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Sinclair drops pounds, inhibitions to return to tennis

January 3, 2012 12:50 PM
Sunny Sinclair (right) receives words of encouragement from trainer and former tennis star Anna Kournikova.
Sunny Sinclair initally weighed in at 277 pounds...
...and lost over 100 pounds by the finale of "The Biggest Loser."
By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com

As the calendar turns to 2012, 41-year-old Texas school teacher, mother and wife Sunny Sinclair is proud of how far she has come since the outset of 2011. In less than a year’s time, Sinclair has lost over 100 pounds thanks to an appearance on NBC’s "The Biggest Loser," and owes a great deal of her new found fitness to the game of tennis.

"My husband, Blake, is an assistant pro at our local club here in Dallas," said Sinclair, who last weighed in at 171 lbs. on her final weigh-in on the hit reality television series, documenting overweight contestants as they shot for better health and a $250,000 grand prize. "Right now he’s a 4.5 player, winning in 8.0 mixed leagues. When we first met, he gave me lessons. I’m not as good as him, but I love the game."

Sinclair sweated and sacrificed favored southern comfort foods during her run on the show, finishing sixth out of 15 contestants in the show’s twelfth season, weighing in on the season premiere at 277 lbs. – a 106-pound difference from start to finish before her elimination. Another teacher, John Rhode of Mesa, Ariz., won the competition after dropping an amazing 220 pounds.

"I was a big fan of show – I watched it season after season," said Sinclair. "We would watch as a family and Blake would literally be moved to tears by these contestants’ stories, appreciating their accomplishments. It soon became an idea voiced in the living room that ‘Sunny could do this,' and ‘These people could change their lives – Sunny needs this.’

"The idea of being on national television, exposing yourself in spandex … the idea of it was daunting. I wouldn’t dare tell my own husband my weight – now I was supposed to reveal it in front of the whole world? My goal was to get healthy more than winning the money. I wanted to re-enter my life."

Joining trainers Bob Harper and Dolvett Quince in Season 12 to help shape-up Sinclair and company was former two-time Australian Open doubles champion and one-time Wimbledon semifinalist Anna Kournikova, stepping in to replace the popular Jillian Michaels. In 2010, Kournikova had appeared on the show as a guest instructor to lead a tennis workout challenge and parlayed that success into a regular role.

"Anna’s a very down-to-earth person – she worked my butt off," said Sinclair of Kournikova. "Lord knows she doesn’t need the fame or the money. There was all that talk and criticism that she never won a (singles) title, but very few realize how hard tennis players work, let alone players at the world-class level. I have nothing but respect for her."

After some reservations, Sinclair finally applied to be on the show after the encouragement of both Blake and her sister. Part of the impetus for Sinclair to turn things around – at her peak of her unhealthy past, Sinclair’s weight was nearing the 300-pound mark – was the shame she felt on the court when trying to play tennis with her husband.

"I love playing with him, but I was so out of shape that I couldn’t physically keep up," said Sinclair. "Even from the age of 11 or 12, my first tennis instructor remarked to my parents that I had been ‘the most tired 11-year-old’ he had ever seen."

A softball, basketball and volleyball player in high school, Sinclair had lost part of her identity.

"I was embarrassed – Blake plays in USTA Leagues, and here I was, extremely apprehensive to go out and play."

Sinclair notes that her current weight goal is reaching the 145-pound mark – "I was 128 at my peak as a teenager, but I’ll be 42 this year and that’s probably not realistic" – with another number she’s focusing on being a USTA rating. While the Sinclair family enjoyed the holidays, Sunny didn’t mind the trade in of salmon and grilled vegetables instead of hamburgers - and getting up to go for a long morning walk with Blake is just one of the ways she is reclaiming heself.  

"Blake and I are committed to play in a 7.5 or 8.0 (mixed league) together sometime this spring, and I’m beyond excited. We hope to be kicking butt on the courts."

As far as if Sinclair will keep watching The Biggest Loser after living through it: Definitely.

"How could I not? It’ll be a whole new perspective. I’m interested in seeing the struggle in this new group, trying to transform."

Tune into the newest season:The Biggest Loser: No Excuses, Tuesdays at 8/7 C on NBC!


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