Million Step March: A Bell Rings in Wilmington
Million Step March: Mile 570
Million Step March - May 30
Million Step March - May 20
Million Step March - May 6
Beyond North Carolina's March - April 30
Million Step March - April 27
Million Step March - April 21
Million Step March - April 16
Million Step March - April 13
Million Step March - April 1
On The Road Again in 2008 with The Million Step March
June 16 - A Bell Rings in Wilmington
Greetings from sunny Wrightsville Beach, where my daily workout now consists of swimming against huge waves and walking for one hour against a fierce current and daunting undertow.
Last week, after walking 600 miles, losing 25 pounds, wearing out 18 pairs of sneakers and traversing 13 counties without leash laws, Kathy Higgins and I finally arrived in Wilmington for the spirited ending to the Million Step March.
As humbled and winded as we were, it was a day we will never forget. The day started in the parking lot of Food Lion (one of our sponsors), about five miles away from Riverfront Park in downtown Wilmington. There we were met by Bob Greczyn and John Roos, Blue Cross' CEO and chief sales and marketing officer, respectively. These two innovators and visionaries realized the value in the walking campaigns I had done in the past and asked me to join forces with them to create the Million Step March here in North Carolina. They laid it on the line on this one, walked the walk and talked the talk to show their commitment to getting people healthy in this state.
We were also met by four police escorts from Wilmington, various community leaders, as well as BCBSNC employees who had worked tirelessly on the campaign from Day One. The best part was that Kathy and I were also joined by various walkers from the BCBSNC employee walking contest. Each had entered an essay contest and won a chance to spend a week on the road with us.
Kathy and I really enjoyed getting to know these people throughout the campaign, and they inspired us in ways they probably will never know. Most had never even met each other (each had their own individual week on the road) and it was fun to have almost all of our walkers together on the road for the first time. Talk about a reunion! We were also joined by people like David Jones from Snow Hill. David was inspired by the campaign and joined us out of the blue on the road one day. He became a fixture at our campaign events the rest of the way.
The group left Food Lion around 4 p.m. and laughed, shared stories and took pictures as we made our way to downtown Wilmington. It was a spirited, festive ceremonial walk toward the finish line, to say the least. Before Kathy and I knew it we rounded the corner of Market and Water Streets near the Riverfront Park. We could hear the crowd and the campaign's theme song, "A Bell Will Ring." Hundreds of people lined the streets at that point, waving blue pom-poms, yelling, and cheering us on. It was an amazing sight!
With a short distance to go to the finish line, Kathy and I picked up on the energy of the crowd and began high-fiving the crowd lining the street. It was then that I made eye contact with my 23-month-old son, Desi James. He and my wife Julie were there among the crowd. Clearly caught up in the enthusiasm the baby was going crazy along with everyone else (I assume he was the only one yelling Da-Da!) It was a moment I'll never forget. I couldn't help but clutch him out of the crowd and walk with him right through the finish line ribbon. Of all the finish lines I've crashed through these past four years – including the Boston Marathon and the Million Calorie March – this one was my favorite.
Once on stage it seemed appropriate to reflect on the question that Kathy and I were asked at each and every stop along the way: WHY? As in, "Why would you walk across the entire state of North Carolina?"
I told the crowd that we need creative, innovative campaigns like the Million Step March that capture people's imaginations and get them on a healthy path. I also explained that inspiration, when it comes from unlikely people – Kathy did this entire walk pregnant with twins, and I used to weigh 400 pounds – can motivate people who have long lost hope in ever regaining their health again. And finally we did it because challenging yourself and staying in the fight are an important part of an unfinished struggle.
Thank you to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina for giving me the chance to recreate one of my greatest achievements for your state and for your people. I'm a lucky guy. I get to take a big negative in my life and turn it into a positive, and I'm forever grateful for that.
Also, a big thanks to the Million Step March project team. You gave me your energy, resources, creativity, dedication and your hard work for six months and in turn I gave you everything I had on the Million Step March.
To the people of North Carolina: Continue to focus on your health and stay in the fight. Take advantage of the great programs I know BCBSNC will continue to offer in the years to come.
When I first came here to North Carolina for the Million Step March, the folks at Blue Cross played me the song "A Bell Will Ring" by the band Oasis. They'd chosen it as the campaign theme song since it appeared in some of their commercials. I was not familiar with Oasis' music at the time, but as our campaign went on it seemed to make perfect sense for our mission: To light a fire under millions of people who needed a wake-up call to get healthy again. I'll leave you with a few words from that song:
A little faith/Peace of mind/See what passes through
The sun will shine on you again/A bell will ring inside your head/And all will be brand new.
Keep on marching.
All the best,
Mile 570: Looking in the Rear View Mirror
Soon, the Million Step March will take its final twists and turns toward its inevitable conclusion in Wilmington, N.C. One day very soon, after I’ve hung up my walking sneakers and road warrior hat for yet another campaign, I’ll lie in the sand during a late afternoon on Wrightsville Beach and reflect on the entire 600-mile, 75-day campaign of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.
And I’m sure while I’m lying there I’ll think about the people I’ve met and the places I’ve seen over the course of this journey, and I’ll ask myself one very important question: Will the inspiration and education of the Million Step March keep people in this area motivated long after Kathy Higgins and I have written our last blog posts and returned to a more structured, normal existence? I sure hope it will. Keeping the fire and staying in the fight – for your health – is an important part of an unfinished struggle.
You meet America when you do walks like this – you honestly do. What’s more is that you end up having a front row seat to the obesity epidemic in our country. You spend a lot of time walking through farm country, past the cattle industries, through the agricultural heartlands. Eventually, and in time, you find yourself walking down Main Street USA, past the staggering amounts of fast food and barbecue places, the restaurant rows and the grocery stores where most of the processed food ends up.
And finally, you end up at the campaign events like the 50 or so that Kathy and I have been to over these past three months. You meet the people, see the faces and look into the eyes of people struggling with obesity every day – and the 51 associated diseases such as diabetes, stroke, sleep apnea and others.
Finally, and not to get too deep here, it touches your soul. So where did our “land of plenty” take such a wrong turn? Well, that can be debated all day long. But in the end it’s up to us as individuals to take control of our health. It’s our responsibility to stay in the fight, to be vigilant about getting and staying healthy in a world of hectic schedules and toxic food environments. And no one knows better than yours truly.
The fight didn’t end for me when I lost 110 pounds with the help of a nutritionist and therapist. It didn’t end for me when I lost 40 more walking from Florida to Boston a few years ago. It wasn’t finished when I completed the Boston Marathon back in 2005. And it won’t be over when I hit the finish line of the Million Step March in Wilmington in just a few days. You take it day by day. You wake up and try to walk a healthy path every day. Some days you succeed and some days you don’t. But here’s the rub: You’ve got to make an honest effort of it every day. You know the future if you just give up.
The good news is, if someone like me can achieve health, then you can do it too. And remember, as I’ve said a million times at every event we’ve done on this march, it’s about the long-term fix versus the short-term fix. It’s about being around for your kids and grandkids. It’s about living long and productive lives – and about living life the way it was meant to be lived.
I know you can do it, North Carolina. I have faith in you.
See you in Wilmington this Thursday!
May 30 - The Long Road To Fayetteville
Up at 6am…Breakfast in the hotel lobby while I check e-mails… Jump in the Million Step March van with the gang while we head for the drop site…Ice packs on the legs while we do morning radio interviews… Jump out and walk 6 mile miles before we head for yet another live event.
With each passing day we make our way toward the coast and the eventual finish line in Wilmington. Ahhhh… Life on the Million Step March. It's invigorating for sure...BUT has anybody out there ever seen the Movie "Ground Hog Day" with Bill Murray? He basically lives the same day over and over again. It can be like that here on “The March” too... But fun! We've had great crowds at our events and on the eastern part of the walk itself it seems like every 3 piece suited executive next to every UPS driver next to every kid on the school bus is giving us the thumbs up. And while the trip out here from Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill was certainly a long one (nearly a month!) we got a great reward when we finally arrived…hundreds of School kids from the Bill Hefner and Stony Point Schools yelling, cheering welcoming us with open arms.
Our stops here are all part of our “Million Step Challenge” to the schools. We’ve started a contest to inspire them at their young and tender ages to learn now - rather than later - about the importance of exercise. Anyone who knows me knows the prevention of future “little Garys” is a big part of my mission...and Blue Cross, of course, has always been dedicated to healthy kids in this state as well. So for the next week the 2 schools will complete to see who can get the most steps in. They’ll learn about pedometers. And win prizes. And most importantly the importance of staying healthy long after they’ve left grade school…and high school…and college. Hopefully the Million Step Challenge and the importance of staying active will orbit their consciousness for many, many years to come.
May 20 - A Warm Bath Of Nostalgia
We are back in farm country now…or at least back in the woodsy areas east of the Triangle. Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill seem like forever ago already. All eyes are on Greenville…the next big prize here on “The March”. That’s the next big stop for the walk team and the area where most of our events will be for a while. We’ve come up with our own terms to describe this leg of the walk. “Farmlike” is one. “Forest Gumpish” is another which describes farms with their own family cemeteries.
Of course, I’ve been here before. Greenville, Wilson, Mount Olive are nostalgic for me in a way. I walked through this area and probably on some of these very same roads back in 2004 as part of my Florida to Boston “Million Calorie March” campaign. I recognize the terrain. (Okay and maybe some of the BBQ places...but I digress).
Of course it’s not 2004 anymore. The Obesity issue has really come to the forefront of the media and the nation’s consciousness since my first walk of the eastern seaboard four years ago. Our campaigns have gone from philanthropist funded grass roots efforts to partnering with a great company like Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. Books have been written. Movies have been made (our documentary film “Million Calorie March premieres at the Jacksonville Film Festival this weekend!) No it’s definitely not 2004 anymore. I’m a Dad now to 21 month Desi James Marino. He is what my health goals are about these days. It’s not about the “quick fix” but rather about the long term fix. It’s about being around for our kids and grandkids, right? That’s the stuff that matters. The Million Step March campaign is about all North Carolinians living long and productive lives.
See you in Greenville!
May 6 - 350 The Hard Way
We are walking east now in places like Garner and Clayton but commuting back and forth to Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill for events. The good news is that Kathy Higgins and I hit 350 miles this week and on a personal note I weighed in at 20 lbs less today. What is the bad news? We'll there's really no bad news...except that the beautiful, scenic mountains that surrounded us during the early week's of the Million Step March have been replaced by Belks, Verizon stores, William Sonoma's and Dairy Queens. Do we really need strip malls, specialty stores and BBQ restaurants? (Well - maybe the BBQ places...just kidding!)
The best news is that the area stops we've made (and will continue to make for a few more days) have been some of the best of the campaign. "The March" is in full swing now and it's clear that we are connecting with many, many people.
Following the 1/2 way point Rally At Raleigh, we made stops at places like Structure House - a live in facility for morbidly obese people in Durham. It was a chance to take my personal message and the message of the Million Step March directly to people who struggle with weight and the staff who treats them. We also did some stops at various Blue Cross locations where they cheered on one of their own: the simply unstoppable Kathy Higgins.
At Wakemed Hospital just today, I walked into a standing ovation and one of the sweetest crowds yet. Not bad when you haven't even said anything, right? Our group walks at all of our event stops have been a big hit as well. Dr. Don Bradley, who has been walking with us for over 3 weeks now, has been actually leading these walks...Kathy & I are saving our energy for the road!
We'll have video highlights of many of our stops very shortly. In the meantime keep your own health goals going and keep on Marching!
April 27 - Winston-Salem Rocks!
Greetings from Burlington...or mile 278 as we call it on "The March". We put up our first 20 mile day yesterday thanks to Dr. Don Bradley who has joined us to walk for the next week and who sets the bar high for us all! Me? I did my part and kept up. The old saying is true my friends...If I can do it you can do it!
This past week The Million Step March stepped on in to the Winston Salem and Greensboro areas and the energy and enthusiasm for the walking campaign caught even us off guard! Our events at Corpening Plaza, companies like BB&T, TIMCO and our appearances the Greensboro Grasshoppers game last night were a blast. People are inspired...which is what this campaign was all about to begin with.
Video from our event stops is on its way this week. In the meantime come down to our 1/2 point rally on Tuesday in Raleigh okay? Information is on this website and it should be quite an event!
BEYOND NORTH CAROLINA'S MARCH
Hi everyone. Greetings from Greensboro, NC and mile 280 of The Million Step March!
I thought it would be a good time to update to update everybody about other happenings besides the current "March". Lots going on with Generation Excel these days!
MCM DOCUMENTARY TO HAVE IT'S SOUTHERN PREMIERE AT JACKSONVILLE FILM FESTIVAL
Our Obesity film "Million Calorie March" is getting great reviews this year on the US Film Festival Circuit (and at our screenings here in North Carolina). On May 17th and 18th the film will premiere in the place where it all started four years ago this month: Jacksonville. Russ Surette (who plays the role of...Russ Surette) and I will be heading down to the premiere. The JAX Film Festival has turned into quite a good little festival these past few years and they are billing this as the "Southern Premiere". It will be great to see Generation Excel's freinds and supporters there again and even more fun to see thier reaction to the film. Most of these people have no idea what became of us after they walked us to the edge of town and wished us luck!
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RHODE ISLANDS "MILLIONS OF MINUTES" CAMPAIGN
I'll be making rare appeareance out of North Carolina on May 9th to help Rhode Island Governor Carchieri kick off his new campaign "Millions Of Minutes: Healthy Weight In '08"
We'll do some media appearences that morning followed by a speaking event and press conference at Rhose Island College. Of course...we'll head out for a group walk after as well!
Check out the website for more details
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MARCHING ON NEWSLETTER
The 2nd edition of our Generation Excel Newsletter "Marching On" is completed and will be distributed nationwide in early May. It's got stories on the current campaign for Blue Cross of North Carolina, The Shrink & Shrunk with Dr. Howard Rankin and other foundation happenings.You can also check out a copy here on the website by clicking here or visiting the Generation Excel section.
Hope to see you all very soon!
April 21, 2008 - Eight Things I've Learned on the First 200 Miles of the Million Step March
We are in Advance, North Carolina and apparently...advancing in Winston-Salem very quickly. We'll be in downtown tommorow AND we hit the 200 mile mark today! Not bad for a guy who wouldn't walk across the street just 6 years ago, huh? Who am I kidding...I'd get winded in an elevator back in my 397pound days!
So I thought the 200 mile mark might be a good time to share a few things I've learned walking across North Carolina for those aspiring road warriors like me -thinking of taking a long walk to promote a cause of their own. So here we go...Top 8 things I've learned on The Million Step March...
1) The Soft Shoulder is your friend
2) Sidewalks (where you can get them) are a luxury
3) Roadkill is a dandy appetite suppreseant (if you are trying to lose weight like me)
4) People in North Carolina are so nice they'll stop and ask you if you want a ride (unlike my state of Massachusetts where they get road rage when the aren't even driving)
5) Kathy Higgins from Blue Cross is an amazing lady and will walk all day if we let her!
6) BBQ is not just for breakfast here in the south
7) Sometimes you have to look out for 18 wheelers on the road...other times actual houses that are being transported via 18 wheeler!
8) Getting healthy can actually be fun!
We'll see you when we come to your town, okay?
April 16, 2008 - Good Charlotte!
Okay gang - forgive the blog name. A guy's head can turn to mush after 150 miles of walking! Well..the Blue Ridge Mountains in April were beautiful alright...but nothing like the beautiful oasis the skyline of Charlotte provided. It was good to finally arrive at our first major city since leaving Asheville over 2 weeks ago. And the crowd on the Green in downtown could not have greeted us better. There is a real momentum in the air these days. All of the Charlotte media came out to cover Kathy & I arriving. WSOC-TV, KATT Radio, 96.1FM the beat among them.
On stage, an eclectic mix of community leaders, sports personalities, Bobcats cheerleaders, local Charlotte types, you name it, greeted us warmly and asked for stories from the road. Our rally was a fun spirited event. That night we all went to the final Bobcats game of the season, and our campaign video was played on the jumbotron, Kathy and I were introduced at center court, all the while basketball legend Michael Jordan sat just feet away. Now all this was pretty cool...but you know me. My sights are already on the lights of Winston Salem...just 4-5 walking days to the north. That's how you do it here on a 600+ mile walk. You don't think about the distance. You take it a week at a time and a major city at a time. You do the math...12 mile days X 6 days per week of walking = 70 miles a week. It adds up doesn't it? And with any luck we'll see you in Winston Salem on Tuesday for another rally!
April 13, 2008 - The Urban Sombrero
After 100 plus miles on "The March" we finally took a big right hand turn today and headed south towards Charlotte! All things considered the walking effort is going good - just one issue: THE WEATHER? This is the only state I've ever worked in where the weathermen are actually always right! When they predict rain... it's rain. When they predict sun... it's sun. I'm from Boston, of course, where we are down to 3 seasons officially: Fall, Winter and road construction!
So it's downpouring today and we're walking on farm roads - but I'm wearing a plastic poncho (which is very slimming) supplied by Blue Cross and Blue Shield as well as my trusty blue "urban Sombrero". It's a blue nylon and velcro hat I bought at Gaylan's Sports Store back home and it's been with me ever since on every walking campaign we've done.
Add to this already impressive "road warrior" wardobe an iPod, cell phone and headset and I'm a hi-tech urban cowboy.
We are looking forward to the Event on The Green in Charlotte and our Bob Cats Arena event that night. Kathy & I are holding up fine and getting stronger by the day. I haven't had time to search for a scale so I won't be doing any "girth announcrments" - but I do feel great and I know I'm losing weight. We've also had great people on the walk so far. Interesting and fun people. Life is good onThe Million Step March!
April 1, 2008 - Back to the Front
Greetings from the front lines of the Million Step March! We are officially on the road with this first of its kind cross-state walk, and the energy and enthusiasm at the kickoff was infectious.
First off, Kathy Higgins (the lovely and adventurous soul walking all 600 miles with me) did three days of media interviews gearing up for the big walk. The media here in Asheville really rallied around the march. We appeared on radio, TV and in newspapers such as the Asheville Citizen-Times.
After a special sneak peek warm-up event at the Biltmore Estate, we headed to downtown Asheville for the kickoff. Our mobile trucks served as a background and staging area - and all of it against the stunning background of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It really was a beautiful sight.
Mayor Bellamy joined Kathy and me on stage along with Asheville business people and community activists. We had a great crowd turn out including many from the "Ground Pounders Walking Club" as well as the "Lighten Up For Life" folks from Mission Hospitals. They all joined us for the two-mile walk through downtown Asheville.
In addition to our Million Step March trucks, four police escorts also led us out of town, causing some stunned local folks to yell out "Hey, what parade is this?" It really was quite a sight.
Once on the edge of town we took a water break and thanked the crowd. That's when it got real for Kathy and myself. We walked (with a small group of five people) an additional 10 miles through the scenic valley towards Black Mountain. 12 miles down... 588 to go! Many people at the kickoff seemed to ask if we really were walking the entire way to the Wilmington coast - so I'll say it again right here on the blog - Kathy and I are purists! We really are walking every step along the way to inspire the people of North Carolina. And you can too, right in your hometown. Login and join the march!
On The Road Again in 2008 with The Million Step March
Well gang, after 2 years off the road producing dozens of events locally with Generation Excel and the "Million Calorie March" movie - I'm pleased to get back to where our passion lies: motivational, educational and inspirational awareness campaigns.
We have been working fast and furious in pre-production for the past 3 months with Blue Cross Blue Shield Of North Carolina helping to create what will be the very best campaign yet: The 600 mile, mountains to the sea "Million Step March". A walking and fitness campaign this time - it is designed to inspire people in North Carolina to build 30 - 60 minutes of walking into their everyday lives and live longer, more productive, healthier, happier lives. To inspire them we'll be walking 12 miles days through the mountains in Asheville, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Greensboro, Chapel Hill, Raleigh Durham, Greenville, and Fayetteville ending in Wilmington on the seashore this Summer.
Just another health and fitness campaign? Well, try this on for size. I'm on the road with the most dynamic team I've ever worked with it. From the CEO to the CMO down to the community relations, corporate communications to the public relations people - this health care company is going for it in a way which I've never seen. Joining us for this March is a state of the art mobile truck tour complete with lecture stages, multi -media rooms, kitchen demonstration truck complete with seating for 40 people, an attraction called "The Workplace of The Future" (modern treadmills equipped with hi tech computers linking directly to the million step march website). Did I mention the giant inflatable "Shoe Box Theater" for guest speakers and screenings of the "Million Calorie March" documentary? As if that isn't enough we're barnstorming the state with 60 interactive live events in a 75 day period. We're inviting people out via TV commercials, radio ads, an interactive website moving billboards, sponsorships, blogs, you name it. By the way - new website for the new walk is http://www.betterhealthNC.com or http://www.walk.millionstepmarch.com
And I've got company on the walk this time...in addition to an expanded road team, Kathy Higgins, Vice President of Community Relations for Blue Cross is on the road with me walking all 600 miles. She's a great lady and a wonderful adventurous soul. We hit it off from the moment we met. Also with us are Blue Cross Employees who signed up for the "Million Step Contest" and the chance to walk with us and work on their health goals. Although Blue Cross Blue Shield Of North Carolina is exclusively launching the campaign - it is not just for their employees or insured clients. It is a statewide initiative designed to get millions people in this state on a healthy path. Why here? Why now? Well the CDC recently released a study which revealed that nearly 25% of North Carolinians were sedentary. Nobody knows more than I do how dangerous that is and what a sedentary lifestyle can be to a person. Just read the chapter in my book called "Life, Liberty and The Pursuit Of Everything But Health" and you'll see why. By the time I was in my early 30's I was 397lbs, diagnosed with severe sleep apnea and looking down the barrel of a shotgun loaded with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and God knows what else. I was also a hopeless food addict. I prayed back then for community wide efforts like the one Blue Cross Blue Shield is launching right now. I know they would have inspired me to take control.
Recently in Pinehurst, we unveiled the new campaign at the company's annual health symposium. I stood against the wall listening to the CEO and CMO talk about obesity and people's health in general. I was almost brought to tears listening. They get it here. They really do. This is a sincere effort and an unprecedented campaign designed to connect with people. When they asked me late in 2007 to recreate my Florida to Boston Walk - I didn't have to think twice about it. The people here really rallied around us back in 2004.
On a personal note - I was always taken aback when I walked Florida to Boston at how many people thought I was doing it simply to lose weight for myself. No matter how many times I pointed out that the true goals were about inspiring individuals and imploring corporate America to launch awareness campaigns of this type - I always felt my message was lost back home. In the years that followed "The Million Calorie March" our foundation dug in deep, worked very hard and went on to help a lot of people. Some kept paying attention. Others lost interest if I wasn't out there walking or doing something colorful - if not crazy. Either way - 4 years later we are about to do it all again - but the right way this time. Like Bono sang "it's a beautiful Day". The time has come.
This is the right grouping of people, in the right state at the right time. In this great state and in this corner of the world we are about to take awareness campaigns into a whole new stratosphere..
And it's all going to start in the town of Asheville on April 1st. Blog and journals will be on this website as well as www.betterhealthNC.com
Pay attention. This one's gonna be a rocket ride.
See you on the road!