Leading through inspiration: A man loses weight and teaches others to be healthy

November 28, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Hagerstown Community College Fitness Center coordinator Thomas Burge, left, watches as Dan Hawthorne shows a form of exercise to a class at HCC earlier this month.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

Editor's note: This is the third in an occasional series on Dan Hawthorne, who after topping 600 pounds has been on a journey to lose weight through diet and exercise.

Donna Joy could have found something else to do on a cold, gray Saturday morning.

Instead, she woke up early, drove away from her home in Little Orleans, Md., and headed in a new direction — one she hoped would change her life.

Joy had read about Dan Hawthorne, the nearly 600-pound man who had begun a journey of not only losing weight but getting his life back.

She wondered if she could do the same.

Weighing "x-amount of pounds," Joy said she has known for some time that she needed to trim down.

"But it's not a matter of just losing weight," she said. "I need to get healthy. I feel like I'm literally dying at this point. And I need help."

Walking into a classroom at Hagerstown Community College that recent Saturday, Joy discovered she wasn't alone.

There were college students, veterans, grandparents and children — some overweight, others battling hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and a lack of energy.

They were different ages and from different backgrounds.  But they all had one thing in common: They wanted to lead a healthier lifestyle.

And they were looking for inspiration from someone, who a year ago, never would have thought he'd be talking to a group of people about health and fitness — Dan Hawthorne.

His journey

Since exceeding his goal of losing more than 230 pounds in nine months, Hawthorne said his positive weight-loss experience has given him another goal.

"It's my desire to help anybody and everybody I can. I know what it's like to try to get your life back," he said.

After receiving emails and comments on his Facebook page, Hawthorne said he and his Hagerstown Community College fitness trainer, Thomas Burge, decided to offer support and motivation by hosting a healthy living seminar.

"Thomas is a giver and loves helping others," Hawthorne said. "So offering a program like this was a perfect fit."

About a dozen people attended the seminar, which Hawthorne and Burge hope will be the first of many.

"We want to spread the word that anyone can attain a healthier lifestyle," Burge said. "If weight loss is your goal, that's great. But we want to address healthy living, in general."

Hawthorne gave those in attendance a pat on the back for being there, noting they were taking the first step in getting their lives back.

"I'm sure it was a hard thing for many of you to do," he said. "The hardest thing for me was walking through the gym door. You're afraid of failure, afraid of changing your life. But I've learned from Thomas there's no reason to be afraid."

Teaching the tools

While Burge provided aspects of the program he follows with Hawthorne, he pointed out that "the way Dan has done things might be completely different from what you'll do. Use what you can to better yourself. If you can pull little things here and there, use them and see if it will be beneficial to you, personally."

But, regardless of which road you take to a healthier lifestyle, Burge said there are certain rules everyone should follow.

First, he said, have a purpose. Whether it's losing or gaining weight, controlling diabetes, improving your energy level, you have to figure out why you are doing this, "then jump on it and run with it."

You also have to have a plan, Burge said. "What is your goal and how are you going to attain it? You have to have a plan to accomplish any goal."

Burge noted you also have to have progress.

"You have to always be moving forward, not regressing," he said.

And what brings everything together, Burge noted, is consistency. "Even if you fall off the wagon for a day or two, get right back on. Consistency will bring small changes which will lead to bigger changes."

Burge also addressed healthier eating and suggested keeping a food log, where you can write down every meal and snack.

"It makes a big difference to read what you've actually eaten in a day," he said.

As motivation, he told those in attendance to post reminders — "photos on the refrigerator, stick notes at work" — that can visually tell you why you're working toward a healthier lifestyle.

To attain your goals, Burge said most people need a support system.

"Whether it's a group or an individual, there's got to be support that gets you going, someone who can help you break bad habits," he said.

It wasn't easy changing his habits, Hawthorne admitted.

He had fallen into a deep chasm of eating bad food, becoming sedentary and feeling sorry for himself.

"Now, in addition to the weight loss, I don't wake up depressed," he said. "I'm happy and realize it's great to be alive. Every morning I say 'Thank you, God, thank you, world.'"

Not giving up

Hawthorne said it's all about positive thinking.

"It's hard some days to go out the door to the gym. But I do it because I need to do it," he said. "And I know my hard work will pay off."

When it comes to exercise, Burge said you don't need to spend two hours a day working out or run a mile on the first day.

"I didn't move at all for a year and a half," Hawthorne said. "So, initially, Thomas only had me spending 15 minutes in the gym. But I had to start somewhere. I had to take small steps and work my way up."

Now, he noted, "the word 'can't' is forbidden in the gym."

Hawthorne shared his story of "allowing my weight to get out of control."

"When I met Thomas, changing my eating habits was difficult. I was always hungry when I first started on his eating plan. I didn't think I could eliminate certain foods. But I did and began to lose weight."

"We don't use the term diet," Burge said. "It's all about a lifestyle change. Diets usually fail for one reason or another. It's about making healthier choices."

"Does it matter if you screw up?" he asked. "No. You get right back on track the next day and you don't look back. The next day is a new day."

Burge reminded the group that being healthy has to be all-encompassing.

"You have to be mentally and physically fit," he said. "It's not just about nutrition and exercise. For different people, it's different things. Maybe you need to reduce stress. Maybe you need to lower your cholesterol. But all things have to be cohesive to be considered healthy."

Among those attending the seminar was Rachel Hagemann of Hagerstown.

"I met Dan in the weight room at HCC," she said. "He's been very inspirational."

Hagemann said she wanted to be in better shape "and I need the tools."

"When I heard about this seminar I was hoping it would be helpful," she said. "It definitely was motivational."

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