Life-altering partnership develops in HCC’s Fitness Center


(July 26, 2011) - In their first e-mail exchange, Dan Hawthorne wrote to Thomas Burge, “I am in real bad shape. I am morbidly obese. Depression and a long chain of events have got me to this place.” He went on to say, “I know if I don’t get my life back soon, I won’t have a life at all.”

As coordinator of the Fitness Center at Hagerstown Community College, Thomas Burge agreed to help. He had previously helped others in similar situations make some positive life changes and was up for the challenge.

Hawthorne, 46, of Hagerstown, had struggled with weight issues most of his life. At nearly 600 pounds, he was at his heaviest when he stepped through the doors of the HCC Fitness Center.

“I was really nervous about coming to the college campus,” said Hawthorne. “But, everyone here has been very positive and supportive, including the athletes, senior citizens who use the center, and even the janitors.”

Hawthorne and Burge have created quite a bond in the short time they’ve been working together. “Within five to ten minutes, Thomas made me feel comfortable. He said he could help me,” said Hawthorne.

In the four months since that meeting, Hawthorne has lost more than 160 pounds, with help and encouragement from Burge. “His state of mind was in the right place when he came here,” said Burge. “He was motivated.”

The journey to meet Burge began years ago when Hawthorne broke his right ankle at the age of 13. It was an injury that would continue to present problems, and was worsened by years of working full-time in a retail environment where he had to be on his feet all day. When the standing became too much to bear physically, he quit his job and ended up at home, depressed and on the couch. During that time, he gained a significant amount of weight.

“I was too large for a scale, so I went to go to the scale at the loading dock of Maryland Ribbon,” Hawthorne said. “It was very humiliating.”

Hawthorne’s high school classmate and HCC employee Ann Carbaugh knew of Hawthorne’s struggles and wanted to help. She contacted Burge and asked if he would be willing to assist. That inquiry paved the way for the partnership between the two.

“Thomas knows just how hard to push to help me, without burning me out,” said Hawthorne. “He shares so much good information and treats me like a friend.”

For the first time in a long time, Hawthorne feels as though his life has a purpose. “I’ve been given a second chance and now I want to give back to others.” he said.

He and Burge will share their story on a regular radio show on FTNS, Internet fitness radio, beginning August 22. “I’ve done radio in the past,” said Hawthorne. “But, now I can be on the air with a purpose, offering inspiration to others.”

Hawthorne has also been motivated through e-mail correspondence with Richard Simmons. He recently created a Facebook page, entitled “Inspire Your Journey,” where he shares updates on his progress and offers tips to motivate, train, and inspire others to make similar changes in their lives.

Hawthorne and Burge are setting significant, but realistic goals as they look to the future. They will continue to make changes in his diet and exercise regime. One year from now, Hawthorne hopes to have dropped to about 300 pounds and be able to run a mile with Burge.

“My overall goal is to continue my success and inspire others,” said Hawthorne. “This experience has been nothing but positive and it’s only getting better.”