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BLOOMINGTON — Ali Vincent, the first female winner of “The Biggest Loser,” empowered employees at Country Financial on Friday to embrace a personal goal that they consider impossible, share it with others and work toward it one moment at a time.

“Every single person has an impossible,” the effervescent Vincent told about 200 employees in the Country building on GE Road. During four presentations Thursday and Friday, Vincent spoke to 800 Country, Illinois Farm Bureau and Growmark employees to help the companies kick off their 10-week, Scale Down Lose the Pounds weight loss challenge.

Vincent’s “impossible” was to be the first female Biggest Loser on the NBC-TV reality show. She did that when she lost 112 pounds during the show’s fifth season in 2008. What she didn’t realize was how her weight loss, nutrition and fitness journey would transform other parts of her life, helping her to realize other “impossibles.”

“The physical goals help you to understand the intangible,” said Vincent, 36.

Vincent was a hair stylist from Arizona who weighed 234 pounds when she began on Biggest Loser with her mother. A former synchronized swimmer, her weight had come on over 10 years. In addition, because an injury meant she didn’t work for a year, she had accumulated credit card debt of $100,000.

As she struggled through workouts, worked through injuries, lost weight and gained muscle, she began to understand that her defeatist attitude — not her weight — were why she had experienced career setbacks and relationship  disappointments. She assumed that people were judging her, when in fact some of those people wanted to help her.

“I protected myself with 112 pounds (of fat),” she said. “As long as I put it on you (other people), I was not taking responsibility.

“I learned to stop blaming that bad relationship, that bad boss. I realized I was the only one who was holding myself back. I was creating the impossible one minute at a time.

“I’m not a pissed-off girl anymore. I’m an empowered woman.”

She used $100,000 of her $250,000 in Biggest Loser winnings to pay off her debts. Since then, she has continued to exercise and eat healthfully, works as a motivational speaker and is developing a foundation to help children to be physically active.

Among employees at the Friday morning presentation was Karin McDowell, a Country project manager who is a single mother with two boys. She has lost 30 pounds in the past three years by exercising and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and fish.

The timing of Vincent’s presentation and the start of Scale Down is “perfect” for McDowell, who needed that extra push as she trains for her first triathlon.

Mary Donnelly, a Country benefits supervisor, said more than 1,000 Country/Farm Bureau/Growmark employees have registered for Scale Down. “That’s fantastic participation.”

McDowell, 33, of Bloomington, has dropped three clothing sizes and decided this week that her “impossible” is to drop another two sizes.

“People need to start by giving themselves a break,” Vincent told The Pantagraph. “Life is liberating because you can change it.”

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