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Sherry Johnston was on 'The Biggest Loser' with her daughter, and now travels and speaks about her experience. Photo by - Brian Basham

TV's 'Biggest Loser' mom speaks in DL

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When Sherry Johnston's daughter wanted to go on the TV show "The Biggest Loser," Johnston said she'd do anything to support her, except go on the show with her.

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So much for that. Several months later, Johnston found herself packing up and moving to the ranch to start filming Season 9 of the reality show that helps overweight people lose weight and get healthy.

Tuesday night, the Knoxville, Tenn., resident spoke in Detroit Lakes during the Community Alliance Church sponsored Ladies Christmas Tea. She said Tuesday afternoon that she loved the snow in Detroit Lakes, though the cold temperatures she could do without.

Having just been in Orlando at 80 degrees, "it rang true when on the plane they said it's up 10 degrees (in Minnesota) and it's 3 degrees (outside)," she said with a laugh.

Working for Freedom in Christ Ministries, Johnston met area resident Terry Pausch a few years ago and the two became friends. After Johnston participated in The Biggest Loser and started traveling to inspire others, Pausch arranged for her to speak at the yearly Ladies Tea.

So Johnston was happy to make the quick trip this week, see the snow and go sledding.

"I feel like a kid again," she said with a laugh of being able to go and do more now without the extra weight.

Around Christmas 2009, Johnston's daughter, Ashley, said she wanted to be on The Biggest Loser. Johnston said she looked at her daughter and thought, "'here we go again.' We're always looking for a way to lose weight."

She supported her daughter, though, telling her she would do whatever she could to help her -- except go on the show with her.

"I'm not big enough," she said was one of her many excuses for not wanting to go on the show. She weighed 218 pounds, and though she knew she needed to lose weight, she didn't think she needed to lose that much.

After her husband passed away 14 years ago, Johnston's daughters and stepson told her they were concerned for her health and wanted her to take better care of herself.

Johnston's daughter recorded a video about why she wanted to be on The Biggest Loser, and Johnston admits, "she said things I had never heard her say."

At 374 pounds, Ashley convinced her mother that she needed to be on the show and that Johnston needed to join her.

"What mother could say no to that," she said.

After submitting their application, they were asked to come to Nashville for an open call. They were told that if the show was interested, they'd receive a call that night yet. Ashley got a call on their drive home, but Johnston didn't.

"I'm going to get Mom of the Year and I don't have to do anything," she said with a laugh.

Her daughter returned to another audition, but never received another callback after that. A few months later, though, she got a call for a different season of the show -- and she had to bring a family member.

"'Mom, you know you need to do this,'" Johnston said her daughter told her.

After making her daughter look for another family member to participate, she finally agreed to go. They were invited to Los Angeles for more auditions and a physical to make sure they were healthy enough to survive the rigorous show.

"I learned my cholesterol was out of control and I was borderline diabetic."

She said she had no idea, and for the first time, she realized maybe she did need to take better care of her health.

The mother-daughter duo was selected from 500,000 other people to participate in season 9, a season made up of all couples, whether it was parent-child, husband-wife, cousins, etc.

They went through a battery of medical testing when they got to the "ranch" before filming and then the workouts began.

Of the 18-week series, Johnston lasted exactly half the time on the ranch before being sent home.

"I was the last mom standing," she said.

She lost 55 pounds at the ranch, but the contest continued for those sent home early. She continued to lose 45 more pounds for a total of 100 pounds -- technically it was 99-point-something, she said but it's always nice to round up -- during the time period of the show.

As a part of the pink team, she admits they were "not great at challenges." In the first 15 minutes of the show, she fell off the treadmill, threw up and cried. There was nowhere to go but up after that.

She learned how to lose weight and get healthy.

She said the doctor on the show monitors all the contestants and sets a calorie intake and how many calories need to be burned each day.

While on the show, the contestants had no contact with the outside world.

They lived in what they called a bubble to concentrate on why they were there -- to lose weight and get healthy. While that's what they needed, it's also a problem when contestants go back home and don't have the ability to do that in real life.

"You have to get out of life and concentrate on you," she said even if it's only for a brief period of time each day. "You need to create your own little bubble."

Though Johnston weighed more than she did in school and even after having her children, she said she was thinner because she had never had muscle in the past.

Besides the exercise, the contestants worked with a nutritionist as well.

"The education part was so amazing."

There are five components to weight loss -- medical, sleep, exercise, nutrition and emotional/spiritual -- and everyone has to "have all those components to be successful."

She said that at the ranch, the food was stocked, but participants were responsible for preparing what they ate because that's how it is in the real world.

"It was a wonderful experience and I'd do it again in a heartbeat," she said of the show.

After she was sent home, she went back to work. Her daughter came in second on the show, and Johnston came in second for those who were sent home but still competed at home.

"We never started out thinking we would win," she said.

Though they didn't take home the grand prize money, they still won the life-changing process of getting healthier.

"I got change and freedom. I lost what was holding me back from being what God made me to be."

Since completing the season in May 2010, she has been blogging and traveling around to speak about the show and her weight loss.

When she was on the show, her daughter said she couldn't do something and Johnston simply asked her, "But what if you can?" That has since become a motto for many on the show and the basis of Johnston's appearances at events.

"How many times are we asked to do something and think we can't? It can be anything in life," she said.

She still keeps in touch with members of The Biggest Loser, saying they are like a family because unless you've been there, you can't understand what it's like.

Johnston's other daughter, Cindy, is pregnant with Johnston's first grandchild -- a girl -- and Johnston said she has her jogging stroller already purchased and ready to go.

For more information on Johnston and her journey, visit butwhatifyoucan.com.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.

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