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One Step at a Time

Dan Hawthorne takes control of his attitude about food

By Crystal Schelle

At his heaviest, Dan Hawthorne guesses he weighed around 615 pounds. He uses “guesses” because he wasn’t sure how much he weighed since most home scales don’t read past 350 pounds.

It took a series of life events before the Hagerstown native found his bottom and was ready to not only save his life, but to inspire others. And he did it one step at a time.

Nearly a decade ago, Hawthorne had moved from Hagerstown to Ocean City,  in hopes of saving “a broken marriage, trying to be successful in radio and to do something in my life that was positive.” At the time, Hawthorne, now 53, said, “everything was falling apart.”

To bring in money, he was hired as a department manager at a big box store and got a weekend radio gig with a friend.

But as his marriage was crumbling, so was Hawthorne’s health. “An old ankle injury was coming back to haunt me, so working on my feet was getting harder and harder,” he said.

The radio show he had put so much hope in, failed because Hawthorne said the station folded and his co-host moved to another state. He was falling into a depression as his life was starting to spiral out of control. “I just hated life. I hated people,” he said. “I became a shell of who I was.”

With his mobility issues, Hawthorne increasingly stopped being active. “For the next year or two I just sat on the couch, eating my life away,” he said. Sometimes he sat in his truck eating an entire pizza.

“I was just watching those happy people. I was really angry I thought, ‘this is not fair,’” he said. “I was mad at God. I was mad at the world.”

That was his life for a long period of time.

The break-through

Then one April night in 2011 when Hawthorne caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, he stopped. He turned to face his reflection and started calling himself every name that he could think of for about 10 minutes.

“I was enraged. I just wanted to break the mirror. I wanted to spit at it,” he said. “I was staring at what I called The Monster.” Then he leaned in close to his reflection.

“My nose was touching the mirror. Then I apologized to that monster who wasn’t a monster but was actually a man,” he said. “I said, ‘I’m sorry, Dan. I’m sorry for what I’ve done to you. We’re going to fix this.’”

Hawthorne said he also apologized to God and then asked for help. “That’s when I said to myself, ‘I want to do this somehow. I'm gonna find my way back,’” he said.

In order to figure out how much he tipped the scale, Hawthorne said he would use the loading dock scale at Maryland Ribbon where his sister worked. That’s where he discovered he tipped the scales at over 600 pounds. In addition, Hawthorne was downing a handful of medications for high blood pressure, nerve pain, and cholesterol. 

By then, he had returned home to Hagerstown to live after everything had fallen apart in Ocean City. His family helped set him up in a new place, but he knew that no one but that man in the mirror was going to get his life back on track.

“I knew I had to do this myself. No one else was going to help me lose the weight,” he said.

He started with the low-impact exercise of swimming at a local hotel. But when the hotel management decided to only let hotel guests use the pool, he suddenly needed to find another place to go. Hawthorne signed up at a fitness center chain, but during the walk around realized that he couldn’t fit on any of the machines. 

“Everybody was looking at the 600-pound gorilla in the room,” he said.

When he asked for a personal trainer, Hawthorne said they couldn’t look him in the eye. He was frustrated. He had finally made an effort, but every time he asked for help, he was denied.

That’s until he met Thomas Burge, Hagerstown Community College’s Fitness Center coordinator, who turned what he thought was complex — losing weight — into smaller attainable goals.

Burge asked Hawthorne why he wanted to lose weight. Hawthorne answered with “I don’t want to die.”

They worked out, slowly at first, then added more exercises to his routine and Hawthorne saw the results. “A few months into my journey, I realized I had lost a significant amount of weight because I could put my hands between my belly and the steering wheel,” he said.

It didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it took him three years to lose 365 pounds, which for the most part he has been able to keep off.

But that ankle injury reared its ugly head, and two years ago Hawthorne had to have surgery. “For eight months, I couldn’t even walk on it,” he said.

And with that, some of the pounds have packed back on as his mobility has been limited. It was hard to accept and a bruise to his ego, especially, he said, because he had been featured in local media touting his weight loss journey.

Hawthorne, though, is not letting that negativity into his thinking and is showing others that there are setbacks when it comes to not only losing weight but maintaining the weight loss.

“I’m trying to get more weight off again because I've not completed this journey, which I will complete,” he said.

Looking toward the future 

Hawthorne now lives in Winchester, Va., and ended up breaking into radio. He hosts a show “Blue Suede Connection” on 1330 AM, 97.7 FM, and 104.1 FM. His co-host Patricia Garber also happens to be the new love in his life. She was already an author before she co-authored his journey in “Man in the Mirror.”

As for his health, Hawthorne has promised himself to get back on track. And he wants to show others who are struggling that even after missteps it’s OK to pick yourself up and start again. “We have to believe in ourselves that we are capable of doing great things if we really try,” he said.