overweight contestants vying to shed the most weight. Contestants voted off the show are given Hampton's phone number to call should they need help staying on track. "And they do call," he joked.
Hampton returns to the show each season for the "Where are they now?" segments to motivate folks struggling to keep off the pounds.
The psychological boost of losing weight cannot be overestimated, he said. Physically, he's freed himself from all prescription medication, including those for Type 2 diabetes. He has energy again.
A longtime Twin Cities football coach, Hampton also is a motivational speaker at schools, Fortune 500 companies and health insurance organizations, he said. And he's part-owner of a weight-loss resort in Houston, modeled after "The Biggest Loser" ranch in California where he endured nine tough months.
The photos in his small office in Bloomington are a constant reminder of that original ranch. There's the one of a massive 400-pound man lying on the floor of a gym, with a woman trainer standing on his stomach. "That's my first day there," he said.
There's Hampton and his "blue team" literally pulling a semitrailer truck down a 2-mile stretch of highway by what appears to be rope. Other photos show Hampton struggling during a swimming pool diving contest and working out.
Motivated by 'no'
But starting a nonprofit was a whole different stretch, said Hampton. He began fundraising last year, pouring his speaking fees into the fledgling nonprofit. But making cold calls to corporations and individuals to ask for money did not come naturally.
He didn't know if he should tell them upfront that he was once a contestant on "The Biggest Loser" or just go by the merits of his mission.
"It was awkward," he said. "I don't like to play the celebrity card. That's not who I am ... but being told 'no' made me more determined to keep going so that people can get the help they deserve."
That "help" will not involve a huge splash of cash, at least not initially, as Hampton admits he doesn't have it. For starters, he expects to work with his hometown Richfield school district to develop his first project for combating obesity among students "so they don't end up 50 years old and like me." His foundation could fund things such as athletic fees for lower income students, he said.
He also hopes to raise scholarship funds for severely overweight adults who require a residential program, with training similar to that on "The Biggest Loser."
The program would be roughly two weeks, he said, at the Houston fitness resort that he and fellow Season 9 contestant Cherita Adams have opened.
'He's extremely generous'
The foundation will be launched at the Body Mind Life Expo at the Minneapolis Convention Center Saturday. It's among the many places where Hampton has delivered his message of healthy living.
"He's been extremely generous with his time ... and he hasn't asked for a dime," said Janeece Oatman, associate director of the American Diabetes Association in Minnesota.
"The Biggest Loser" status and speaking engagements have made Hampton a familiar face for many Minnesotans. That's a mixed blessing, he said.
At a Twins game last year, for example, a box of popcorn and a hot dog were being passed down to the end of the row he was seated in. As Hampton grabbed the snacks, someone yelled out from behind, "O'Neal. You can't be eatin' like that no more!"
"You've always got the social police watching," he joked.
But for Hampton, weight loss is no joking matter, and helping others is now his mission.
"I don't think fame. I don't think fortune. I think I'm blessed," he said.
Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511
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