Two years ago, you would not have seen a young man walking his dog along the Handsford Road outside Oxford.
Two years ago, the most exercise 23-year-old Morgan Rushton got in a day was walking up the stairs to the kitchen make himself a snack.
That changed the day he stepped on a scale at the dietician’s office and saw a very big number.
He had become a very big man.
But too much food and a lack of exercise were only part of the reason for a weight gain of well over a hundred pounds since Morgan’s graduation from high school in 2009.
Morgan has Sotos Syndrome, a genetic condition causing physical overgrowth during the first years of a child’s life. This rapid physical development often is accompanied by delayed motor, cognitive and social development.
“When he was in school, he was bigger than all the kids,” explains Alicia West, the partner of Morgan’s father Glenn.
“When we found out that he weighed 418 pounds at such a young age, we decided it was time to follow the dietician’s plan,” says Alicia. “Because of his weight, it was hurting his health so we decided now is the time. His father gives him the biggest plate in the cupboard then puts mounds of food on it. I said, ‘No, this is stopping.’ We use a smaller plate now and I measure food on his plate.”
“The dietician told me not to eat white potatoes all the time,” Morgan says. “I’d never heard of sweet potatoes and when I first tried them, they were pretty good. I have those mostly.”
He gave up donuts and chips but still indulges his cravings for Alicia’s homemade cookies, particularly the ones with jam in the middle.
When asked about snacks, both Morgan and Alicia laugh in a way that suggests the question has struck a nerve.
“See, Morgan is a nighttime eater,” explains Alicia. “That’s what he had to give up. The things that he was eating were loaves of bread. We actually hid the food at night because he was eating the loaves of bread his father needed for his lunch. We have bread wars,” she laughs.
(That war is in the middle of a truce as Glenn is out west this winter working on ice roads.)
Cutting back on food and changing the food Morgan ate was easy compared to the challenge of getting him to walk three times a day.
“We had to motivate him,” Alicia says. “We told him he has to get up and get going, he had to get the weight off. We told him he was going to get sick, that he could die from this. That’s when we started saying, ‘Take Ralphie for a walk. Ralphie needs to lose weight too.”
Ralphie is the family’s two-year-old Basset Hound.
The hard work paid off. One year and four months later, after eating less and walking 10 miles a day, Morgan weighs 242 pounds. At six feet tall, a height he’s plateaued at for a few years, he has the size to carry that reasonable weight. He’s gone from clothing size 5X to 2X.
“I walk faster,” says Morgan of the other difference he’s noticed. “The first time I walked, I was tired and slow. Later on, losing more weight, I got my speed up.”
Did he ever get discouraged?
“Sometimes,” he admits, “but I just didn’t want to be overweight anymore.”
“He puts on his headphones and snaps on the leash and away he goes,” Alicia says of Morgan’s daily walking routine.
And yes, Ralphie has lost weight too
“My dietician is happy and proud,” Morgan says with a smile. “So are the receptionists. So is my grandfather.”
“We are all proud of him,” Alicia says.
She fetches a framed photo from the living room. It’s Morgan’s high school graduation photo from 2009. He’s heavier than he is now but not his heaviest. He figures he weighed about 300 pounds in high school.
“He’s small there compared to what he was,” Alicia says. “He graduated in 2009 then in 2010 and 2011, he started ballooning up. He wasn’t active. He spent most of his time after he graduated playing video games and watching movies. He wasn’t active at all.”
The fact that neither he nor Alicia drives means Morgan walks into town to runs errands at the post office and SaveEasy.
“Mondays, I walk to our mailbox, Tuesdays I go get supper for us. At noon hour, I go to one of our neighbour’s and back. I walk ten miles a day. Breakfast, lunch and supper.”
Alicia says he’s so devoted to walking now, he’s goes no matter what the weather, although when it’s really cold, he uses a treadmill.
“Lots of people see me and beep the horn,” Morgan says. “One day when it was really cold, Mrs. Reid picked me up on her way to Amherst. Sometimes we meet the Treat Man. It’s someone who lives in town and comes up here for a walk. He gives Ralphie treats.”
Now that Morgan and Ralphie are a fixture on Handsford Road, some of his neighbours pitched in to keep the pair safe.
“One of the neighbours bought him a vest with the X on it and another neighbour bought a vest for Ralphie for Christmas,” says Alicia. “They are well-fitted out for walking at night. And Morgan carries a flashlight.”
Losing weight and getting fit, getting out of the house and meeting people is opening up Morgan’s world again, the way it was when he was in high school.
“The walking helps him meet people,” Alicia says. “He’s not sitting in the house anymore.”
She hopes he’ll make plans for his future.
Morgan remembers how much he enjoyed his Grade 12 woodworking class. He thinks he’d like a job doing that.
If anyone knows about taking that first step towards a new life, it’s Morgan Rushton.