New trainer on 'Biggest Loser' grew up in Lisle

  • Trainer Jennifer Widerstrom, formerly of Lisle, works with Scott Mitchell during this season of "The Biggest Loser."

    Trainer Jennifer Widerstrom, formerly of Lisle, works with Scott Mitchell during this season of "The Biggest Loser." courtesy of Trae Patton/NBC

  • Jennifer Widerstrom, a Naperville North alumna who grew up in Lisle, is one of two new trainers on this season of "The Biggest Loser."

    Jennifer Widerstrom, a Naperville North alumna who grew up in Lisle, is one of two new trainers on this season of "The Biggest Loser." courtesy of Chris Haston/NBC

  • Jennifer Widerstrom, a Naperville North alumna who grew up in Lisle, is one of two new trainers on this season of "The Biggest Loser."

    Jennifer Widerstrom, a Naperville North alumna who grew up in Lisle, is one of two new trainers on this season of "The Biggest Loser." courtesy of Chris Haston/NBC

  • The two new trainers on this season of "The Biggest Loser" are Jesse Pavelka, left, and Jen Widerstrom, who grew up in Lisle

    The two new trainers on this season of "The Biggest Loser" are Jesse Pavelka, left, and Jen Widerstrom, who grew up in Lisle courtesy of Chris Haston/NBC

 
 
Updated 9/9/2014 8:51 AM

Usually it's the contestants who cry on "The Biggest Loser," but trainer Jennifer Widerstrom was tearing up, too, during the first few days of filming.

"There's so much emotion that surrounds them," Widerstrom said of this season's contestants, who include Addison resident Toma Dobrosavljevic. "There are going to be incredible results this season. That I can promise."

 

Widerstrom, who grew up in Lisle and was an athlete at Naperville North High School, is one of two new trainers on this season of "The Biggest Loser," NBC's popular weight loss competition show. The Season 16 premiere airs at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 11.

Widerstrom replaces longtime trainer Jillian Michaels, who was known for her shouting, in-your-face approach. Widerstrom -- a former fitness model and American Gladiator (she was the pink-haired "Phoenix") -- says her training style is nothing like Michaels'.

"I'm 'Trainer Jen.' I am intense. But I don't believe in put-downs. I believe in uplifting and inspiring," she said. "I always joke with my team that my training style is not a dictatorship. I am a confidante and a friend and a teacher. But I'm a student, too."

When she was an actual student, growing up in the suburbs, Widerstrom was very involved in school and sports. She competed on the diving, gymnastics and track teams, and her mother, Lynn, a former Naperville North dean, used to be the gymnastics coach.

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Widerstrom's dad, Norm, was an assistant principal and dean at St. Charles East High School (mostly during the years it was known as St. Charles High School). Now retired, he works as a personal trainer at Lifetime Fitness, his daughter said.

The Widerstroms are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary next month, Jen added proudly.

Jen Widerstrom left the Chicago area in 2008 to head to Los Angeles and launch her modeling and fitness career. She's been a life coach for MSN.com, a fitness expert for places like "Access Hollywood Live" and Fitbie.com, and is still a lead female trainer for InterContinental Hotel Group's "Even" wellness line. But Widerstrom's breakout role was when she starred on the NBC series "American Gladiators."

"It's an interesting world I get to be in," she said. "'Gladiators' is more of a game show, and a lot of fun. As much as that was a lot of fun, ('The Biggest Loser') allows me to be me versus a character on a show.

"(Being on 'Loser') has been a blast. It's been a pleasure. I feel very lucky to be a part of it."

Besides fitness, charity is also a big part of Widerstrom's life. She's traveled the world to volunteer at orphanages and schools, helping kids find self-confidence through sports, and gone on Goodwill Military Tours to raise troops' morale.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The men and women overseas provide a life I get to live so richly ... so I like to contribute where I can and when I can," she said. "One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is time. So, rather than buy you a new sweater, I'd take you to lunch."

Finding time to work out is a challenge, even for her. She works out only three to four days a week, mixing it up with things like Pilates, Cross-Fit, walking and hiking.

"I don't work out every day. Part of it is that I don't have the time ... but I'd rather eat a little cleaner than work out every day," she said. "I struggle just like everyone else to get to the gym some days and not overeat at the holidays."

That helps her relate to the obese people she's training on the show, who, like her, are former competitive athletes.

"This show is about the human condition," she said. "We're just in a place where we're trying to live our best selves."

-- Jamie Sotonoff

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make an interesting feature, email them at jsotonoff@dailyherald.com and dgire@dailyherald.com.

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