After winning The Biggest Loser, Wheeling’s Danni Allen sets her sights on the Bank of America Chicago Marathon
While competing on the NBC reality show The Biggest Loser, Danni Allen discovered something about herself: she really loves to run!
Running is a big part of what propelled her to a 121-pound weight loss and the show’s Season 14 title, but now that she is back home in Wheeling, she still doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. After running the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle in 38:41 and the Music City Half Marathon in Nashville on April 27 in 1:53:37, she has set her sights on making it to the starting line of her hometown Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13.
“Before the show I hated running. I thought it was for crazy people,” laughs the personable 26 year old. “But now I’ve fallen in love with running and I’m having a lot of fun doing it.
“I’m going to be like Forrest Gump, running across the country and traveling to races.”
That is certainly a stark contrast to where Allen was a year ago. After her father, Tom, had a huge health scare in February 2012, Allen realized she was at a sort of crossroads in her own life. Despite being an athlete who competed in soccer, swimming and water polo at Mundelein High School and then playing water polo for two years with the Clemson University club team, Allen hadn’t weighed less than 200 pounds since the age of 15, and when she stopped competing, her weight became more out of control.
Allen decided to audition for The Biggest Loser and while she didn’t believe she would make it onto the show, she felt it would be a good starting point to getting her life back in order. But on Sept. 23, after almost three months of interviews and auditions, Allen found herself sitting with other hopefuls in a theater in Los Angeles, where her name was called to be one of the show’s 16 contestants.
Life on the ranch began the next day, and at the first weigh-in Allen tipped the scale at 258 pounds. Like many others, Allen struggled with not only the physical demands of the workouts, but the mental roadblocks she had created throughout her life. At the start of the second week her trainer, Jillian Michaels, had finally seen enough.
With Allen having a tough time during one of the workouts, Michaels, known for her tough love, walked over and poured a bucket full of water and towels over Allen’s head with one simple message: wake up.
Later, the two talked about what was holding her back, and Allen realized that in the end she was getting in her own way.
“A lot of it had to do with my inability to feel like I deserved [this opportunity],” Allen says. “I wasn’t letting myself deserve this good thing. I was almost self-sabotaging, expecting that it would be like anything else in that it wouldn’t work out in the end.”
How Michaels carried out the wake-up call looked harsh, but Allen concedes it was necessary.
“That was a rough moment, but it was at that point I realized Jillian wasn’t going to give up on me,” she says, “and if she wasn’t going to give up neither was I.”
Allen dug in and started to compete, earning the respect of her fellow competitors and losing an average of about seven pounds through each of the next 10 weigh-ins. By the time the contestants were ready to leave California in late January, Allen had lost 95 pounds and was locked in as one of the finalists for the March 18 live weigh-in.
“I went all-in,” she says. “I worked my tail off…I was the first one in the gym and the last to leave and I wasn’t going to let a single excuse get in the way. Feeling like an athlete came back, and the competitive fire did too.”
Allen says that one of the keys for her was to break everything down into small increments and let that take care of the big picture. She compared her approach to a puzzle: when you dump a puzzle on the table it is unrecognizable, but filling in the pieces over time brings everything into focus.
Once she arrived home, she set out the next several weeks in great detail, from where and when to work out, and even whom to work out with. She made her apartment a “safe zone,” throwing away bad food to avoid temptation at home.
Running, which she learned on the ranch gave her the biggest calorie burn, was part of the program, as well as spin classes at Flywheel in Chicago. She also leaned heavily on the support of friends and family, including Jeff Nichols, a fellow finalist. Despite going after the same $250,000 prize, they saw each other almost weekly and pushed each other to keep going after Nichols, a Michigan native, relocated to Chicago.
After spending months visualizing the feeling of standing on the stage as a winner, Allen returned to Los Angeles for the finale, and sitting backstage prior to the show realized that she had accomplished everything she had set out to do.
Wearing a size 4 dress, down over 100 pounds and carrying 20 pounds of new muscle on her 5’6” frame, she felt strong and empowered, and that showed when she stepped on the scale for the final time.
“There was a confidence I had that no one could take away from me,” she says. “I looked in the mirror and said ‘I did it.’ I pushed as hard as I could and I knew I had won even if the scale said something else.”
Following Jackson Carter and Nichols to the scale, Allen needed to have lost 121 pounds to take the title away from Nichols, who had lost 181 pounds (46.65 percent of his body weight). She hit that on the number, as her final weight of 137 pounds meant she had lost 46.9 percent of her original weight.
Without a doubt, Allen’s post-Biggest Loser life is a bit crazier than what it had been before. She no longer has to work two jobs and is trying to handle the newfound celebrity that has come her way.
Like most contestants, she wants to find a way to pay it forward. Allen wants to be very “approachable” – she wants to be visible and easy to contact via social media, and doesn’t mind it when people come talk to her in public. She wants people to realize that she is just a normal person who had a great opportunity and if she can reach her goals, so can they.
“Weight and appearance is something everyone struggles with,” she says. “It’s great if there is someone out there that can motivate you. I want to be that person who wasn’t just on TV, but someone who struggled just like they did. I want to be a person they can talk to and relate to.”
One of Allen’s ways of staying motivated is to tackle the marathon, an idea of which came to her during Week 10’s “Makeover Week,” where contestants are made over by fashion experts as a way of celebrating how far they have come on the ranch while also showing off their new bodies and self-confidence.
Looking for a goal that would push her well after the show was over, the decision to run a marathon in her hometown was easy. She also plans to run for a charity, but was undecided as to which one.
“How many people hit a goal and then stop?” she asks. “[The marathon] is a goal that I know I can take on and I have set myself up to be successful.”
Allen is still working on her future, but she knows that now when she accomplishes one goal, such as running the marathon, she plans on looking to set another one. Such is life when you feel you have been given the gift that she has.
“I exceeded my own expectations [on the show],” she says. “But [the experience taught me] it is also about realizing that no time should be wasted. At the end of the day that’s what I’ve really learned.”