February 23, 2007

‘Biggest Loser’ Contestant Looks Forward to Birkie

By Jon Nowacki, Duluth News-Tribune, Minn.

Feb. 23--As part of being on the NBC diet/fitness reality show "The Biggest Loser," Adrian Kortesmaki has an online biography on NBC.com listing her goals and dreams.

One of those was to ski the American Birkebeiner cross-country ski marathon from Cable to Hayward. Once word of Kortesmaki's aspirations reached race officials, they invited her to join the field.

She accepted, but won't ski the entire Birkie. Not yet, at least. But the 2002 Two Harbors High School graduate is planning to race the shorter Prince Haakon on Saturday. At 2 p.m. today at Telemark Lodge in Cable, she will conduct a seminar called "Overcoming fears and obstacles in reaching your goals -- a personal journey."

"One of our board members saw a newspaper article about Adrian and thought this would be perfect for her," said Ned Zuelsdorff, executive director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation. "We had to get in touch with her and have this be part of her life."

Kortesmaki wasn't the show's winner, but it did affect her life. She lost about 60 pounds over a three-month span, or 25 percent of her body weight. She has basically maintained it for eight months. The 22-year-old now carries 170 pounds on her

5-foot-4 frame. She hopes to lose more but is content with where she is at.

Besides feeling healthier and looking better, Kortesmaki said the show gave her confidence to talk with others about her weight problem and try to help them do what she did. Her family has a history of dealing with weight issues.

"My talk will be about not letting fear stop you," said Kortesmaki, a senior at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. "A lot of people are scared about getting in shape.''

Kortesmaki, who grew up just north of Duluth, was active in skiing and other high school sports. She was on the Nordic ski team, was a soccer captain, played golf, jogged and participated in the NorthShore Inline Marathon every year. Then college came and she wasn't as active.

"For the most part, I gained all the weight when I moved to North Dakota," Kortesmaki said. "People don't like to go outside as much as they do in Duluth, and the college life got to me. I quit playing sports and found myself doing a lot of sitting.''

Being part of "The Biggest Loser" motivated Kortesmaki.

"The show was interesting," she said. "There were 50 of us there who were from every demographic, but every one of us could relate. There's no excuse for not getting off your butt."

Since the show ended, Kortesmaki has needed ways to stay motivated. One of those is her boyfriend, Zack Ludtke, whom she calls the "best workout buddy in the world."

The two knew of each other through mutual acquaintances but became close during morning workouts at the health and wellness center on the North Dakota campus last fall. The workouts didn't just become routine. They became mandatory.

By eating healthier and weight training, the 6-foot-5 Ludtke has lost 24 pounds and now weighs 265 pounds.

"Meeting Adrian was like a wakeup call for me to get healthier," said Ludtke, who will be cheering on Kortesmaki and the other skiers on Saturday by ringing a cow bell, a cross-country tradition. "She gave me motivation. I was starting to work out on my own, but she has helped me take it that much further.''

Kortesmaki, the daughter of Gerald and Catherine Kortesmaki, didn't just inspire Ludtke -- she motivated her friends and family as well. People are joining her for workouts, and as many as five friends have quit smoking.

"Even my dad started running, and you could have sworn to God that he would never run in his life, but he is," she said. "He's never been into athletics, but now he's lifting weights and working out. And so is mom. They've lost 50 pounds."

While Kortesmaki said she has great endurance, she has hardly been able to ski this year because of a lack of snow in Grand Forks. That is why she is planning on racing in the Prince Haakon this year instead of the full Birkie. The Birkebeiner is normally 51 kilometers but has been shortened to 23 because of a lack of snow. The Prince Haakon is between seven and eight kilometers this year.

"I have absolutely zero form," Kortesmaki said, laughing. "I thought it would be just like getting back on a bike, but it isn't."

Kortesmaki plans on graduating with a degree in marketing and management in June, then she plans to return to Duluth. She said anybody can get out of shape, but anybody can get back into it, too.

"All that time in college I knew something was missing, but I didn't know what it was," Kortesmaki said. "It took me all that time to figure it out, and now that I have, I crave it. People think they can't be athletes. I saw 49 other people on that show who didn't look like athletes, either, and I saw them lose weight, so I know other people can, too."


Copyright (c) 2007, Duluth News-Tribune, Minn.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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