Alumni Spotlights

Cate Laughlan, '12: A Big Winner

  • on May 15, 2013
  • by Lisa McMahon, MA'09

A year ago, Cate Laughlan, '12, was sitting on her porch, contemplating what her future might hold. She had just graduated from Niagara University with a degree in human resources and knew she didn't want to waste the education she had received. But she also knew that she wasn't ready to pursue her dreams without losing the weight she felt was holding her back. So she made a decision that day to do something about it.

She applied to be a contestant on NBC's The Biggest Loser.

It's not that Cate didn't work out. She did, regularly, at the Summit Fitness facility in Niagara Falls. It's just that after her workouts, she would stop at McDonald's and order a burger (hold the bun) and fries.

And she had even recently lost 30 pounds. But on her 5-foot-1 ½-inch frame, 237 pounds was still too much.

Now she realized that she needed to get serious about weight loss, and that she needed help.

Casting was a long, grueling process that began, for Cate, with an open casting call in Detroit. She and a friend drove from her home in Ransomville early in the morning of the day of casting, but by the time they reached the audition location more than five hours later, there were already hundreds of people in line. Cate was number 392. A couple of hours later, Cate had just about given up hope to receive an audition when she overheard someone say, “Want to go to the front of the line?”

A woman named Amy had won four tickets from a radio contest and was giving three of them away. Cate took one and moved up to number 22.

Groups of 10 were taken at a time and each person had one minute to convince the casting team to choose him or her. Although Cate had prepared a speech, her nerves took over and she was barely able to introduce herself. But as she was leaving, she remembered something she had learned in a class at Niagara. She turned around, walked back to the casting team, thanked them for the opportunity to audition, and told them how much she wanted to be on the show.

Then she and her friend drove back home.

That night, she received a callback to do a one-on-one camera interview with the casting directors. So she got back into the car and returned to Detroit.

The interview went well, and she was invited to Los Angeles, where she was sequestered in a hotel for two weeks until the live premiere of the show, when the 15 contestants for Season 14 would be chosen.

The night of the premiere, she sat in the audience with the other contestant hopefuls, waiting for names to be called and keys to the ranch to be distributed. Cate's name was the eighth one announced.

From the moment she arrived at the ranch, she was immersed in a routine of hard workouts and calorie-controlled meals.

The workout that first day was “absolute hell,” she says. There were no breaks in the three and a half hour session, and the contestants “were dropping like flies.” They turned to each other for support and found motivation from the posters of past contestants (which showed before and after photos) and the messages they had left behind on walls and in the closets of the ranch.

At times, however, that motivation was not enough.

Cate describes herself as the “crier” of the show ”“ her trainer, Dolvett Quince, would often push her to tears when he asked too much of her or wasn't impressed with what she had done. She recalls an instance when Dolvett asked her to do what she thought was 300 rows on the rowing machine. When she had completed them, she ran over to him to tell him of her accomplishment and to ask if he was proud of her. He looked at her in disbelief and told her that he had asked for 500 rows. Then he made her row until he told her to stop ”“ 2,000 rows later.

Those moments came often, but what also came for Cate was an epiphany of sorts ”“ the realization that she was always looking for validation from others rather than seeking self-approval. She was sabotaging her efforts because she didn't think she deserved to take care of herself.

In all, Cate spent three weeks on the ranch before being voted off by her teammates. But she was ready to go home. Although she had lost only 19 pounds, the insight she gained would help her continue her weight-loss journey.

So she packed her bags and returned to Ransomville, planning to continue her workouts and eating healthy foods in an effort to be The Biggest Loser at-home winner. She lost to Gina, but she also lost 64 pounds since joining the show. And Dolvett finally told her he was proud of her.

Today, Cate has a new job and is training for her first half-marathon in September. She has passed the 100-pound weight loss mark, and her confidence level is at an all-time high. The shy girl from Ransomville with the low self-esteem is now happy to serve as a role model and offer encouragement for others struggling with their weight.

“My whole life has become much healthier,” she says. “Before The Biggest Loser, I was just in a rut. I just watched my whole life pass by. Thanks to The Biggest Loser, I don't watch my dreams just fade away. Now, I go after them.”