For years, Stillwater native Rachel Frederickson considered herself such a loser that she cut off contact with her friends and family.

Now that she might be on the verge of becoming America’s “Biggest Loser,” she couldn’t be happier.

Frederickson is one of three finalists on Tuesday night’s season windup of the popular NBC-TV reality show “The Biggest Loser.” Over the course of seven months, the record-breaking swimmer turned ballooning pastry chef has lost 110 pounds so far — and gained infinitely more in the process.

“Not only have I gotten my health back, I feel alive and energetic,” said Frederickson, 24. “But most of all, I truly got my love of self back. I’m in charge of my life.”

It wasn’t always that way.

A three-time state champion in the 100-yard butterfly, she turned down college scholarships and moved to Germany after falling in love with an exchange student.

After that relationship faltered, so did Frederickson. Her life began to revolve around sweets. She got pastry-chef training in Chicago, worked in that field in Las Vegas, then ran a gelato shop in Colorado. All along, she sampled more than her share of the confections she concocted.

The weight gain turned the once-bubbly extrovert into a hermit. “I truly hid everything,” she said. “I didn’t want my family to see me.” For several years, she didn’t even come home for Christmas.

As difficult as this was for Frederickson and her family, Julie Frederickson said she respected her daughter’s decision. “For Rachel, it was easier not to come back to Minnesota than to worry about what people would think,” she said.

And then came what Rachel calls her “aha moment.” It was when she was in couch-potato mode, watching “The Biggest Loser.”

“I watched the first episode last season, and said, ‘I’m gonna do this.’ And then life got away from me, and I’m on my couch with my cupcakes and ice cream for the last episode.

“I said, ‘These people look so happy and healthy, but also so alive, and you’re sitting here unhappy and unhealthy.’ And I called my mom and told her I was going to try to get on the show.”

‘Lifetime changes’

Several interviews, a self-made video and lots of paperwork later, Frederickson became one of the 15 oversized folks who started competing in June. Going into the contest, she realized she had a built-into-her-core advantage: an athlete’s competitive drive. “When I started swimming when I was 8, I learned the dedication and motivation of being an athlete,” she said. “And that came back [on the show], and it was so exciting.”

Longtime friend Elizabeth Norton Gerdin of Oakdale recognized that tenacity as soon as she started watching the show. “She has always been talented, driven, creative and hardworking,” Gerdin said. “She has always done everything at 100 percent of her ability. … I knew right away she was going to kick some major booty on the show.”

And so she has.

Frederickson has a strong shot at winning, after achieving the biggest percentage weight loss through last October (from her starting weight of 260) and winning a triathlon that aired last week, a feat that also earned her a 2014 Ford Fusion Energi. The season’s winner will be determined at a weigh-in on Tuesday night’s live two-hour show.

But for Frederickson, the results matter less than the process. “The Biggest Loser” mentors, she said, infuse contestants with a mind-set that’s as much about keeping the weight off as getting it off.

“We sit down with trainers and talk nutrition and how to do those lifetime changes,” she said. “They push you in the moment to do one more rep in the gym, but we also get motivational tips for life.”

The biggest key, especially for an athlete, has been a nutritional transformation. Now, when Frederickson heads to her job as a voice-over artist in Los Angeles, she brings along a cooler with healthy food she has prepared, “so when my stomach is grumbling, I have a snack instead of going to get that hamburger and fries, or actually that vanilla malt or cupcake.”

Her training at Biggest Losers Ranch included cooking lessons that she, as a former pastry chef, wholeheartedly embraced. “I’ve learned so many ways to make healthy dishes,” she said. “I make a protein ice cream. I created my own ice cream recipe that’s 200 calories for more than a pint. I found a way to get those indulgences that I love but to do it in a healthy way.

“Also, I love vegetables now. I never ate a vegetable before.”

From disconnect to reconnect

That’s not the only change those close to Frederickson have noticed.

Gerdin said her friend “is a more mature and better version of her old self. Now she can handle both failure and success and come to peace with either outcome.”

The transformation has strengthened Frederickson’s relationship with both her parents, who are divorced. She and her mom (“my absolute best friend”) talk several times a day, and Julie Frederickson travels often to see Rachel.

Meanwhile, the show experience “has given me my relationship with my dad back. I never was open with my dad, so when I told him I was going to be on the show, I started humbling myself to really be open.”

Dan Frederickson said that beginning with the audition for the show, “Rachel started to talk more with me. I spent more and more quality time with her, and we started to open up honestly with each other. … We are finally able to freely express our thoughts and emotions. Through our discussions, we now have a better understanding of the choices we both have made in our lives.”

When his daughter was going through grueling training at Biggest Losers Ranch, her father, a former speedskater, sent her several motivational letters. It was as much about bonding as anything else, given that, as he pointed out, “Whatever goals or dreams Rachel has conceived, she has achieved.”

Tuesday night, she might achieve a dream that would bring with it not only acclaim but also $250,000. Regardless, this “loser” will walk away victorious.

“I truly have won already,” she said. “I’m in charge of my life. I’m ready to take control. I’ve gained my life back. I’m not going to let anybody or anything take that away.”


Follow Bill on Twitter: @billward4