Salty soup and jail time — every path to greatness has some setbacks.
Robert Earl Stewart’s new book The Running-Shaped Hole chronicles the Windsor author’s personal reckoning and transformation after eating his way to the brink of death. At 38, he was nearly 400 pounds and so out of shape that talking tired him out.
Deeply personal and often funny, Stewart’s book spotlights the highs and lows with equal honesty. The highs were many, including running the Detroit Free Press Half Marathon. And so were the lows, such as landing behind bars after a confrontation over discarded protest signs.
“It provided for a great kind of central piece of the book,” said Stewart, 47. “I was in the middle of writing the book at that time, and suddenly there’s a big, exciting courtroom battle. It turns into a Perry Mason mystery in the middle.”
Stewart, a former Windsor Star and LaSalle Post reporter, started gaining weight in university when he traded football and swimming for drinking and overeating.
He remembers co-workers being worried because he was gasping for air after a phone conversation. Following that startling realization, he went to his family doctor. Her assessment wasn’t a surprise, but still hard to hear.
“You’re morbidly obese and it could kill you.”
The doctor sent him to a cardiologist. Scared and ashamed after that appointment, he sat in the parking lot thinking about his favourite burger place.
“I could see my order in my head,” he said. “It’s enough food for four people, and I’m going to eat it all by myself. I’m driving there, and on Howard Avenue, I just burst into tears and I couldn’t stop crying.”
Stewart changed direction and went to Willistead Park. He walked the perimeter twice. He was exhausted. But he went for another walk the next day, and the day after. He also started tracking his food intake.
By the time he returned to the cardiologist a couple months later, he’d lost so much weight that he had to punch new holes in his belt with a screwdriver.
He was still over 300 pounds, but the doctor told Stewart he was lucky. His heart was strong enough to do whatever he needed to get healthy.
That night, he ran from the foot of Moy Avenue to the foot of Lincoln Road, a total of 210 metres. It was the first time in more than two decades that he ran anywhere.
Seven months later, he was running 20 kilometres. In 2015, he ran the half marathon. By his 40th birthday, he had lost 140 pounds.
But there are still setbacks, even when he does everything right.
“I’ve eaten bowls of soup that have made me gain seven pounds just because of the salt in the soup,” said Stewart. “You wake up the next morning and you’re like, all I ate last night was soup.”
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There was also that little stint in jail. It was around the time in 2014 that some people were protesting city plans to install paved paths at Willistead Park. Stewart, who was in favour of the project, went for a picnic after the pathways were finished. Protesters showed up.
“When the protest was done, they threw their protest signs on the ground in the park,” said Stewart. “They littered.”
That didn’t sit well with him. He knew one of the protesters, so he collected the signs and dumped them on her porch. When the woman saw him, things got heated.
“She starts screaming that I’m a stalker and I followed her to her house,” said Stewart. “So this posse of neighbours starts following me.”
Things got more heated. The full details are explained in the book.
But here’s the short version: “There was an altercation in the street right at the front gates of Willistead Park. And I punched this guy in the face. And I ended up in jail.”
The Running-Shaped Hole is now available. The official launch party is April 1 at Chance Coffee on Drouillard Road. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.