Joe Ostaszewski was an all-state high-school football player, and competed for a national championship in college. So, until recently, he had never thought of himself as a loser.
Ostaszewski, from Boynton Beach, is among the final five contestants on the NBC weight-loss competition "The Biggest Loser." The former lineman for Santaluces High School (1985-'87) and Florida State University (1987-'91) has dropped from 364 to 244 pounds, with two episodes of the show remaining. He weighed 230 while a student at Santaluces.
"It's been an amazing process, journey, whatever you want to say," Ostaszewski admits. "It's been really, really good. It's not just the weight. It's how I feel about myself."
The penultimate weigh-in will air Monday night, with the two contestants who lost the highest percentage of weight moving on to the March 18 live finale. Viewers will then vote to allow the third- or fourth-place contestant to also compete for the $250,000 prize. Ostaszewski says he is prohibited from talking about the outcome of Monday's prerecorded episode.
Ostaszewski's "Biggest Loser" story line involves his twin brother, Henry, who played alongside Joe through high school and college. Ostaszewski later tried out for the Miami Dolphins, while Henry went out for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 43-year-old twins both auditioned for "The Biggest Loser," but the producers only wanted Joe.
"Henry argues it was because I weighed more," says Ostaszewski, who lives upstate in Williston. (His parents still live in Boynton Beach.) "I think it's because I have a nicer smile."
During the three months that Ostaszewski has spent on the show's "ranch," Henry has been following his own weight-loss regiment at home, dropping 95 pounds by working out and modifying his diet. The brothers each choked up when talking about the other's transformation.
"I just shook my head when I saw him," Ostaszewski recalls. "Wow."
The brothers have a mischievous side. They sometimes switched identities in school and on dates. When professional scouts visited Florida State prior to the NFL draft, Ostaszewski ran the 40-yard dash for Henry.
"Just twins having fun," Henry says.
These antics have helped to fuel an Internet rumor that the twins have impersonated each other during weigh-ins on "The Biggest Loser," an idea that Henry has embraced with his "I Am Joe" campaign.
"I'm not going to say I did, and I'm not going to say I didn't," says Henry, who lives in the Atlanta area. "But the point is twofold: We are all Joe. If he can do this, so can you. And I'm proof to those who need to stop complaining, 'Oh, I can't do it because I didn't get on 'The Biggest Loser.' "
Taking a cue from "The Biggest Loser" and this season's "Challenge America" theme, the brothers are promoting their Wear Your Soul foundation (WearYourSoul.org), which aims to encourage physical fitness among children and young adults through outdoor activities.
"We want to use outdoor sports, adventure sports to tap into kids who are obese," Ostaszewski says. "Because in team sports, they either don't get picked or they get picked on."
The foundation stresses activities that don't require a scoreboard, such as backpacking, hiking, kayaking and paddleboarding.
Ostaszewski wants people to avoid the shame he felt for being fat, particularly during his first appearance on "The Biggest Loser."
"Initially, I was like, there's no way I can get on stage in front of America with my out-of-shape body," he says. "But Henry told me to put my ego aside and know it's all about a bigger picture.
"Going through this has humbled me," he adds. "But I'm encouraged, because I feel like I'm helping other people."
Program: The Biggest Loser
Airs: 8 p.m. Monday on WTVJ-Ch. 6 and WPTV-Ch. 5