KENNEWICK -- Family and friends turned out Friday evening to welcome home Biggest Loser champion John Rhode.
Rhode made his first visit home this week after winning the title of The Biggest Loser at the show's finale Dec. 13.
He walked into the room full of well-wishers looking tall, dark and slender in a snappy gray suit and shiny patent leather shoes. And seeing so many people from his past to greet him put a spark of happiness in his eyes.
Since the win, Rhode's life has been a whirlwind of interviews on network talk shows from New York to Los Angeles, but he doesn't see himself as a celebrity.
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A year ago, Rhode weighed 445 pounds and was able to shed 220 pounds to become the biggest loser.
"I've been lucky that an opportunity opened up for me with this (win) and I'm determined to keep my life healthy not only for myself but for my family," he said. "What I'd like to do is some motivational speaking to help others learn that they really can change their life for the better."
Rhode's mother, Hazel Rhode of Kennewick, couldn't be prouder of her youngest son.
"John always had a way of inspiring people when he was young," she said. "He's definitely back in his element. And it's been wonderful to have so many of our friends and family together in one room to visit with him."
Even though Rhode has been dancing from coast to coast and hob-nobbing with celebrities, coming home was special.
"I can't tell how good it feels to be home," he said. "It's been a while since I've been here. And to see so many old friends along with my family all in one place has been fabulous."
The 1988 Kennewick High graduate lives in Mesa, Ariz., with his wife, Jill, also from the Tri-Cities, and their two sons.
"Life has been crazy since this all began," Jill said.
Rhode's older brother Jay, 44, who lives in Kennewick, remembers his little brother as hard-driven even when they were kids.
"Whenever my brother locked his sights on a goal, he always achieved it," Jay said. "I'm so proud of him."
Even though Rhode's life is a lot sweeter these days after winning the $250,000 grand prize and another $7,500 for placing third in the show's marathon, he is determined to keep his life on track.
"I've been training for a mara-thon, so I run daily, and I work out at the gym every day too," he said. He plans to run the Phoenix Marathon on March 3 and the Los Angeles Marathon on March 8.
"I got up this morning and ran six miles through Badger Canyon, and tomorrow I plan to run another 14 miles," he said.
For fans who want to stay in touch with Rhode's adventures, www.johndrhode.com will be up in about a month, he said.
Jill Rhode said her husband won't return to his teaching and coaching job at Desert Ridge High School in Mesa this year because he remains under contract with NBC for another year.
As Hazel watched her son catch up with people, she had a wistful moment.
"I wish his dad could have been here," she said.
Jim Rhode died last year. He was the parks and recreation director for Kennewick for many years.
"He would have been so proud of John," Hazel said.