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Q&A With Joe Ostaszewski
"I AM Joe, if I can do this so can YOU! Wear Your Soul, Joe O."

"I AM Joe, if I can do this so can YOU! Wear Your Soul, Joe O."

Feb. 25, 2013

By: Jerry Kutz, Seminole Boosters

Joe and his Identical twin brother Henry signed with Florida State in 1987. They were coach Bowden’s first set of twins and went on to have great college careers. Henry signed as a free agent with the Steelers and Joe signed as a free agent with the Dolphins in 1992. Joe came back to FSU in 2001 to be a graduate assistant offensive line coach while getting his graduate degree in Sports Management. Today Joe is changing his life on this season’s Biggest Loser while his brother Henry takes the show’s mantra “Challenge America” by getting healthy at home.

Why did you decide to audition for Biggest Loser?

My father suffered his second heart attack and had to have emergency triple bi-pass surgery. My brother Henry and I were sitting in the critical care unit as our father’s life hung in the balance of God’s will and the heart surgeons delicate hands.

At one point in the tense moments, I looked over at Henry and said, “Man you are HUGE.”

Henry just smiled at me and said, “What are you, a ballerina?”

We had both gained 100 pounds since our playing days and knew we had to do something to get healthy or one of us would be waiting to see if the other’s triple bypass was as successful as our father’s.

In addition to our own health issues, we had started a Foundation a couple of years earlier – Wear Your Soul – in an effort to get kids off the couch and active in order to fight childhood obesity. We knew we had to get healthy ourselves if we were going to be good role models for these kids.

Why do you think you were chosen as a cast member for the Biggest Loser?

Tens of thousands of people applied to be on the Biggest Loser and of the 30,000 they looked at, each of were chosen because we have a story. Everyone on the show this season is special, not just their story. They pick every personality for a reason. They want someone who is real, that feels real.

What exactly is your story?

When Henry and I went on our casting call they asked us why we wanted to get healthy. We told them we are former collegiate and pro athletes but we’ve never been healthy. Even when we played football and were “in shape” we never ate healthy. We just put whatever we wanted in our bodies and then burned it off. Twenty years later I am in the best shape of my life and the healthiest because of the food I am now putting in my body.

We also told them that we wanted to team up with Michele Obama and her Get Moving campaign to fight childhood obesity and had been working for two years on our Wear Your Soul Foundation. We didn’t know it at the time but they were planning to address childhood obesity on the show this season. We knew we had to be perfect examples of health and lead by example and the only way to do that was to get healthy. The show would give us a visual for people to see if I could do it on the show and Henry could do it at home too. This year the slogan of Biggest Loser is “Challenge America” and that is what Henry and I are trying to do.

Where did your interest in helping others originate?

My father is Fraternal Order of Police. My dad, Henry and I always did fundraisers for the community, numerous outreach projects and annual Christmas tree lots for the Kiwanis Club. And then when Henry and I came to Florida State we did outreach as well. One thing that really stuck with me was the Florida-Georgia High School Football All Star game when Henry and I went to the Shriner Children’s Hospital and saw all the kids faces light up. That was my first time seeing the impact an athlete can have on kids. The biggest program we did at FSU was Nancy Regan’s ‘Say no to drugs’ program. We went to several schools to share that message with kids along with our fellow student-athletes.

Now that you are on Biggest Loser do you find that people look at your life story as inspiration?

Deepak Chopra said: “If you speak to somebody at the level of the mind, then you will speak to their mind. If you speak from your heart, then you will speak to their heart. But if you speak through your life, and your life is the story, then you will change lives.”

The power of inspiration is infinite. You actually can change lives. It is amazing how people connect to you and you can see it on the Biggest Loser. The police officer David; the housewife with four kids; Big Mike and his son; portions of America relate with each person on the show and can be inspired.

You mention you were in shape but never healthy as a football player. FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher has placed a large emphasis on nutrition by hiring a specialist, serving the right food on the training table, and teaching the players how to put better fuel in their bodies. Comments?

Nutrition is very important and it will pay off for them as individuals and as a team. When I was there Miss Betty served great tasting food. Pasco’s fried chicken was amazing. He said he put some foot in it and that was why it was sooooo good. The food they served us was amazing and we ate all of it we wanted knowing that we were going to burn it off later. It sounds like Coach Fisher understands that putting healthy fuel in their bodies is going to be better for them as athletes and as people.

You went through the tough mat drills and grueling practices at Florida State. How does that compare to the workouts on the Biggest Loser?

The Biggest Loser is really difficult even compared to mat drills. When I arrived at Florida State I was already an athlete, 18 years old and in pretty good shape for a lineman. Even in two-a-day practices, we would go ten plays then get to rest for a few minutes before we went back into the drill or the scrimmage. It was short bursts of intense energy followed by rest.

When I started the Biggest Loser I was out of shape, over 40, and wasn’t ready for what they subjected us to. My trainer Dolvett Quince called me “Pause” because after a 10-15 minute intense drill I was ready for my break.

We go three hours in the morning walking or running and then three hours in the afternoon of non-stop drills. I’m not used to that. Even mat drills were just 55 minutes long. This is three hours. Two a day practices lasted one month. This has been going on for three months already. What you see on the show is real. Your body doesn’t have the time to fully recover but you have to keep pushing through.

You and Danni (Clemson) are former collegiate athletes but none of the other contestants have been through the training regimens you two have endured. It would seem you all have an advantage when it comes to handling the fear of death that comes when you “hit the wall” in a drill.

Being former athletes was a blessing and somewhat of a curse for Danni and I. The blessing is that you have been there and you know what it’s like to push through your breaking point. The curse is that the trainers use you as examples to show the others what it is like to be pushed beyond.

The intense workouts at FSU (mat-drills) back in the late 80’s were probably the toughest drills outside the Bear Bryant era ever. Guess where coach Bowden got the concept and drills from?

The FSU coaches pushed the athletes way beyond their wildest expectations of themselves. You had Wayne McDuffie, Chuck Amato, Mickey Andrews, Billy Sexton, John Eason, Brad Scott, Mark Richt and a string of graduate assistants like Skip Holtz, who all took pride in running the drills to perfection.

Like yesterday, I can remember dragging a teammate across the finish line, or a teammate dragging me across the line, because my body just would not go anymore from pure fatigue. It was those drills at 5am that turned me into a man. If you could finish the drills you knew that there was nothing you could not do once you set your mind to it.

So what about the other contestants in the house? How do you feel about them?

You gain a great deal of respect for the others in the house who haven’t been through the workouts that Danni and I have as collegiate athletes. We admire their courage because they really were scared in the beginning not knowing. Over the weeks you’ve seen them all grow as people, as competitors and as athletes. They can do things now that they never imagined they’d be able to do in the gym or in their personal lives. What you see on the show is real and it inspires me that people are capable of much more than they realize.

This season’s contestants really do care about each other. The toughest part every week is knowing someone is going home and its scary thinking next week I could be going home. It is competition but its more about achieving goals.

What were your goals for weight loss?

My first goal was getting a biscuit under 300 which I have accomplished. My next goal is to lose 100 pounds and to be the first on the show to lose 100. My next goal will to get under 250 and my ultimate goal weight to be healthy is to be 220 pounds which is what I weighed at 14 when I reported for 9th grade football.

My mom lost 100 pounds. My father lost 40 after his heart attacks. Henry and my goals are to lose over 100 pounds each. Collectively our family goal is to lose 340 pounds which is what Henry and I weighed when we went on the show.

Why did you choose childhood obesity as a cause and why do you think NBC chose it for this year’s episodes?

One of the biggest concerns in America for adults is obesity and the show has been dealing with adult concerns. But the bigger issue in America is childhood obesity. The statistics on kids who already have heart disease and diabetes before they turn 15 is shocking. Kids spend 3.5 hours per day on video games or computers where they are not being active. We have to change that.

The little boy on the show, Bingo, wants to play baseball but when you are a big kid like him you are either picked on or not picked at all. That doesn’t encourage them to get active so they spend more time on the couch.

The producers are doing a fantastic job with these kids getting them motivated. The Biggest Loser exposes issues for big adults as well as big kids, issues like bullying. I am so impressed by the kids and how brave they are to admit their fears and pursue the activities they enjoy.

These kids’ experiences must be useful to you in developing the Wear Your Soul Foundation. Let’s close with that for this week.

We want to create awareness, expose the problems, and offer solutions. ‘Hey, we know! We are with you. I was big.’ When Henry and I played YMCA football, we had to weigh in. We were too big to play and we remember how that feels. My brother’s son is big. They put him at tight end with a sticker on his helmet saying he is too big to touch the ball. He doesn’t want to play because the sticker makes him feel bad.

Our foundation encourages kids to find a passion whether it is team sports or recreation. Personally, I would rather be in the outdoors hiking the trail than be in the gym. A treadmill is not fun. Hiking in the mountains, or a walk on the beach, is fun. You have to find something you enjoy doing for exercise. If you just get on a treadmill you feel like a gerbil on a spinning wheel after a while. You have to mix it up and find things you enjoy.

We are going to introduce these kids to outdoor sports through student-athletes just like we did when I was at Florida State and we spoke to kids groups. We want to use collegiate athletes and the universities in the community to help deliver the message at fan day, family days and not so far off in the future "Wear Your Soul Day" at colleges and universities around the Nation.


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