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'The Biggest Loser': Santa Ana competitor doing it all for mom

September 21, 2010 | 11:43 am

Hurtado Adam Hurtado enters Season 10 of “The Biggest Loser,” which starts Tuesday night on NBC, with an edge up on the other 20 competitors.

The 26-year-old supervisor from Santa Ana is a former Mater Dei high school football player who once had NFL ambitions before a knee injury cut short his career. That background alone has helped him survive the Bob-and-Jillian lead beatdowns at the Biggest Loser Ranch outside of L.A. One of his biggest supporters is pro quarterback Matt Leinart -– Hurtado’s former Mater Dei teammate -– who remains a close friend and encouraged him to try out for the show, and even makes an appearance on Hurtado’s behalf in the season opener. Plus, Hurtado says, being so close to home also helps because he’s not quite as homesick as the other contestants chosen from across the country.

But Hurtado's secret weapon is the fact that he isn’t going into the Biggest Loser home alone. He takes with him a guardian angel: his mother, Nancy, who died in July of last year at the age of 51, felled by a massive heart attack caused in part by her obesity.

“I know she’s with me, I know she’s watching over me,” said Hurtado, 26, who is 6-foot-2 and weighs 402 pounds. “I know she is with me every step of the way.”

The theme for this season is “paying it forward.” Trainers Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels are tasking the players with finding a bigger meaning –- and a reason to succeed -– that goes beyond their own desire to lose weight and reach for that $250,000 pay day, the prize for the person who loses the largest percentage of their body weight, and the potential endorsements come along with money and the title.

This seasons, the twists and turns start right from the very beginning as competitors find out that they’ll have to fight their way to even stepping foot on the ranch.

Hurtado said his weight has always been an issue. "I was a 10.5-pound baby and I never looked back," he likes to joke.

He said he hit his full height in the sixth grade, and that his hefty weight was applauded. When he played football for nationally ranked Mater Dei High School, he was about 315-pounds. A knee injury in his senior year put an end to his football career.

Depressed, he spent time in a wheelchair before and after surgery and continued to eat like he was playing football. “I know it sounds weird, but it was like there was a disconnect. I was still eating like a football player.”

He said he has tried countless diets –- and been successful on many. Until he gained it all back. Many in Hurtado’s family also struggle with their weight.

“Unfortunately for my family, we have a lot of people who are obese … it’s been a battle our entire lives.” He blamed genetics in part, but said the real culprit is lack of exercise and poor diet choices. “We were a very busy family and that meant eating out a lot, a lot of fast food.”

But he said he did not truly understand how serious it all was until his mother died.

She worked for UCI Medical Center as director of ambulatory care, launched health clinics for the indigent and was a tireless advocate for healthcare in her community. But she rarely took care of herself, he said.

“She put everyone else’s needs ahead of her own, she spread herself so thin,” Hurtado said. “She worked so hard, and she rarely took time to listen to her own body … it’s just who my mom was.” Although she was overweight and struggled with diabetes, there was nothing to foreshadow her heart attack. “It was a shock,” he said.

He said his pay-it-forward plan is to honor his mother by helping his community shape up and recognize the dangers of obesity.

“I think she would like that.”

Hurtado may also have one more secret weapon in his arsenal as he enters the game. Although he is a fierce competitor dating back to his football days, he says he’s not fixated on trying to win. Instead, he said his goal is solving his weight-loss battle. (But don’t get him wrong, he’ll be plenty happy to be the last player standing.)

“For a long time, I lacked confidence … I just pictured myself being overweight the rest of my life, and I agreed to accept that,” Hurtado said. When he finally made the decision to change he said he knew that that had to be his focus –- not winning a game.

“The main thing is to soak up everything that I can learn from the two best trainers in the world … I just really want to be a sponge and focus on everything that I can learn.”

He said he will be forever grateful to Leinart, who urged him to try out for the show. “It was his idea that I give it a shot. This largely had to do with him. I owe alot to him, he's been a great inspiration.”

-- Rene Lynch / renelynch

Photo: Adam Hurtado fights for a spot at the ranch on "The Biggest Loser." Credit: NBC Universal