Following my hike with Chris in Bristol on the Saturday morning before Easter, I drove to Red Bank, New Jersey to meet the man who saved my life.

In December 2005 I was over 400 pounds, unable to walk a city block without stopping to rest, and had just spent the night in the hospital under observation because of chest pains. While there was nothing wrong with my heart, I was so weak the hospital had to inject me with a drug to simulate the effects of exercise instead of giving me the standard cardiac stress test. I went home with the knowledge something had to change, but not knowing how to change it. Weight loss seemed as much a death sentence as obesity.

After making the usual gestures toward weight loss every super-obese person does when they want to delude themselves, in January 2006 I was searching the Internet for something, anything, that would tip the scale for me. And on a newsgroup I found the postings of a man, posting under the name “Matty”, who was nearly 500 pounds and was losing most of his excess. When most of the weight loss information I found was restrictive, and emphasized denying yourself – you can’t have this, you can’t have that – Matty’s posts were about giving himself things. Small things such as pleasure, joy, happiness – things I found missing in my life. I searched through all his postings going back to his appointment to see a surgeon through his rejection of a cutting solution and his taking charge. When he wrote how happy and satisfied he was being able to mow his lawn I was hooked and a changed man. I lost nearly 40 pounds the first month……and 160 sixteen months later.

Matty and I became friends thanks to the Internet. He lives half a country away, so we never met in person. We kept in touch through each other’s success and setbacks. He lost 200 pounds and took up running; I became a hiker and cyclist. We both maintained our weight loss, more or less – some times better than others.

For a super-obese person who loses weight, its not just a matter of calories in and calories out. The bad thinking that leads a person to grow to that size has to be changed as well. And that’s a struggle harder than resisting a doughnut. In my case I never fully resolved my stress-release relationship with food, and that combined with my deteriorating knees led to some regain. I can’t say what led to Matty’s small regains, but he was struggling too.

And then the car accident came. In October of last year my friend was nearly killed while driving. And he nearly had his left leg amputated before his surgeon decided that if you put enough metal into the limb it’s repairable. Matty was bedridden for months, and spent more time in a wheelchair after his surgery than I did after mine. None of this helped his weight loss.

By March he was cleared to drive and so Matty planned a weekend trip with his son to a comic book convention near Red Bank, NJ. We set aside Saturday afternoon for a walking tour of the town.

As I drove out across New Jersey I wondered what our meeting would be like. I owed this man so much. Being a writer, I’m a creature of emotion. But when I stepped out of the car at the Marina in Red Bank there was no emotion other than friendship – Hi and a handshake. We had met before, just not in person.

Red Bank is a pretty little town. In 2007 my first ever bike tour was an overnight to Red Bank, and I had those thoughts in my head as well when I walked with Matty. We strolled at the waterfront before venturing downtown for dinner and a walk.

My friend did very well walking as far as he did with a cane. We kept the hiking to a mile tops so not to tire Matty or cause him pain in his repaired leg. But as we walked I reminded him “The doctors told you that you’d never walk again. What are you doing now?” We discussed our plans, Matty’s return to running, my hiking and riding. I think it was clear to both of us that neither of us fell or failed in our life changes many years ago. We only discovered, and are discovering, that its a lifelong joy. We can succeed as long as we want to. And we both want to. 
I’m going to Michigan, Matty’s home state, for a 5k run in March 2014. Guess who is going to run with me?