Dan Hawthorne discusses his 250-pound weight-loss with South High students

March 02, 2012|By MARIE GILBERT |

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

Dan Hawthorne stood in the auditorium at South Hagerstown High School on a recent afternoon and looked out into a sea of young faces.

He had sat in those same seats almost 30 years ago — a young student, he recalled, "who was lucky to get by with Cs and an occasional B."

Back then, he wasn't particularly interested in what was going on in the classroom.

Instead, he said, his thoughts would drift to the school lunch menu and whether he would get the hot or cold plate that day.

"Nutrition and health never entered my mind as a teenager," Hawthorne admitted.

If they had, he might not have followed a pattern of fast food and inactivity that led him to weigh, at one time, more than 600 pounds.

But that was the past.

For almost a year, Hawthorne has been working with Thomas Burge, coordinator of the Fitness Center at Hagerstown Community College, to lose weight and regain his life.

To date, he has lost a little more than 250 pounds.

Hawthorne considers himself a new man and never wants to go back to the individual who was out of control — an individual, he said, who had trouble facing himself in the mirror.

And because he knows others are struggling with similar issues, he has willingly shared his story with the public.

But his recent appearance at South High was before a new audience — young people.

Over the past months, Hawthorne's story had caught the attention of Audra Nichols, secretary/CNA with the Washington County Health Department's School Based Wellness Centers.

"I read the newspaper articles about Dan's journey and thought he was inspirational," she said.

Nichols believed his story of hard work and dedication could be helpful to teenagers, the segment of the population not always known for making healthy choices.

So she contacted Hawthorne on Facebook in January "and that is where our journey began for the School Based Wellness Centers."

Nichols said the Wellness Center is a health clinic within a school that offers additional on-site health care provided by a medical staff.

Centers are offered at several schools in Washington County.

"We have been focusing on obesity, nutrition and physical fitness and I thought Dan and Thomas would be perfect to get the students motivated," she said.

Hawthorne's first stop was at his alma mater, South High, several weeks ago. He and Burge will also present programs this month at Williamsport.

The goal of the presentations, Nichols said,  "is to promote healthy lifestyles and choices."

While he was flattered by the invitation, Hawthorne said "my initial reaction to going to a high school was 'OK, this is a younger group. There may be some who would laugh and not take it seriously.'"

Hawthorne said Burge, however, was immediately onboard. "That's his element — talking to young people. But I was a little nervous."

Eventually, Hawthorne said he decided not to let "silly fears and apprehensions" get in the way of helping others.

"If we can get our message out and help even one or two young people to start thinking about healthier choices, get them started thinking more about the importance of good food and exercise, then it will be well worth it," he noted.

The two men were asked to present the same program on two different days, speaking to about 50 students in each group.

Hawthorne shared his story, showed slides of his weight transformation and answered questions.

Burge addressed the group on how to make healthy choices — from selecting the right foods and drinking more water to getting enough sleep and becoming more active. He also involved the students in several exercise routines.

"We wanted them to see that exercise can be fun and you don't need real expensive machines and gyms to do it," Hawthorne said.

Hawthorne said there were several points they wanted to stress to the group:

"First, it starts now. What you do today will affect you the rest of your life. Second, it's really easy to fall into bad habits and abuse your life. Don't let that happen to you. And third, hard work and determination with exercise and good food choices can be done at any age — and you'll see amazing results when you practice them. Just say McNo."

"Our message is simple," Burge said. "What you do today will affect you the rest of your life, both physically and mentally. Everything correlates — mental happiness, physical health and nutrition."

But everyone has the ability to overcome whatever hurdle is in their way, he added. "You have to find the mental desire and take time out for yourself. Dan has become a great example of perseverance and hard work and what it can do for you in a relatively short period of time. It's important to be well and give back to yourself. You deserve it."

Both men consider the sessions at South High a success.

"Thomas and I were very pleased to see the kids take an interest in everything," Hawthorne said. "I was concerned a bit that maybe my story wouldn't be helpful to them or they wouldn't care. But I could read their eyes as I was talking and could see that it was touching many of them. They had some great questions and comments."

Hawthorne said several of the students came to the duo's Facebook page, "Getting My Life Back," and thanked them for coming to South High.

"They added some support and kind words," he said.

"Many of the students also thanked Thomas and me after the classes and I even got a hug," Hawthorne said. "That was amazing — that they appreciated what we did and shared. I was very proud to go back to my old school and get such a fantastic response."

Hawthorne said he continues to work hard at losing weight and staying healthy and is proud of the 250-plus pounds that he has shed.

"I'm wearing shirts I haven't worn in 15 years," he said. "And I breathe and walk so much better."

He and Burge continue to set goals, Hawthorne noted. His new one is to be as close to 300 pounds as possible by his birthday on June 5, which he believes is doable.

"I'm losing about 2 to 3 pounds a week, which is a very healthy number," he said.

But the weight loss isn't the only positive change in his life.

"I really feel a part of this great community again," he said. "We've been sharing my journey with so many people. Give back, pay it forward. That's my direction, that's my goal. It took me over 40 years and a serious wake-up call to find my purpose. But I think I've found it."

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