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He started at 600 pounds, but Dan Hawthorne is now 300 pounds lighter

March 29, 2013|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • At his heaviest, Dan Hawthorne of Hagerstown tipped the scales at 600 pounds.
At his heaviest, Dan Hawthorne of Hagerstown tipped the scales at 600 pounds.


On an April morning in 2011, Dan Hawthorne walked into the Fitness Center at Hagerstown Community College and began a transformation that would leave no aspect of his life unchanged.

Although he had been overweight for most of his life, he found himself morbidly obese.

At the age of 47, his 5-foot, 10-inch frame carried more than 600 pounds.

But inside, he carried much more.

There was the guilt of allowing himself to reach this point. He no longer recognized the man who looked back at him in the mirror.

There was embarrassment when he appeared in public — the stares, the whispers, the jokes. He was reminded on a daily basis that he was different.

And there was the lack of self esteem. He had gone from hosting a late-night talk radio show in Ocean City, Md., to being unable to work. With no job and no income, he returned to Hagerstown, angry and upset with life and himself.

Hawthorne's acceptance for being obese was wearing thin. He knew he was spiraling downward and slowly dying. He needed guidance, he said, but few people seemed willing to help and his dream of losing weight began to seem hopelessly remote.

That was two years ago.

Today, Hawthorne is a new man. He has lost more than 300 pounds and is about 65 pounds away from his goal weight of 225.

"The plan is to be at my goal by mid-summer," he said.

Sometimes, he has to pinch himself to realize it has really happened.

Not too long ago, he said, "I lived in a man-made prison and only saw the ugly and the negative around me. I felt I was worthless with no value or purpose."

It all stemmed, he said, from the fact that he was obese.

Hawthorne had tried dieting and exercising on his own with little results, had sought help from a local gym that seemed unwilling to help him and was close to giving up when he received an email from a stranger.

Through a mutual friend, Thomas Burge, coordinator of the Fitness Center at HCC, had heard about Hawthorne's struggle to get his life back. Burge wanted to meet in person. No one would judge him, Burge told Hawthorne. They could just sit and talk.

With trepidation and some skepticism, Hawthorne decided to accept the invitation.

It was the first step in turning his life around.

Burge developed an exercise program for Hawthorne that slowly built up his strength and endurance. He also mapped out a change in eating habits and set realistic goals.

"At first, I was just hopeful," Hawthorne said. "I mean, I knew it was going to be hard. But, truly, the hardest part was having to face that 600-pound giant in the mirror and confront my demons. The exercise and food changes were also not easy. But I had such a will to live — regain my life — that I willed myself to do it."

Hawthorne admits to being a couch potato for most of his life, "so going to the gym every day was not part of my normal routine," he said. "But the more I went, the more I kept pushing myself and feeling my body change, the more I believed it could be a reality."

First it was two pounds, then 10, then 20 and 50. Slowly, he was losing weight and feeling better about himself.

"Words just can't explain it," Hawthorne said. "To have done this without surgery, crazy diets or medications has given me so much. I now know that I have it in me to accomplish in life what I've only dared to dream of. I believe in Dan Hawthorne."

Throughout his weight loss journey, Hawthorne has shared his story with audiences ranging  from high school and college students to business people.

"I share with anybody I can," he said, "even strangers on the street. I also answer emails every day from people who are crying out for help and I'll continue to do so for as long as I'm able."

Hawthorne soon will be telling his story to a much larger audience when a book detailing his weight loss journey is completed.

The book is being written by Patricia Garber, who had met Hawthorne many years ago through their love of music — specifically, Elvis Presley.

"At the time, I had been writing fantasy fiction," Garber said, "and had published two novels for charity. They were getting some attention in the Elvis world because they have an Elvis theme."

Hawthorne said he had received many requests from people to hear in detail the story of his weight loss journey.

"That got me thinking about writing a book," he said. "However, one problem remained. I'm not a writer."

That's when he thought of Garber and approached his friend about tackling the job.

"As fascinating as his story was, I was in the middle of writing a brand new book series," she said.  "I had my writing mapped out for the next year. I knew Dan's project would set me back a good year, not to mention — and this was the big kicker — I don't write nonfiction."

Garber did, however, advise Hawthorne to start a journal, which could be very helpful to whoever would eventually write the book.

"I hung up with Dan that day, but his story stayed with me," she said. "For weeks, I was waking up in the middle of the night already formatting the story flow in my head."

After weeks of battling her own self-agenda, "I did what was necessary," she said. "I called Dan. I told him the truth. I explained that I didn't know the first thing about nonfiction but that if he wanted to give me a chance, I felt I could do his project justice."

Garber said she began reading Hawthorne's journal and was pleasantly surprised.

"Dan has a natural, easy writing style," she said. "His voice in words is like that of a close friend. He's telling you something deep and he's honest to a fault. It just works."

Garber said the book is more than a self-help book.

"Dan's story digs into the emotional ups and downs of obesity, the fears that keep people eating," she noted.

While both Hawthorne and Garber are excited about the book, they need financial help getting the project off the ground.

"I'd heard about Kickstarter.com while attending the Willamette Writers Convention in Portland, Ore., last summer," Garber said. "It's a fundraising tool that helps artists fund the project of their dreams by offering them a platform to present their idea to their intended audience."

People can learn more about Dan's book by going to be the "Man in the Mirrors'" Kickstarter project at www.kickstarter.com/projects/maninthemirror/man-in-the-mirror-getting-my-life-back

Garber said the goal is to raise $3,000 "and we're nearly half way there already."

In addition to the book, Hawthorne said he will continue to share his story at public speaking engagements, inspiring others to make changes and believe in themselves.

"Talking to people and inspiring them is my purpose," he said. "People need to feel like someone understands and cares. And I do."

When he reaches his goal weight this summer, Hawthorne won't be surprised if there will be "some celebrating going in."

But he couldn't have completed the journey, he said, without the support and acts of kindness he has received from family and friends.

"We can't do this alone," he said. "Support is not only wonderful, it's key. I am a very lucky man to have the people I have in my life. This journey has been a victory, not only for me, but for the many who have been there with me, teaching me and supporting me."

"I love life," Hawthorne said. "I love people. I now enjoy the simplest of things, like going to a movie or having dinner out with a friend. Just the simple act of breathing is a real blessing. Heck, crossing my legs and just sitting like a normal guy is a big deal. It's great to be alive."





Photo by Yvette May/Staff photographer

Today, Dan Hawthorne is half the man he used to be. He's about 65 pounds away from his goal weight of 225 pounds. He is cowriting a book in hopes of inspiring others to lose weight.

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