Denise “Deni” Hill had been telling everybody for months: “I am going to win.”
She told family, friends, trainers and “The Biggest Loser” that she was going to take the at-home prize at the “The Biggest Loser: Couples” finale on May 24.
“I shocked them all. I don’t think they saw it coming,” said Hill, of Bountiful, who did, indeed, win the competition.
The 59-year-old mother of eight, grandmother to 11 (and another on the way), has never been active.
Growing up, daughter Sarah Nitta said, if the family went to a park or to the beach, her mom was always sitting down.
Hill’s journey to the crown began with Nitta. Nitta, a Woods Cross High School alum, had been through several battles in life and was looking for help controlling her weight.
Three years ago, she was in a traumatic car crash that shattered her pelvis, and caused numerous other injuries. And her weight brought health issues that proved an obstacle to starting a family.
“She couldn’t carry a pregnancy. She was just miserable. ‘How do I lose this weight? What do I do?’ ” Hill said.
Nitta found out that “The Biggest Loser” was holding casting calls in Salt Lake City more than a year ago for Season 10.
“I never thought I even had a shot to get on,” said Nitta, who now resides in Las Vegas. “But then I thought, well, they have to pick someone. Maybe I’ll try it. I made it as a finalist. I even made it on the show. But before we started filming, they decided to make a change.”
Nitta said she was devastated by the news.
“She went home. She got pregnant again and had an ectopic pregnancy — almost bled to death,” Hill said.
It was during Nitta’s recovery from surgery that she got a call from NBC. They wanted her back in the mix for Season 11 — which was a couples season.
Contestants were to bring along a family member, spouse or friend to join in the weight-loss competition.
“My mom was there when they had called me,” Nitta said. “So they called and I am recovering and I am thinking, ‘No way. I am not going to put myself through that again.’ And she said. ‘I want to do it, I want to do it.’ ”
The duo went through the interview process before being chosen last September as the pink team.
“It was all her, and she is too cute — how could I not get in? I felt like for me that I got the golden ticket,” Hill said.
Mother and daughter ventured out to California last October for the show. The workouts were intense, and their bodies were paying the price.
Hill remembers lying on the gym floor following a tough workout, after the other contestants had left and the cameras were off. She tried to get up and felt every muscle in her side and in her leg cramp up. She had to pull herself to a wall to get up.
Her back was hurting before the show even started, and the pain got worse. Nitta developed stress fractures in both feet.
“We had to help each other put our sports bras on. Because we were so sore that we couldn’t do it ourselves,” Nitta said.
Then came the emotional issues. They missed their daughter’s/sister’s wedding — which is still a sore spot for Hill.
Nitta said she wondered every night how she was going to make it through the next workout. She told her mom that she cried when Hill moaned in pain in her sleep.
But their efforts were showing on the scale. They lost a combined 34 pounds the first week and consistently showed negative numbers.
Week 8 brought their split. It was the moment that Hill knew was coming; she chose to be eliminated to save her daughter.
Hill deliberately drank an excessive amount of water before the weigh-in, resulting in a weight gain. She was automatically eliminated. Nitta said she was not happy with the decision.
“I wanted her to be there,” Nitta said. “But I loved what she did. It was very selfless and loving and meant a lot. I just wished we could have both stayed.”
Added Hill: “I got (the team’s) promise that they were going to keep her. There goes promises” — Nitta was jettisoned two weeks later when the team voted to send her home.
Working at home
Hill was sent home days before Christmas. She still had the chance to win the at-home prize, as the contestant who loses the most weight away from the show.
But she started experiencing a lot of anxiety.
“I came home to a financial mess. How am I going to do this? You know what, I am going to earn $100,000 this year,” Hill said.
“The Biggest Loser” set her up with a trainer, Ryan Larsen from Four Pillars Fitness in Bountiful, and she got regular calls from Brett Hoebel, her trainer on the show. She split time between the South Davis Recreation Center and gym classes at Skills Fitness in Bountiful.
She spent three to five hours working out daily — fitness classes in the morning, training session next, and cardio at night. Every week, she could count on a 3-pound weight loss.
“It was actually pretty hard to get in touch with her because she was glued to the gym. She was always there,” Nitta said.
Eight months after joining the show, Hill was feeling very confident about winning — until she saw Justin Pope, of Logan, at the finale.
“I knew Justin was close, and everybody told me that Jay (Jacobs) was going to win,” Hill said.
Hill went on the scale before Pope and Jacob to post a shocking 131-pound weigh-in — a drop of 125 pounds, for a loss of over 48 percent. Nitta had weighed in with a 40 percent weight loss.
Pope narrowly missed — he came a couple of pounds short of besting Hill.
“My ideal would have been to come in a tie. That to me would have been better than winning. Because I think he deserved it,” Hill said.
Jacobs was the final contender, but he was 3 percent off. Nitta rushed her mom when Hill was declared the winner of the at-home prize.
Now, Hill has become an inspiration to her community. The true heroes, she says, are the ones who go to the gym before work, then after work, and accomplish their goals all on their own.
“I have more people who come up to me with before and after pictures,” Hill said. “That, to me, is phenomenal. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.”
Before, she said, it was always about what she could do if she got thin.
She tried all of the fad diets. She put off workouts for 30 years to raise her kids. It was never about how she could get thin now.
She now wants to teach others how to start their own weight-loss journey. She has considered starting a blog or YouTube page to help.
“What I found is you can’t do it for people,” Hill said.
“They are like, ‘Tell me how you did it. You have to tell me all your secrets.’ There are no secrets — that’s what I have learned. It’s calories in and calories out.”
Meet Deni Hill and hear about her weight loss and her participation on “The Biggest Loser.” She will be a part of an open house from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Four Pillars Fitness, 358 W. 500 South, Bountiful.
The gym helped her achieve her weight-loss goals.
“It’s such a mental thing in terms of weight loss,” said Ryan Larsen, Hill’s trainer at Four Pillar Fitness. “I honestly believe I don’t think there’s anything harder in this world than trying to lose weight. It’s just such a head game. It can be very beneficial for you where you put your head down and focus, or it can just devour you.
“For a female at 59 years old, (Deni) just put her head down and just went to work.”
Call 801-295-2377 for more information about the open house.