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Trainers work with ex-NFL players on NBC's 'The Biggest Loser'

By Bill Bradley, contributing editor

Dolvett Quince and Jessie Pavelka have gained reputations as world-class athletic trainers. This year, they are working on the NBC series "The Biggest Loser," a reality series that encourages contestants to lose weight and changing their lives. This is Quince's fifth year on the show while Pavelka is working on his first season.

For the first time in the series' 16-season history, the contestants all have athletic backgrounds. That includes former NFL quarterback Scott Mitchell and offensive lineman Damien Woody. The series airs Thursday's this fall at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

This week, Quince and Pavelka talked with NFL Evolution about their physical and mental work with Mitchell and Woody this season and gave advice for former athletes who are retired.

Dolvett, you're entering your fifth season as a trainer for "The Biggest Loser." How often has the show worked with former athletes prior to this season?

DQ: We've always had a few athletes, sporadically. We've had an Olympic wrestler a couple of years back. We had a potential Olympic swimmer. We've had some power lifters even last season. But nothing of this caliber where it's this many athletes and the show is strictly athletes.

Has the series had any football players in the past?

DQ: Not at this level. Not at the level of Scott Mitchell and Damien Woody.

Beyond the show, how often do you work with former athletes and specifically ex-NFL players?

DQ: I've worked with a few in my career prior to this show. I've trained a few quarterbacks. I've trained some defensive linemen. I've trained a lot of guys.

What do pro football players want when they come to see you?

DQ: Some want power and more strength. They want to lift stronger. Most want a combination of speed and strength. They tell me, "I want to work on my quickness, my hands, my feet, my agility." That's usually the list.

Is there a difference in the mindset you have in training former athletes compared to average Joe's?

DQ: I come from a place where I hear their needs. I know these guys are athletes and I look how I can step my style up a notch. They're ready for it. They're accustomed to moving. They're ready for a challenge. It's as much mental as it is physical, so the challenge for me is to push these guys so they walk away saying, "That was a great workout; that's what I came for." That's what I want to give them every time.

What do you think when you see former NFL players like Hines Ward competing in the Kona Ironman Triathlon or Alan Faneca running the New Orleans Rock 'N' Roll Marathon?

DQ: It says to me these guys realize that fitness is more than a job. It's something they should do to take care of themselves and be healthy. At the end of the day, if you're an athlete or not, it pays to take care of yourself. ... When I hear of Hines Ward doing things outside of football, it's exciting. I know Hines personally. It says to me they really care, not just about their physique, but about their health overall.

For former athletes, some have to adjust going from 6,000 calories a day to 2,000. How much does nutrition play into your work with retired athletes?

DQ: It's a huge role. Granted, they were putting in 6,000 calories, but they were putting in 6,000 because of the intensity of their workouts. Their job was about movement. There was so much motion in their life, their job exceeded what they put in and they needed 6,000 calories. When you go back home and you're not moving anymore, there's no position to play other than dad or husband. You're still taking 6,000 calories a day. Guess what? You have no movement. ... You've got to find a balance, whether it's 2,000 or 2,300 calories. That's an attainable calorie maintenance number there for these guys.

How has it been to work with Scott Mitchell and Damien Woody?

DQ: Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. These are great, great men in terms of their energy. In terms of their personalities. They have leadership quality that showed this season. They were really looked up to and respected.

JP: Working with Damien was absolutely amazing. This guy physically is one of the most incredible athletes I've ever worked with. He's strong, he's fast, he's basically a running back trapped in a lineman's body. On top of all of that, this is a very humble man. He's someone who's achieved a lot in his life and a man who has a lot, but doesn't take it for granted. There are certain people you get to work with that give you just as much as you give them and Damien gave me so much. It's a give-and-take and I have learned a lot working with him. In many ways I am inspired by him.

What other types of work have you been doing with them besides weight loss?

DQ: Scott and I talk all the time. He talked to me and said, "Help me get to the bottom of my issues that led to gain all this weight in the first place. There's so many things I never dealt with as a football player. You don't show your emotions on the field unless your emotions are encouraging your teammates. You don't bring your personal issues because you're a quarterback, you're a leader." As a quarterback and a leader, you put those things away. He said "I didn't realize that not playing football anymore, I put them away so much that it was detrimental." That means once he was home he had nothing to do but take care of his family, his business, his kids, the emotions surfaced. "Help me through my emotions," is what Scott said. You'll see as this season goes on that this guy was afraid to deal with his pain and deals with his demons like no one I've ever worked with before.

What issues was Woody dealing with during the series?

DQ: Here's a guy with seven kids. He loves his children so much. He loves his wife. He just basically wanted to be a better man for them. Here's a guy who struggled with this weight his entire life. ... (While in the NFL) he had to stay within a certain number weight-wise or he would get fined. He didn't care. He just paid the fine every time. He struggled so much with his weight once he left the game, he just got fed up. He said, "I have to do something about my health." ...

What advice would you have for former athletes who don't want to end up on your show?

JP: Be ready for the game of life. As athletes, we think it all has to be big and explosive, but real life can take it's time. It can have a slower pace and your approach to your own health has to adjust to that pace. The game is over, the lights are off and you have to be ready and willing to do things differently. Whether it's the food you eat or the exercises you do, be open to it all and excited because at the end of the day this is about living and living well.

DQ: Find a goal. Find a purpose. Take a page out of Hines Ward's book, for example. It doesn't have to be triathlon. If you love your sport still, then just don't coach, but be a conditioning coach on the side. ... You need to find a reason to love movement again. Whether it's involving your kids and yourself or turning the TV off and you're now doing something. ... Make sure you're moving and not the guy on the sidelines standing around. Find a purpose and movement that doesn't feel like a job. Something that's fun and you would look forward to.

Any other advice you would offer for former athletes?

DQ: Portion control is a huge issue for former athletes, especially defensive lineman. They're accustomed to putting in so many calories in their bodies. Like we said, about 6,000-plus calories a day. I think if these guys learn how to control what they eat and the amount of calories and the choices they make, they can still maintain an athletic physique. ... I think they will be right on track with their life and health. We're 12 weeks into (filming this season) and I've had more fun shooting with this group than the season before because the mentality of them is just like me. They say, "I might be out of shape, but my mind isn't."

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