Friday, July 6, 2012

Biggest Loser Season 11's Austin Andrews Talks RetroFit, Faith - and More

It was my pleasure to talk this morning with Austin Andrews, who appeared on Season 11 of Biggest Loser with his father Ken and made the Top Five.  Austin and Ken, a pastor and ordained minister for many years, have begun RetroFit Ministries because they saw a great need within the church community.

"We looked at the statistics, and discovered some startling numbers," Austin says.  "We learned that out of all of the young adults that attend church services, they were 50 % more likely to become obese when they get older than those who don't go to church.  That's something that needs to change."

Austin believes part of the problem is the culture of the church community.  "There are always celebrations going on, and they all involve plenty of food.  Everybody constantly eats, and most people who bring special dishes to church functions don't choose healthy ones.  I still remember my grandmother bringing her famous potatoes covered with cheese and eating plenty of them.  There are good memories associated with that, but if I thought the point of it all was the food, then I really missed the point.  The memories should be about my grandma and the other people I spent time with at church in fellowship.  Food should never be the focus." 

RetroFit Ministries ties together the special bond between faith and fitness.  The name came about because of Ken's leap of faith in New Zealand, when he conquered a fear of heights by jumping off the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere.  "In that moment," Austin says, "all of the anxiety lifted from his life, including his fear of being accepted and of being in awkward situations.  He trusted God with that jump...and realized that he could also trust Him with those other aspects of his life." 

Austin also worked through his own self worth issues, stemming from when he was 12 years old and was constantly judged by classmates, strangers...and even his pediatrician.  "My doctor asked me if I drank beer.  I looked at him like he was crazy.  I was only 12 and my dad was a pastor...of course I didn't drink beer!  But when I answered him that I didn't, he asked why, then, did I have a beer belly?  Maybe he thought he was helping to scare me into losing weight, but it turned out to be just the opposite.  I'm sure he had no idea what effect his words had on me.  From that moment on, I checked out of life.  I decided what people were saying about me was true - that I had no value as a person because of my weight."

The big faith moment on the ranch for Austin came when he was working out with his teammate Justin Pope, six weeks into the season.  "Justin could see in my eyes that I was losing my focus, and I had been doing that for a while.  He called me out right there, looking into my eyes and telling me 'Don't you DARE check out!'  Later on, I turned on my iPod for a workout and the first song that came on had the lyrics 'He is jealous for me'.  I started crying as I thought that if God is jealous for me, then there must be something worthwhile in me to cause Him to be jealous for me. That day everything snapped into place for me.  I realized that I'd not only been checking out of workouts, but out of other things in my life.  I thank God that Justin was there to help me check back into life."

Ken and Austin had brainstormed other names for their ministry, such as WhollyFit.  But one day RetroFit popped into their minds and it all made sense.  They were going retro - back to where things began to go wrong in their lives and rebuilding from that point with faith and perseverance, one block at a time.  And they want to help other people do the same.

Part of their ministry includes the first ever event scheduled at a Biggest Loser Resort with a focus on faith.  It all came about when Austin and Ken attended the Season 12 Finale, and Ken had a conversation with the CEO of the Biggest Loser Resorts.  Ken was so excited and passionate about what he wanted to do with his ministry, he got the CEO excited as well.  That's when the plan for RetroFit Week began to take shape.  "On the show, the producers try not to show too much about our faith journeys and focus on the emotional aspects, just because they have a wide audience with people of all types and want to appeal to all of them," Austin recalls.  "A lot of what we said that pertained to faith wound up on the cutting room floor for that reason.  So for the resorts to recognize that people of faith might be interested in a special event is a very big step for them."

The first RetroFit week, hosted by Ken and Austin, will take place at the newest Biggest Loser Resort in Niagara Falls from September 30 through October 7.  In addition to all of the regular resort activities of workouts, training, and nutrition lessons, there will be a focus on spiritual training and Biblical truth.  "We want to focus on the whole health of each person there - physical, emotional, and spiritual.  We may have devotion time during stretches, and hikes where we pray and meditate on Scripture as we go.  We want to teach everyone to live out their faith and walk with God daily, in all activities.  Taking care of the body He has given you will make you better equipped to live out His purpose for your life."

If the event goes well, there may be more of them coming.  Austin and his dad vow to take it one step at a time and let God lead the way through the first one - and He will let them know where to go from there.

Austin admits that he sometimes still struggles with food temptations, a bit different than the ones Alison Sweeney puts the contestants through on the show.  "My dad and I will always be recovering food addicts - it's just like any other addiction.  Food still tempts us at family events and other functions; it's always going to be there.  It will never be a simple process, but it's always worth it.  As long as we turn to God and strive to be better to serve Him, we will be OK."

If you would like to know more about RetroFit Ministries or the special week at Biggest Loser Resort Niagara, please go to Austin and Ken's RetroFit site where they also take prayer requests and keep you up to date on the latest news and events.

Here's to great success now and in the future for RetroFit...I thank Austin for sharing his story and pray that many lives will be changed!


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