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Biggest Losers Dan and Jackie Evans part of Saturday half marathon at Canalside

Dan Evans weighed 310 pounds when he lumbered onto the set of “The Biggest Loser” in early 2008. He was in his early 20s at the time and grew up in the suburbs south of Chicago “in a life filled with a lot of drive-thru, a lot of soda, a lot of Internet and a lot of video games,” Evans said by phone from the Windy City last week.

Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels, two of the coaches on the hit NBC show, whipped not only Dan, but his mom, Jackie, into shape. Collectively, they lost 225 pounds; Dan accounted for 136 of them.

Mother and son will be among several former Biggest Loser participants who roll into Canalside Saturday for the second Biggest Loser Buffalo Half Marathon and 5K. They helped launch the run-walks a little more than three years ago. Buffalo holds one of 15 annual races across the country; Biggest Loser also has a hand in 22 Spartan off-road, obstacle course mud runs.

“This is going to be a half marathon and a 5K,” Dan said, “but there’s also always a kids race, a 1-mile fun run that benefits the Kids Fit Foundation,” which pumps money into school physical education programs. “Wherever you are on your fitness journey, it’s about getting the whole family out there, getting everyone involved and making it a really fun environment.”

The runs start at 8 a.m. at Canalside.

Q. Who else is scheduled to attend?

We’ll be joined by Pam Geil of season 14, JJ O’Malley from season 16 and Andrea Wiliamowski from season 16. Depending on when you watched the show, there’s going to be a bunch of folks cheering you on. They spread us all out so you’ll get some Biggest Loser excitement along the way. They’ll usually have one person at the finish line high-fiving and with a microphone and there will be someone at about the halfway point cheering at the turn. If those spots are covered, somebody gets to jump out and do the 5K. I play music with my band at the finish line.

Q. Based on where you’re stationed at these races, you must have heard some stories from some of the run-walk participants. Are there one or two that really touched you?

The stories are so much greater than those that come off “The Biggest Loser.” There have been a little over 300 contestants who’ve come on the show but during the past 16 seasons, tens of millions of people have watched the show and you can just imagine how many of those people are inspired to do something, to make change, to get out and do something. One story sticks out. Our very first race we did was in Racine, Wisconsin back in 2012. We met a gentleman and his wife and his kids. He was nervous. He said, “I need to lose some weight and I’m excited and so today I’m going to do my very first 5K. He did it. I remember at the finish line and there were tears in his eyes. He said, “This is my day. This is my moment where I’m going to stick with it.” We saw that guy six months later at our Rockford, Illinois race and he was down 70 pounds and running the half marathon. I saw the guy just a few weeks ago at our race in Chicago and this guy was down over 95 pounds. He’s done four full marathons and he’s training for an Iron Man.

It was a moment of saying, “This race series is a place where I can feel comfortable, where I won’t be embarrassed. Where I can move at my own pace. Where I know that I’m going to be supported, that I’m going to be welcomed no matter what speed or pace that I’m doing.” To me, it’s so inspiring to keep going week after week to these events and hearing how they’re truly touching lives. They’re a point of inspiration.

Q. In an interview last year, your mom expressed guilt that she didn’t know what to feed you and your brothers and described you as a “fast food family” in your formative years. How have things changed?

Growing up as a teenager and being younger, you don’t remember all the dynamics. But being older and hearing my mom share about it, she talked about being clueless. She didn’t know how to help me but she didn’t even know how to help herself. One of the things she goes back to as an analogy is she’ll say, “I realize now after educating myself is I made my son do his homework even though he didn’t want to. I made my son brush his teeth even though he didn’t want to. What I should have done is implementing healthier eating and lifestyle with my son, even though he didn’t want to.”

The biggest education for me was learning the simple and basic education of the purpose of food in my life. For me, food was something that cured a craving or cured a hunger pang. I never knew how much I should be eating or why I was eating. I just knew my tummy felt hungry so now I want to eat food. It never really equated to me that food was the actual and literal fuel for your body and if your body is a vehicle, you cannot run it without gasoline, and if you put garbage gas in the tank, you’re going to run horribly. Over those weeks and months being on “The Biggest Loser,” being in that house, the drive-thru, the soda, the late night snacks and the junk food are taken away.

I for once got to feel the difference and understand the difference. That was the big turning point for me. For the first time in my life, I understood fitness and food and how it works to live within a healthy body. Now I have some accountability. It was finding a way to make fitness part of my life so I could feel like an athlete even though I’m not in a sport. It was much more than me being a fat guy on a diet. I became somebody who was in training and really investing in myself. It was a huge mental switch for me.

Q. When it comes to weight loss and weight maintenance, what is the percentage of diet and exercise in your mind?

I go back and forth with Bob Harper, a trainer for the show. I wanted to think I was the one who knew it all but I was only learning. He said, “You know Dan, let me sum it up for you: You can go to the gym and burn 1,000 calories. That might take you an hour and 20 minutes, sometimes two hours to burn those 1,000 calories. But you can sit down with a sandwich and some fries and eat 1,200 calories in 10 minutes. So we will never win the battle of kitchen over gym unless you get the kitchen in order first. You can’t outwork a bad diet.”

So it starts in the kitchen and follows up with being active. ... He always told us it’s the 80-20 rule: 80 percent kitchen, 20 percent gym. You might work out one time today but you may eat three or four times a day. That’s where the winning and losing is going to happen, with self-control and your food choices. If I’m traveling and I can’t get my workouts in, I have to be responsible for my food decisions.

Q. And you don’t have to be perfect?

When you’ve slipped, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back in line. You don’t have to wait until Monday. You don’t have to wait until the first of the month. You say, “Tomorrow, I’m jumping right back on it."

Q. Do you look forward getting married, having kids and living that life knowing what you know now?

After I got off the show, I started recording my music and touring full time. I recorded my album, which went number 7 on Billboard. I had a big tour bus and spent a few years on the road. Now I’ve been to Japan, every state in the country, I’ve been to Amsterdam. I think it would be a fun portion of my life raising a family and working to keep that active lifestyle.


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @scottbscanlon

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