Originally published on KSL.com.
SALT LAKE CITY — Provo native Bruce Pitcher’s weight loss journey captured national audiences, but his personal story inspires.
The native of Utah Valley was featured Tuesday night on ABC’s “Extreme Weight Loss,” but his story tips the scales as more than just shedding physical weight (his 201-pound loss is a show record however). Pitcher’s transformation included shedding the intense emotional weight he’s been carrying around for nearly three decades from being sexually abused by his father as a child and young man.
Pitcher began overeating as a coping mechanism from the emotional abuse poured upon him by a father who told him he would never be good enough and would never impress him. Even now, after having his father behind bars for 15 years, his voice is constantly in Pitcher’s head — hundreds of times a day telling him he’s worthless.
The two-hour special chronicled his journey from an emotionally fragile 29-year-old football coach who weighed 382 pounds to a much more stable, 181-pound motivational speaker who not only captured the hearts of the viewers as demonstrated on social media Tuesday night, but the hearts of the hosts as well — husband and wife team Chris and Heidi Powell.
“There’s things in my episode they left out but it would have showed how much they (Chris and Heidi) cared for me,” Bruce Pitcher said. “The other cast members will tell you too, they are even more caring and even more supportive than the show portrays. They still check on your everyday life to help you be a better person, and it’s just awesome.”
Bruce’s mother, Janet Pitcher, could barely hold back the tears as she spoke of the love and respect she has seen for her son by the reality television stars.
“There are no two people more real and genuine than Chris and Heidi Powell,” Janet Pitcher said. “When he was in the hospital right after his surgery, we were having a hard time getting him out of bed, and Heidi just happened to call right at that moment. Bruce was so discouraged he wouldn’t even respond. The next day we were trying again to get him up and he was so discouraged still, but when the nurses were in the room with us there was a knock at the door and Chris and Heidi walked in just to show their support. There is not a doubt in my mind they love my boy.” Bruce had surgery to remove excess skin.
The joy seen on his mother’s face goes far beyond the smaller number on the scale; the show literally saved her son’s life. The emotional trauma was so intense at one point that Bruce tried to commit suicide by hanging himself in the family’s basement.
“I can’t hardly do this without crying,” Janet Pitcher said. “It’s been a blessing because for a long time I didn’t know if I would have a kid who would come home at night. And for a long time I slept in the Lazy-Boy waiting for him just to make sure he got there. And now I have a kid that has a life and he knows that he matters.”
The hardest thing the Powells asked Bruce to do was to speak at his father’s parole hearing. Danny P. Pitcher was convicted of three counts of sodomy on a child, four counts of forcible sexual abuse, two counts of dealing in harmful material with a minor and two counts of lewdness in 1999. The charges did not include Bruce’s abuse. They mostly stemmed from abusing Bruce’s teammates on his junior high football team.
“I know that day at the parole hearing, a weight lifted off everyone’s shoulders,” Janet Pitcher said. “Because he needed to confront the one biggest demon of his life and he was able to do that. I just felt like that chapter closed and we are able to start a new chapter of our lives.” Danny Pitcher was denied parole and is serving a life sentence. He and Janet are divorced.
For Bruce, his next chapter includes being a voice for the voiceless and becoming an advocate for abuse victims.
“It’s incredible because now it’s a paying it forward kind of thing,” Bruce Pitcher said. “Like I said at the end of the episode, if you’ve ever been abused you can just stand up to it. You don’t have to live a sheltered life, you don’t have to be embarrassed by it, and you don’t have to be ashamed by it because that does not define who you are. That’s what I realized this year and I feel like I have been put on earth to give this that voice. I feel that God gave me this trial and told me I am going to be a voice for this because there are people that have had things happen way worse than what happened to me, but I’ve been given an opportunity and I have to make the most of it. If I don’t, then that’s on me and I’ve failed everyone else.”
For as painful as facing his demons was, Pitcher’s constant positive outlook was infectious, and while the troubled waters may have calmed for now, he knows it’s going to be a lifelong battle.
“I’ve found peace for sure,” Bruce Pitcher said. “But you have to remember there are still ups and downs, some times you’re up here and other times you’re down there, that’s just the way life is. It’s never going to be all hunky- dory, but you know, it’s different things that will be coming my way now but I know I can handle whatever it is now. I always say, ‘you don’t inherit your attitude, you choose your attitude,’ so that’s what I choose to live by.”
To help celebrate the transformation, longtime high school friends and former BYU basketball player Chris Miles and his wife Ashley hosted a viewing party in the River Woods in Provo for Bruce and 75 of his closest friends — friends he says he owes quite a bit to.
“To be the person I’ve been for the past 29 years, I couldn’t have done it without my group of friends. My friends mean the world to me, and there’s not a thing I wouldn’t do for them because they have gone above and beyond for me. It’s remarkable to me that they just love and support me and I feel like this year, I’ve finally paid them back in a way by making these changes and I’m happy — that’s all they’ve ever wanted for me,” Pitcher said.
While Pitcher always had a flair for the dramatic, his story now has a turnaround angle for the ages.