Fitness trainer for overweight teens takes TV cameras in stride


John Taylor weighed 200 pounds when he was 9 years old, so he knows well the problems faced by the obese teens he works with at Wellspring Academy, a residential weight-loss boarding school near Brevard. What Taylor didn’t know when he signed on with Wellspring was that he would wind up on a reality TV show called “Too Fat For Fifteen.”

John Taylor and a Wellspring Academy student try out the
fitness equipment in WCU’s Campus Recreation Center during
a visit to Cullowhee.

Taylor grew up in a tumultuous household in Seattle as the son of obese parents. A sedentary lifestyle and a botched ear surgery that disrupted his equilibrium led to his weight gain as a young boy. As a teenager, his weight dropped as his family fell upon hard times and food sometimes became scarce at home, and as he became involved in sports.

After earning his undergraduate degree in Washington and a master’s degree in sports studies at High Point University, Taylor was hired by Wellspring, and he began working as a physical trainer at the company’s Brevard campus when it opened in spring 2007. Taylor enrolled at WCU the following fall and earned his certificate to teach K-12 physical education. “For two-and-a-half years, I attended classes at WCU and lived in Cullowhee, and every day I drove to Brevard to work at Wellspring, and then I would drive back to Cullowhee for classes at 8 a.m. the next day,” he said. “It was hard, but the people at Wellspring were extremely accommodating, and the people at WCU were great to me.”

Taylor’s life as a TV personality got going when the British Broadcasting Corp. came to Wellspring to make a documentary about an English girl attending the school. The BBC debuted “Georgia’s Story” in August 2009, and then sold the program rights to The Style Network, which renamed it “Too Fat For Fifteen” and re-broadcast it multiple times because of the program’s popularity. Filming began in January 2010 for season 1 of the series, which follows the journeys of five teens as they attempt to lose weight and adopt healthier lifestyles. Shooting for season 3 of the Emmy-nominated program has been taking place this spring for episodes that will be broadcast beginning in August. “Too Fat For Fifteen” is the highest-rated show on The Style Network.

Taylor’s day-to-day tasks at Wellspring include facilitating an exercise regimen for the students and teaching them skills they can use to continue their weight loss when they go home. Taylor said working with the teens while the show is being filmed “isn’t a big deal,” and helping them rebound from obesity from both a physical and mental standpoint is personally fulfilling. “I want to see these kids get to the point where they don’t have to adjust their lifestyles because their bodies won’t do what they want them to do,” he said.

Editor’s note: News reports in early June indicated that John Taylor has left his position at Wellspring and the “Too Fat For Fifteen” show to become program director for WellBalance, a weight-loss organization that focuses on helping obese youth. Despite that career change, Taylor said he will be making media appearances to help promote the show.