By People Staff
Updated December 01, 2020 04:07 PM
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Credit: Chris Haston/NBC, Marc Royce

When Newport Beach, Calif., social worker Shay Sorrells stepped off the season 8 Biggest Loser bus in May 2009, she stepped on to Malibu sand and ran her first mile – or tried to. “I didn’t come in last,” says Sorrells, then 30 and the heaviest contestant yet on the show at 476 lbs. “It was definitely physically and mentally depleting.”

What a difference a year makes. After a December season finale where the 5’8″ Sorrells revealed her 304-lb. frame, Subway made Sorrells an offer of $1,000 per additional pound she lost up to the season 9 finale. “No one has ever been offered anything like that before,” Sorrells says. “It’s the most amazing thing and I’m so appreciative because they didn’t have to do it. They did it because they wanted to and I couldn’t be happier.”

So on Tuesday’s Biggest Loser finale, Sorrells, now 252 lbs., picked up her $52,000 check for her efforts, done at home while holding down a full-time job, weekend job and parenting duties to stepsons Damari, 11, and Caleb, 6. Plus, the restaurant chain threw in a twist, offering to double her money if she completes a marathon this year.

“I wasn’t motivated by money the first time around,” Sorrells says, “and I’m not motivated by money this time. I want a new life, I want to be healthy, and I want to be happy. And that doesn’t come at a price.”

Granted, “I am a social worker and I don’t make money,” says Sorrells with a laugh. “So yes, this is going to help me in great ways. But first and foremost is my health. I have taken it one day at a time, I’ve given it absolutely my hardest effort and everything I’ve got, and you cannot do more than that.”

In the process, she has gotten her family on a health kick, too. Her husband Gene Jones, 31, weighed 270 lbs. and is now at his goal weight of 205 lbs. “We just had our second anniversary and we went for a five-mile run,” says Sorrells, “and my two kids love that we do family bike rides.”

To stay motivated, Sorrells keeps a photo of her doing that first Biggest Loser challenge on her phone. “It is literally another person,” she says. “It is so not me in so many ways. I couldn’t even run a mile a year ago and now I am running seven miles nonstop. I jump in the pool and swim two miles and then I ride 15 miles on my bike. That’s my life now. It’s a different life. I m a different person. Everything has changed.”

Although Sorrells did not reach the maximum of $100,000 she could have received, she enjoys being a spokesperson for Subway and prides herself on her realistic approach to healthy weight loss. “When I met boxer Laila Ali, she was 185 lbs. and frickin’ gorgeous!” Sorrells says. “I’m at a place where I’m at in life where I am happy and that doesn’t come with a number.” –Cynthia Wang

To read more about Sorrells and the season 9 finalists, pick up PEOPLE on stands FridayWhen Newport Beach, Calif., social worker Shay Sorrells stepped off the season 8 Biggest Loser bus in May 2009, she stepped on to Malibu sand and ran her first mile – or tried to. “I didn’t come in last,” says Sorrells, then 30 and the heaviest contestant yet on the show at 476 lbs. “It was definitely physically and mentally depleting.”

What a difference a year makes. After a December season finale where the 5’8″ Sorrells revealed her 304-lb. frame, Subway made Sorrells an offer of $1,000 per additional pound she lost up to the season 9 finale. “No one has ever been offered anything like that before,” Sorrells says. “It’s the most amazing thing and I’m so appreciative because they didn’t have to do it. They did it because they wanted to and I couldn’t be happier.”

So on Tuesday’s Biggest Loser finale, Sorrells, now 252 lbs., picked up her $52,000 check for her efforts, done at home while holding down a full-time job, weekend job and parenting duties to stepsons Damari, 11, and Caleb, 6. Plus, the restaurant chain threw in a twist, offering to double her money if she completes a marathon this year.

“I wasn’t motivated by money the first time around,” Sorrells says, “and I’m not motivated by money this time. I want a new life, I want to be healthy, and I want to be happy. And that doesn’t come at a price.”

Granted, “I am a social worker and I don’t make money,” says Sorrells with a laugh. “So yes, this is going to help me in great ways. But first and foremost is my health. I have taken it one day at a time, I’ve given it absolutely my hardest effort and everything I’ve got, and you cannot do more than that.”

In the process, she has gotten her family on a health kick, too. Her husband Gene Jones, 31, weighed 270 lbs. and is now at his goal weight of 205 lbs. “We just had our second anniversary and we went for a five-mile run,” says Sorrells, “and my two kids love that we do family bike rides.”

To stay motivated, Sorrells keeps a photo of her doing that first Biggest Loser challenge on her phone. “It is literally another person,” she says. “It is so not me in so many ways. I couldn’t even run a mile a year ago and now I am running seven miles nonstop. I jump in the pool and swim two miles and then I ride 15 miles on my bike. That’s my life now. It’s a different life. I m a different person. Everything has changed.”

Although Sorrells did not reach the maximum of $100,000 she could have received, she enjoys being a spokesperson for Subway and prides herself on her realistic approach to healthy weight loss. “When I met boxer Laila Ali, she was 185 lbs. and frickin’ gorgeous!” Sorrells says. “I’m at a place where I’m at in life where I am happy and that doesn’t come with a number.” –Cynthia Wang

To read more about Sorrells and the season 9 finalists, pick up PEOPLE on stands Friday