New York acclaims the final footsteps of the 'fat man walking'

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If the majestic George Washington Bridge that spans the Hudson river between New Jersey and the Upper West Side of Manhattan experienced an extra tremor on Tuesday evening, it wasn't just because of some unusual pedestrian cargo. Steve Vaught may weigh a hefty 140kg, about 22 stone, but that's a lot less than before.

Rather, blame the scrum of reporters and camera crews tramping across the bridge with him, jostling to record his words as he posed beneath the sign half-way across that reads: "Welcome to New York, the Empire State."

His arrival at the bridge, after all, marked the end of a remarkable 3,000-mile walk across the United States that began in April last year. While the 40-year-old may still not be the skinniest guy on the block, he is no longer the fattest either. When he started out, he was tipping the scales at close to 30 stone.

His was an odyssey, however, that was always about far more than just shedding pounds. As he explained in numerous interviews and in the personal journal he updated on his web page,, it was also one man's quest for happiness and emotional completion after years of depression and depleted self-esteem. "I'm glad I'm here, but for me it's never been about the destination," Mr Vaught insisted as he passed beneath the Empire State sign. "It's been about the journey... This is not about obsessing about numbers, or times, or dates, or miles. It's just about going on a walk and sort of having time to get things straight."

MrVaught's difficulties began when he accidentally ran down and killed two elderly pedestrians 15 years ago. After a conviction for manslaughter, he spent only 10 days in prison. But he could never shake the guilt and went into a tailspin of depression. One of the consequences: he put on about 150lb in just six months and eating became a long-term addiction.

For years, the former car mechanic and soldier, who lives with his wife and two children near San Diego, in Oceanside, California, could barely bring himself to get up in the morning. "When something like that happens," he explained, "you lose the ability to care about anything. You don't put value on anything, because you know it can end at any second."

He hit rock bottom early last year when he realised that his obesity had made it almost impossible for him to cross from one side of his local supermarket to the other without pausing for breath. His solution: to cross from one side of the continent to the other. It was a journey of many highs and lows. He suffered stress fractures in his feet and kidney stones when he changed his diet after a 21-day break last November, at the mid-point of his trek. There was a moment fairly early on at a lorry drivers' rest-stop in New Mexico when he decided he couldn't go on and again in Texas where, after throwing his antidepressants into the desert, he holed up for seven days in a motley motel.

Some accused him of abandoning his children, Melanie, nine, and Marc, four. Perhaps worse, his wife, April, recently filed for divorce. "This trip has been horrible and it's been wonderful," was his conclusion.

It would have been a test of anyone's endurance. Mr Vaught spent some nights in a tiny tent, carried in his 50lb backpack along with water, a first-aid kit, his laptop so he could keep up his online journal, and protein bars. Other nights were spent at cheap motels. He went through five backpacks and 14 pairs of shoes.

Certainly, if he had hoped to serve as an inspiration to an obesity-obsessed nation, he never had to fear being ignored. A documentary film crew shadowed his progress for much of the journey and there was a book contract in the works with Harper- Collins, although that seems to have collapsed for now because of differences over content. He has received 80,000 e-mails from strangers while the website took two million hits a month.

The struggle with weight, he concluded, is also a struggle with the mind. "Being overweight darkens every good thing you achieve in your life and even prevents some things happening at all."

But his message to his fans is this: do something to make yourself happier first and the pounds will begin to dissolve. Or as he put with more pith: "Cure the mind and the ass will follow."