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updated: 5/23/2011 4:46 AM

Suburban 'Biggest Loser' contestants staying healthy

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  • "Biggest Loser" winners Jerry Hayes, of Wheaton, and his wife Estella have been able to keep the extra pounds off and have inspired other residents to get in shape.

      "Biggest Loser" winners Jerry Hayes, of Wheaton, and his wife Estella have been able to keep the extra pounds off and have inspired other residents to get in shape.
    SCOTT SANDERS | Staff Photographer

  • Estella and Gerald Hayes of Wheaton were contestants on "The Biggest Loser" in season seven.

    Estella and Gerald Hayes of Wheaton were contestants on "The Biggest Loser" in season seven.
    Photo courtesy of NBC

  • Julio Gomez of Algonquin was a contestant on NBC's "Biggest Loser."

    Julio Gomez of Algonquin was a contestant on NBC's "Biggest Loser."
    Photo courtesy of NBC

  • Bartlett residents Michael Ventrella, 31, and his mother, Maria competed on "The Biggest Loser" last season. Michael ended up as the winning contestant.

    Bartlett residents Michael Ventrella, 31, and his mother, Maria competed on "The Biggest Loser" last season. Michael ended up as the winning contestant.

  • Julio Gomez, of Algonquin was a contestant on NBC's "Biggest Loser."

    Julio Gomez, of Algonquin was a contestant on NBC's "Biggest Loser."

  • Julio Gomez of Algonquin, who was voted off "The Biggest Loser," continues to work out and lose weight.

      Julio Gomez of Algonquin, who was voted off "The Biggest Loser," continues to work out and lose weight.
    BRIAN HILL/bhill@ dailyherald.com

  • "Biggest Loser" winner Michael Ventrella with his mother Maria.

    "Biggest Loser" winner Michael Ventrella with his mother Maria.
    Courtesy of the Bartlett Woman's Club

  • Michael Ventrella of Bartlett was the winner of NBC's "The Biggest Loser" in 2010.

    Michael Ventrella of Bartlett was the winner of NBC's "The Biggest Loser" in 2010.
    Photos courtesy of NBC

  • Michael Ventrella, left, and his mother, Maria, both of Bartlett, talk with season seven contestants Estella and Jerry Hayes of Wheaton at the Pound for Pound Challenge kickoff in St. Charles. Jerry won season seven.

      Michael Ventrella, left, and his mother, Maria, both of Bartlett, talk with season seven contestants Estella and Jerry Hayes of Wheaton at the Pound for Pound Challenge kickoff in St. Charles. Jerry won season seven.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

 
 

When NBC airs the season finale of "The Biggest Loser: Couples" Tuesday, May 24, Bartlett resident Maria Ventrella, a contestant on last year's show, might not be watching.

"I'm not the type of person who sits in front of the TV anymore," said Ventrella, 53, who recently got her personal trainer license.

Here's the type of person she is now: That 83-degree Sunday we had in early April? Maria and her son Michael, last season's Biggest Loser champion, took a 22-mile walk together.

It's the way any of the show's former contestants from the suburbs might now spend a Sunday afternoon.

Since being on the show, Jerry and Estella Hayes of Wheaton, Julio Gomez of Algonquin and the Ventrellas have stayed committed to living the healthy habits they learned "on the ranch" (the place where the show is filmed).

You'd think they'd be tempted to return to a life of pizza delivery and couch potato-Ness, but not this group. When not exercising, they all travel around to give motivational speeches, help out local charities, and train for the major athletic events they've signed up for in 2011.

Gomez plans to do his first Chicago Marathon this fall and raise money for the Hospice of Northeastern Illinois, where his wife works.

While he admits he fell off the wagon a little this winter, Gomez says he's returned to the gym and is focused on getting back on track.

"It's a lifelong struggle. It'll never end for me ... so I'm dedicating this year to get to a comfortable weight that I can live with for the rest of my life," said Gomez.

"(The show) was such an emotional experience for me, both physically and mentally. I still have the same demons. I just have a better way of dealing with them."

Since leaving the ranch, Gomez left the mortgage business and is now the finance manager at Arlington Toyota in Palatine, where many customers still recognize him.

Michael Ventrella -- the heaviest contestant ever on the show, weighing in at 526 pounds -- also has a new career. He left his DJ job to work in marketing and motivational speaking, and Michael and his mom are working on a healthy Italian cookbook that will be out this summer.

Maria still works 30 hours a week as a corporate travel agent, and now will do personal training on the side. She hopes to help and inspire middle-aged people who are trying to get in shape for the first time in their lives.

"I want to help people like me," she said.

Jerry and Estella Hayes, 65, of Wheaton, also are becoming trainers and, impressively, weigh almost the same as they did when they left the show two years ago.

Jerry, the show's oldest contestant who first weighed in at 369 pounds, now weighs 193. He was 192 at the finale when he won the "at-home" prize. Estella, who started out weighing 242 pounds, now weighs 160, one pound more than she was at the finale.

The seniors work out six days a week, either at the Wheaton Sports Center or by walking around downtown Wheaton, and have a summer schedule packed with bike rides and athletic endeavors.

Jerry said their focus on health has had a trickle-down effect among their three children and five grandchildren.

"Our kids are now doing things like Weight Watchers," Estella said. "One of my grandchildren said, 'Grandpa's not fluffy anymore,' but that's OK."