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‘Biggest Loser’s’ Abby: ‘Happiness is a choice’

Abby Rike was eliminated on season 8 of “The Biggest Loser,” but her story of carrying on after a terrible tragedy — the sudden deaths of her husband, young daughter and infant son — inspired the other contestants, as well as her own trainers. Here Abby shares why she auditioned and volunteered to go home, and gives advice for others dealing with personal challenges.
/ Source: TODAY

Abby Rike was eliminated on last week’s episode of “The Biggest Loser,” but her story of carrying on after a terrible tragedy — the sudden deaths of her husband, young daughter and infant son — inspired the other contestants on the show, as well as her own trainers. Here Abby shares why she decided to go on the show, the story behind her decision to go home and advice for others dealing with personal challenges.

On the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 13, 2006, my husband was taking my daughter to a gymnastics class for the evening. I was not with them, but my infant son was.

The accident happened about five miles from our home. A driver going over 100 mph hit them head-on. Everyone involved was killed, including my husband, Rick; my daughter Macy, 5, and my son Caleb, who was 2 1/2 weeks old.

After the wreck, I was still on maternity leave. I went back to teaching that January, and finished out the school year. My husband and I had been team-teachers, and we coached the debate and speech teams. We were Team Rike.

You have to have a lot to give to be an effective educator. I was giving all I had, but at that point, there just wasn’t enough of me to give. So I decided to take a year off and get my master’s degree. After the wreck, my mind was pretty dull. I wasn’t as quick as I used to be and it was time to resharpen my wits.

When I finished the degree, I thought: So now what do I do? I moved back to the town I had lived in 10 years earlier, Houma, La., and went back to the classroom. As much as I loved the kids, it was like I was taking a step backward. Teaching was still more than I had to give.

Fateful encounter
Then I met Vicky and Brady Vilcan, who had been on season 6 of “The Biggest Loser.” It just shows how God has a way of putting the right people in your life at the right time: I had a gym membership (which I obviously didn’t use nearly enough), and one day I ran into Brady and Vicky there.

We became friends on MySpace, and Vicky wrote a blog. She said that anyone who was interested in trying out for “The Biggest Loser” could contact her. I was feeling physically sluggish and bad during that rough period, so I just decided I’d give it a try. I got the packet of information and booked my flight for an open casting call in Dallas.

I felt the odds of my being cast were pretty slim, but it was something to work on — a very different experience that would provide a great distraction from the pain in my life. But the audition process is very in-depth; there were so many questions to answer that it became a time for self-reflection, to examine where I really was.

I shed a lot of tears answering those questions. It was one of those things that I spent a lot of time and prayer on. If it was supposed to happen, I reasoned, it would, and I’d be 100 percent true to myself throughout the journey. I’d do everything I could to make me the best me I could be.

When I found out I was selected, I thought: I’m truly opening up myself here and being completely vulnerable and exposed. People were going to really see into my life. Was I ready for that?

Immediate bond
At the ranch, I instantly had a real connection with Shay. When it came time to select roommates, we quickly pointed at one another. Of all the decisions I made at the ranch, that was probably the best.

I was injured very early on and relegated to the pool for the majority of my time on the ranch. I spent a ton of time in the pool swimming laps, treading water, coming up with fun things to pass the hours. It was one of those times where I was forced to slow down, have no distractions and just think.

As hard and as lonely as it was at times, it was very healing. It was great to have to just work through things. Luckily, my Black team was amazing and wonderful: Rebecca, Allen and Rudy were just really supportive and very kind to me. I wasn’t in the gym all the time, and it could have really isolated me — but it didn’t. They really embraced me and loved me and took care of me.

My last week on the ranch was one of those times when you do what is right — you make the best choice you can. We live in a society where it is all about us all the time, but I’m tired of it just being about me — what it had been for nearly three years.

That weigh-in was unreal. I had burned enough calories to lose 7 pounds that week, had gotten on this wonderful machine that took part of the weight off my body and enabled me to run. I ran for hours and hours and hours to make sure to make sure I was the Biggest Loser that week.

That I lost only 3 pounds came as a shock — it just didn’t make sense. Here was our little family and we had to choose between Amanda, Daniel, Shay or me.

It was a no-brainer. Amanda had had an incredibly emotional week, and the thought of her going home that week and feeling like a failure: I couldn’t live with that.

And then there was Daniel, 20 years old and feeling accepted for the first time, figuring out who he was and who he wanted to be. Sending him home wasn’t an option either.

Then you have Shay: I love her like family, and we’ll be friends for the rest of our lives.

There comes a time in life when you have to look around and accurately assess a situation and take your feelings out of it. I didn’t want to go home, but you have to do what’s right. And that’s what I did.

When I first got home, there was certainly an adjustment period. I had to figure out how to make this work in the real world for me — how to have a healthy lifestyle. I took a year off from teaching to finish the journey. I really wanted to enjoy this time in my life and savor every second.

I’ve had the same message since long before the accident happened, but it rings more true today than it did: Happiness is a choice. You choose how you respond to the things in your life. It doesn’t mean it’s easy or you feel happy every day — but you have the power to choose differently.

As told to Gina Pace,