COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Nathan Montgomery was just a boy when he began settling into the bad lifestyle habits that would follow him into adulthood and drive him to obesity.
Before his family moved to rural Falcon, he lived in a cozy neighborhood filled with kids his age.
"My whole life I spent outside playing basketball and baseball," Montgomery said. "We were kind of a fast food family. It was very prevalent in our diets but offset by all the activity."
Montgomery, 25, was an only child in a single-parent household, and, in Falcon, it was a long walk to neighbors' homes. Outdoor play became rare. In its place: Boredom, television, video games, pizza night, fast food when mom got home from work. His weight began to creep up.
"I played baseball all my life, but once I started getting overweight, I couldn't compete so I stopped playing sports," Montgomery said.
As a young adult, he got his own car, job, apartment — and the freedom to eat whenever, and whatever, he wanted.
"That's when I really started to take those bad habits ... and expand on them," he said.
By his early 20s, Montgomery himself had expanded — to 401 pounds, dangerously overweight even for a guy who towered at 6-foot-4. Still, the truth of it didn't hit him until one evening in early 2011 as he sat watching Season 11 of NBC's hit weight-loss reality show "The Biggest Loser."
"I was seeing some of these guys and thinking these guys are just huge," said Montgomery, a financial adviser in Colorado Springs. "I see them weigh in for the first time and see their starting weights and realize that I'm a lot bigger."
Montgomery showed up for a Season 12 casting call at a hotel in Denver, made it as far as a call-back and interview. On his own, he started dieting and doing light workouts.
"I wasn't going to try out (for the show) anymore," he said. "I was just going to do it on my own."
The following year, producers for Season 13 came calling. Montgomery sent in a video and seemed to be progressing but was cut at the last minute. Last summer, the show reached out once more, asking Montgomery to send in another video. He kept his message short.
"It was me sitting there, saying what this opportunity meant for me, how I would give back and pay it forward," he said. "I talked about passing it on to children so they wouldn't have to go through what I did, this whole gaining-weight process.
"I didn't mean to, but I kind of just spoke from the heart and they could just tell."
That time, Montgomery made it onto the show. It was September 2012 and he weighed 359. He made a last phone call to his girlfriend, Mattie Vest — the woman who has since become his fiancee — packed up his things and left for diet and exercise boot camp at the Biggest Loser ranch.
"In that exact moment, you know you've been given an opportunity that less than 0.0001 percent will experience, but it's probably the hardest thing I'm ever going to do," Montgomery said.
Montgomery was put on the team headed by celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels, known for her drill-sergeant approach as well as her successes.
"She knows what you're capable of even if you don't," Montgomery said. "My endurance grew so fast. If you just push your body, it will perform for you. That's something I didn't realize."
Montgomery lost 20 pounds the first week and seemed poised to dominate. It wasn't to be, however.
Though he was one of the few team members to earn Michaels' glowing praise for his workout efforts during Week 2, Montgomery wound up being eliminated. That week, in an episode that aired Jan. 7, his team — already down one member due to a surprise dropout by another contestant — had the lowest total percentage weight loss. Montgomery, who had lost five pounds, had the lowest total percentage weight loss for an individual.
"I automatically got sent home Week 2, which was awful because I was just coming into my own and I had completely devoted myself to this process," he said. "As much as it was torture and brutal and awful, it was the best experience of my life. Two weeks isn't a long time, but two weeks on the ranch — two weeks with Jillian Michaels — is a very long time."
Montgomery weighed in at 334 pounds when he left the show and, since then, has lost more than 80 pounds. His original goal weight was "about 250." His official ending weight will be revealed during the show's final episode, airing live March 18.
Though he lost out on the chance to win the grand prize of $250,000, Montgomery is still in the running for the $100,000 "At Home" prize, which will be awarded during the live show to the contestant who lost the most weight since leaving the ranch.
Montgomery said he and Vest plan to wait until after the finale to discuss wedding plans.