(Original article appeared in Imagine News magazine’s Development in 2005)
by Carl Hansen
Gary Marino has a big story to tell, literally. In 2001, he was 37, 5’9”, and weighed 397 pounds. Depressed with his condition for most of his life, he only saw his weight as something negative. But then he decided to turn a negative into a positive and do something about his health; he planned to take his morbidly obese body on the road with a 1,200-mile walk from Jacksonville, Florida to Boston, Massachusetts. He would call it the Million Calorie March.
Marino started shooting video of his training and put together a fundraising video to show potential investors who might be interested in sponsoring the walk. “We got such a positive reaction from people who saw the video,” Marino says, that it inspired him to document his progress and take a camera on the road with him. “I knew if I did the walk, that it would make a great film.”
Though this didn’t start out as a filmmaking adventure. This was a personal journey to bring awareness to a problem that affects a majority of the U.S. population. Sixty-five percent of Americans are overweight and the numbers are increasing. “I didn’t do the walk to lose weight,” admits Marino, “it was an awareness campaign.”
But then September 11, 2001 hit. And the walk, which was scheduled to begin in January 2002 was put on hold. But Marino didn’t stop his training or rolling tape on his weight-loss progress. By the time the walk finally kicked-off in June March 2004, he had shed 130 pounds by eating right and exercising. His words of wisdom: “The old-fashioned way still works.”
Before the walk began, Marino placed an ad on Craigslist.com, an online bulletin board of everything and anything, searching for a cameraman to go on the road with him. Dan Jones, a recent graduate of Hunter’s College in Manhattan, was so eager that he traveled all the way to Boston to meet Marino. Jones made such an impression on Marino that he was hired as Cameraman/Cook. The road team was so small that each member had to wear multiple hats.
Marino weighed-in on national television on “Live with Regis and Kelly to start his walk. Each day was scheduled and planned to accommodate morning radio interviews and roughly twenty miles of walking while also talking on his cell phone to local press and planning upcoming events. Marino would sometimes stop and speak at schools or other venues along the way to promote his campaign and inspire people to maintain their health and lose weight. Evenings were often filled with motivational speeches and special appearances in the towns where Marino walked. All this while editing his upcoming book and writing daily logs for his website and his sponsors. The Million Calorie March message reached an estimated 70 million people, including stories on Fox News and in People Magazine and USA Today.
When all was walked and done, Marino had lost an additional 45 pounds, and had almost as many hours of video footage to pore through. “I was not hell bent on making the next SUPER SIZE ME,” Marino says of the obvious comparisons to Morgan Spurlock’s Oscar-nominated documentary from 2004. The MILLION CALORIE MARCH film will do more than just identify the problem of obesity, it will show what someone can do to combat it.
“The true harsh reality,” says Marino, is that “it’s a struggle the whole way.” In America we’re always looking for the quick fix, but it’s not easy to lose weight. He hopes that the film will show how much good eating right and exercising can do and perhaps help others be more compassionate to people who are obese.
While the editing process has just begun on the film, Gary Marino is far from finished with his new role as role model. He started a non-profit organization, Generation Excel, to help children and adults make healthy food decisions and promote physical fitness. There is a sponsored Father’s Day walk planned around the Charles River in June and his book, “Big & Tall Chronicles: Misadventures of a Lifelong Food Addict,” is scheduled to hit the shelves at Barnes & Noble in March.