November 30, 2005 09:05 AM

It’s official: The Biggest Loser is Matt Hoover, 29, who on Tuesday night’s season finale of the NBC weight-loss series was awarded the title – and the $250,000 prize.

Hoover, of Marion, Iowa, had been a champion wrestler at the University of Iowa before ballooning to 340 lbs. On the show, he dropped 157 lbs. after several months of careful eating and training. He says the pain was well worth it.

“Probably more important than the weight I lost was finding out who I was again and I didn’t have to settle for the life I was leading, being lazy, stuck in a rut,” he said. On his audition tape, Hoover said his big dream was to return to fighting form.

“I haven’t always been big,” he said. “In college, I wrestled 177 and 190 lbs. I was an elite athlete. I once had potential, you know, possibly being an Olympian, and now I (can) hardly walk up a set of stairs.”

He credited weight gain to laziness, lack of exercise and eating and drinking.

Hoover told PEOPLE that he’ll use his winnings to 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, Hoover said. “I won’t ever get that big again.”

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