I’ve grown accustomed to seeing fans gather for pictures and autographs from players, coaches, broadcasters and dancers on game nights. But what I saw last night was a first. Trail Blazers fans clamoring for the attention of another fan.
Arthur Wornum, and his father, Jesse, are contestants on the current season of The Biggest Loser on NBC. But they aren’t just any contestants. Arthur entered the show with the highest Body Mass Index (BMI) in the history of the show’s 11 seasons, entering the show at 507 lbs. while standing 5’9”.
Throughout the show, a popular televised weight-loss competition, one of Arthur’s biggest motivators was to carry on a tradition that his father had established with him more than 20 years ago.
Starting in the 7th grade, Arthur, now 34, began attending Trail Blazers games with his father. They had a pair of season tickets in the lower bowl; it was their ‘thing’, going to Rose Garden to root for the Trail Blazers.
Around the year 2000, the calls from Arthur’s father started to dwindle. It wasn’t because the two were falling out – they have an outstanding father-son relationship. It was because Arthur’s weight gain had made it difficult for him to fit into the seats.
Unable to attend Trail Blazers games anymore, Arthur was crushed.
Over the next 10 years, Arthur and his wife, Heather, had two kids. Every time the family would drive by the Rose Garden, the kids would ask their dad why they never go to Trail Blazers games.
“How do you tell your kids that you’re too big to get in the seat?” he told me last night.
At his peak in 2009, Arthur weighed 646 lbs. One day, while at a barber shop, he had epiphany. He made it his mission that he was going to slim down – he wanted to carry on the tradition on taking his kids to Blazer games.
He tried out for season 10 of the Biggest Loser, and was loved by all of the judges. Unfortunately, it was also the biggest turnout in the history of the show and there were simply too many contestants. The producers told him to stick with it, and they’d make room for him on season 11. They kept their promise, and so did he. Arthur entered the ranch – already 139 lbs. lighter – for season 11.
The Portland-native quickly became a fan favorite, winning over the viewers of the popular show with his charm, demeanor and positive attitude. Throughout his nine-week stint on the show, Arthur lost 117 lbs. (He and his father were voted off the show in an episode that aired earlier this month.)
When Justin, a family friend of the Wornums, called me last week to tell me the path of Arthur, I was blown away. I thought we had to get him in the building as soon as possible. I did a little research on Arthur, and gave him a call. When he answered the phone he sounded half-asleep. But the moment I told him I was calling with the Trail Blazers, he immediately perked up and became borderline giddy. We arranged for him and his family to attend the Trail Blazers vs. Wizards game, along with a ‘behind-the-scenes’ tour of the Rose Garden.
As I took Arthur and his family around to meet the players and do a few media interviews before the game, I noticed that he couldn’t go 10 yards without someone asking for a photo with him, or a fan whispering to the person next to them, “That’s the guy from The Biggest Loser,” or hearing a shout from the distance of, “We love you Arthur!”
As the Trail Blazers blew out the Wizards on Tuesday, there wasn’t a happier fan in the building than Arthur Wornum. He was sitting in a seat at the Rose Garden for the first time in nearly 11 years, but what gave him an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment– he was sitting next to his 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.
My job with the Trail Blazers entails pitching stories for the media to write about. But in this case, I felt I had to share my own experience with Arthur. After hearing his incredible journey of perseverance, dedication and motivation, I’m surprised I wasn't the one asking for photo with him.
UPDATE: At his last at-home weigh-in, Arthur was down to 340 lbs. That’s a whopping 306 lbs. weight loss from his original 646 lbs. Since being voted off the show, Arthur has been doing motivational speaking and media interviews across the country, including an interview with Al Roker on The Today Show. Later this month, he will take his story – and his charisma – internationally when speaks to audiences in Canada.
Watch Sportlandia on trailblazers.tv this Friday at 4 p.m. to see their interview with Arthur and Jesse.