The Biggest Loser’s loss was Craig Nash’s gain, er, really big loss.
Fighting Scots football fans of the early 1980s will remember Nash as the undersized nose guard who earned first team All-Midwest Conference honors as a junior and senior. It was Nash who was smack in the middle of a pivotal goal-line stand in his final game at Monmouth, stuffing a quarterback sneak to preserve a 3-3 tie vs. Knox in the annual Bronze Turkey Game.
By the time Y2K rolled around, however, there was nothing “undersized” about Nash. He was no longer close to his 215-pound playing weight at Monmouth, and things were about to get to worse.
“In 2001, my oldest daughter, who was a senior in high school, was killed in a car accident,” said Nash. “My grief from that ordeal sent me into a downward spiral. I used food as a comfort.”
When Nash left Monmouth, he had already started a family, and he decided that a teaching salary would not provide enough income. Drawing upon his ROTC experience in college, he entered the U.S. Army, completing a three-year commitment in 1987. He attained the rank of second lieutenant while active and was a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves.
“I left right before Desert Storm,” he said of his reserve commitment.
After a brief stint in Detroit, Nash’s major focus has been providing and promoting mentoring for inner-city youth in Chicago. He helps them develop leadership skills while encouraging their plans for college. In fact, he’s responsible for a busload of prospective students who will visit Monmouth’s campus in April.
Nash doesn’t plan to be on that trip himself, but with a 25th reunion scheduled for this fall’s Homecoming, it seems like a great time for him to see all that has changed on campus.
It would also be a chance to see that some things haven’t changed at all.
“Monmouth had such a great family atmosphere, a closeness,” Nash said. “You couldn’t get lost in the shuffle. I was exposed to so much there. My liberal arts education was an incredible experience. It really opened my eyes.”
At his worst, Nash weighed 420 pounds. “It got out of control,” he admitted.
Nash seemed to be an ideal candidate for the new hit show on NBC, “The Biggest Loser.” He was flown out twice to be considered for a spot on the show, and he said he was “devastated” when he was not selected.
Nash knew that something had to change and, after prayer, decided he need to find some resources on weight loss and apply them. He found a trainer to help with workouts, started eating much better, including healthy snacks brought in by a co-worker, and began exercising.
It wasn’t long, he said, before he “rekindled the fire” of his football workouts back in the day.
“I worked out like crazy. I’d ride my bike 200 to 250 miles a week, I’d walk to work. The pounds started melting off.”
Nash is nearing his playing weight from college, and his 200-pound loss has gained considerable attention. In fact, on the same day he was interviewed for this story, he also had an interview scheduled with a PR person from State Farm Insurance. The company’s interest in Nash is connected to its sponsorship of “The 50 Million Pound Challenge” (www.50millionpounds.com).
Dr. Ian Smith partnered with State Farm on the obesity-fighting initiative, and he and Nash appear together on a YouTube clip promoting the challenge. Nash, who is seen holding up a pair of his old jeans, comments that today he can fit in one of the legs.
“We just had a great time,” said Nash of the video session.
Dr. Ian liked Nash’s story, and he took it to the national level by recounting it during syndicated radio interviews with Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey and Michael Baisden.
“After that, the calls came pouring in,” said Nash. “People were like, ‘Craig, I heard about you on the radio.’”
Nash has spent much of his career working with young adults and helping them find the direction to a better way of life. Part of that involves making a plan and sticking to it and, said Nash, “Before, I’d felt like a hypocrite with the kids I work with, telling them how hard they needed to work, but then having my weight problem. … This all wasn’t just for me. I wanted to show what was possible so someone else can benefit from it. Anything is possible if you have the right resources. Look, learn and listen, and if you apply those things, it will happen to you.”
He continued, “Part of my story now with kids is the weight. Before, I think some might have seen me as the teacher in ‘Charlie Brown’ – you know, ‘Blah, blah, blah’ – but the weight kind of gets their attention. I’m trying to get them to aspire to college or to go into business – to change their lives.”
Loss of weight isn’t the problem for most of the kids that Nash comes across in his line of work. Rather, it’s a loss of self-esteem, a loss of hope. Nash has helped them get that back, first through the privately-funded I Have a Dream Foundation and, currently, through a federal version of that program, GEARUP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs).
“There are so many success stories,” said Nash.
When asked to pick one, he recalled a student he began working with in Cabrini Green, a Chicago development once synonymous with the problems associated with public housing in the U.S. The student wanted to be a trader and, thanks in part to a strong positive influence from his father, was able to stay on track, graduate from college and enter his chosen field.
“We’re still close right now,” said Nash of his relationship with the young man. “He’s still a trader, and I often ask him to come and speak to the young people I work with.”
In the 1970s, Nash was one of those young people. He attended Chicago’s massive Lane Tech High School, where his graduating class of 840 students was one of its smallest ever. Back in the day, Nash said, he was content to simply “get by” in school while serving as one of the captains on the football team. He hoped to get an athletic scholarship at a large school, but when the offers didn’t come his way, he visited Monmouth and “loved the campus.”
“I had so many great experiences at Monmouth,” said Nash, who majored in art and education, initially hoping to get into teaching. “At those big schools, you hear about TAs teaching the classes, and how the students never meet their professors. I was able to talk to all my professors and even go to some of their houses. I met people from all over, and I learned to relate to students from a rural setting, from an urban environment and from overseas. At a school like Monmouth, you get to know people and to understand them.”
Although racking up tackles on the football field and winning the prestigious McClintock Award were definitely athletic highlights, Nash said he also enjoyed the special bond that comes from playing on a team.
“I have such a strong love for my teammates,” he said. “Players like Robb Long, Jim Moore, Steve Bloomer and Tony Pounds – guys I’ll never forget. I remember one game in particular at Cornell. They were shouting racial names at me, and I was bothered by it. I mean, this was the 1980s. Sammy Hott talked to the refs and asked if they were going to put up with all that. I was amazed at how my teammates stood up for me that day.”
Off the field, he enjoyed hosting a radio show that played “everything – from Art Garfunkel to Parliament” – and he also remembers acquiring a taste for Malaysian food from dorm mates while living in a spacious corner room in Winbigler Hall.