December 12, 2005 12:00 PM

It’s easy to see how Matt Hoover got fat: This is a guy who once ate 89 Buffalo wings at a sitting. But how—and how fast—he slimmed down almost defies belief. In just eight months, Hoover shed 157 lbs. (and countless on-camera tears) to become the second $250,000 winner of NBC’s reality weight-loss competition, The Biggest Loser. “I won’t be at a bar celebrating or at the buffet,” says Hoover, who lost 109 lbs. during the show’s 12-week camp, then the last 48 on his own. Though he once lost a whopping 26 lbs. in a week, Hoover suffered an inauspicious beginning on the show: After the first calisthenics session with trainer Jillian Michaels, he was the one hurling in the bushes. Later, the 5’10” big man wept as he told how he regretted letting his once-athletic body get so fat. A varsity wrestler at the University of Iowa, Hoover, 29, once hoped to go to the Olympics, but knee injuries killed his dream—and contributed to his obesity. Now a college wrestling coach, this slimmer Hoover has earned the respect of his charges. “When I was up around 350, how could I tell somebody, ‘Hey, you’re 10 lbs. over. Get this off!'” With his winnings, Hoover, who lives near Des Moines, says he’ll pay off his student loans and buy a waterskiing boat. He might also think about investing in some new clothes, as his old size-46-waist pants are hanging in his garage like yards of khaki wallpaper. “Every night I look up at those pants,” says Hoover. “I won’t ever get that big again.”

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