Of Sound Body
Carrying 280 pounds on a frame that barely cleared 5 feet 9 inches, Bronson Black was increasingly burdened by his size.
It was a struggle that weighed heavily on the Decatur , Ill. , teen-more heavily, in some ways, than the profound hearing loss he'd sustained as a toddler. After all, he was always able to leverage his love of football and wrestling to win friends with classmates who couldn't otherwise relate to the deaf kid with the cochlear implant.
But playing the sports he loved became increasingly difficult as Black began each new school year 20 pounds heavier than the previous fall. After starting on Eisenhower High School 's varsity football team as a freshman, he was bumped down to JV the following season due to his mushrooming mass.
So when the 16-year-old learned last summer that The N-Nickelodeon's network for teens-was soliciting participants for a locally shot weight loss reality series, Black pushed himself to the front of the line.
Producers won't reveal if he emerged the winner of The N's Student Body, an 8-week competition hosted by boxer Laila Ali that premieres Friday, July 11 at 10 p.m. ET [subsequent episodes air Sundays at 8 p.m. ET beginning July 13]. But Black's eager to talk about what he lost-a whopping 74 pounds during the 90-day competition, which included 11 other overweight teens from Eisenhower and its rival, MacArthur High. During the series, his body fat also dropped-from 31 to 25 percent. And since taping wrapped last fall, he's lost an additional 17 pounds despite replacing fat with denser lean muscle.
The idea of letting any child-much less one with profound hearing loss-enter the often-exploitive world of reality TV might give many parents pause. But Zsa Zsa Rendeczky, Black's mother, says she wasn't about to let her son's deafness prevent his involvement in the project, which proved to be family-friendly.
"Bronson has faced many challenges already," she says, "and I've always taught him to participate in the hearing world because, after all, the majority of people do hear. I never hold Bronson back to any adventures. And the weight concern was such an important issue that this [opportunity] was hard to reject."
During extreme physical exertion, Black often removes his cochlear implant, which was activated on his eighth birthday. In the premiere episode of Student Body, he shuts it off early into his first competition, only to distinguish himself minutes later as the first contestant to vault all 103 flights of stairs in Chicago 's Sears Tower.
"He would wear [the implant] if he could," his mother explains, "but anytime you sweat and the moisture gets into it, it creates frequencies, his eye twitches and it turns itself off. When he was 8 years old, I would shave the side of his head and duct-tape it to his head during a game to keep it on, and [tie] a bandana around his forehead to collect moisture and keep it from going in the implant, but it just didn't work. When it would break down, he seemed lost. And I said, 'You know what? He needs to play without it.'"
Despite occasional periods of focused silence, Black and his Student Body trainer, Sam Upton, established a soundless rapport. "I knew he could read my lips," says Upton . "I'd just get in his face and we'd look at each other, toe to toe, and I knew he was listening to me. Sometimes when he got tired, he would pretend he couldn't hear me. That was an interesting maneuver, [like] we were playing chess. I was like, 'OK, rook to pawn, dude. I know you can hear me, I know you're tired-come on, let's bring it.'"
Consider it brought. At a battle-ready 189 pounds, the senior hopes to play linebacker this fall. "I'm keeping my weight off," vows Black. "I would never want to go back to being fat again. There is no food that tastes as good as being skinny."
Before and After: Bronson Black lost 91 pounds during "The N's Student Bod" weight loss reality series.