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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 01:21 GMT
Walker loses weight and finds soul
By Matthew Davis
BBC News, Washington

Steve Vaught by roadside - picture, S. Vaught
Thousands of people have e-mailed Steve since he began

It began as an unheralded coast-to-coast walk designed to help morbidly obese Steve Vaught lose weight.

But some 2,300 miles (3,700km) into his journey, the former US marine now has a book deal and a 700,000-hits-a-month website, and has been interviewed by Oprah.

Steve's three miles-per-hour journey through the back roads of this vast and varied country began last April in southern California, when he weighed almost 30 stone (190kg).

He couldn't walk the length of a supermarket aisle without losing breath, and he realised he was on the way to an early death.

So the happily-married father-of-two took the decision to reinvent himself for the sake of his children, to literally walk off the weight by trekking America.

Today Steve has lost 114lbs (eight stone, 52kg) and has less than 600 miles - about six weeks - to reach his goal, Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.

But what began as an exercise in weight loss has turned into a journey of self-discovery - and one that is attracting growing attention from all over America.

I've walked through the Mid West, the breadbasket, and it is one of the most unhealthy places on earth
Steve Vaught

Steve has had 80,000 e-mails from ordinary people with something to say about what he is doing, and has changed e-mail accounts four times to cope with the influx.

Dozens of newspapers, television and radio stations have taken up his story, and in every town he walks through there is usually someone who knows his name.

"Most people see themselves in what I am doing - they wish they could do something similar to get over their own personal plateau, whether it is overeating, smoking or just finding a way to live a better life," he told the BBC.

"But the more I have gone on, the weight loss has become secondary, and the more I have seen the value in the journey."

Steve, who grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, was once a fit, fighting man. He spent two years in Cornwall, England, as part of his military service.

But after leaving the marines, he was involved in a car crash in which two people died, and this sent him into a spiral of depression and overeating.

Counter-culture icon

Steve's online diary is full of reflective musings, both on weight loss and the quest to live a better life in a car-dependent society where, in many areas, junk food has become almost a staple diet.

Steve on route 66
Steve, shortly after setting out from southern California

When he left San Diego last April, he passed 21 fast food restaurants in a four-and-a-half mile stretch of road.

"I thought when I got out into the country, I'd leave all that behind," he said.

"But I've walked through the Midwest, the breadbasket, and it is one of the most unhealthy places on earth.

"You have all these rolling acres of farmland, and you can't even buy fresh fruit and veg. The last apple I ate came from South America - and it looked like it had rolled here."

In some ways, Steve's story is a particularly American tale of self-transformation. But it has also made him, to some, a counter-culture icon.

His new-found profile has seen him inundated with commercial offers - including a reported $5m to advertise a weight-loss pill, and offers to endorse shampoo, vitamins and smoking patches.

But he says he is unwilling to compromise his integrity by endorsing products he doesn't use.

"I'm not trying to be a hero or an icon to anyone," he says. "I am just an ordinary guy, trying to take control of my life and figure out where it went awry."

Inside the fattest state in the US
20 Dec 05 |  Americas

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