One long walk

Gary Long, of St. Louis, Mo. and Judi Herring, of Jacksonville Fla., walk east on US-84 outside of Clovis on Friday morning. Long started his journey at almost 400 pounds. As of Friday, October 13, he weighed 245 pounds. CNJ photo: Andy DeLisle

Interview by Andy DeLisle

Editor’s note: Gary Long of St. Louis, Mo., is walking across America to lose weight and bring attention to obesity. CNJ photographer Andy DeLisle caught up with him this week when he was in Clovis. What follows is Long’s first-person story.

I spent 21 years in the Army, so I was a fit man for the majority of my life. I was even a drill sergeant for three years.

When I got out of the Army in 1994, I started driving an 18-wheeler. Over a nine-year period, I ballooned to nearly 400 pounds. I never did get my exact weight when I was that heavy. I know later, after I had been dieting for three months, I weighed 380.

After about six years driving a truck, I had a heart attack. I couldn’t work. I slowly got better, but then I learned I had an enlarged heart, diabetes, high blood pressure and acid reflux. I had every fat man disease you could imagine.

My condition kept getting worse. At Christmas last year, I couldn’t even walk across Wal-Mart. My legs weren’t strong enough. I couldn’t put my clothes on. I couldn’t put my shoes on. I was in terrible shape.

My wife, having a nursing background, kept telling me I was going to die if I didn’t do something to lose weight. But I realized my problem was that I was a binge, or closet, eater.

During the day, I would eat salads and things like that. When I would get home at night, I would make excuses to my wife to stay up after she would go to bed.

I’d give it a little while, and then I’d eat everything in the refrigerator. One day, my wife said she wasn’t going to put my shoes on anymore. So I went and bought a pair of slip-ons. The next day, I couldn’t find them. She’d thrown them away. She quit buying groceries and started confronting me about my problem.

It hit me. What am I doing? Food has become such an addiction to me. I’m destroying not just my life but my wife’s life too. So around Christmas I woke up and told my wife, “This may sound crazy, but I’m going to start walking today and I’m not going to quit until I lose all this weight.”

I guess she thought I was kidding.

I told her I’d rather die out there trying to lose this weight than die on the couch with an empty pizza box beside me.

I started walking that Christmas day. The first day I walked about 1/4 mile. I couldn’t even do that with out sitting down.

After a few weeks, I was walking up to a couple miles. After about a month, I could actually do 10 miles without sitting down. Somewhere around the end of January, I heard about another obese guy out in California who was walking across America. I thought, “I can do that.”

Editor’s note: Long said he left Feb. 15 for New York City. After arriving in New York, Long flew to Las Angeles and started home to St. Louis. As of Oct. 13, he weighed 245 pounds.