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Slim teen tapped to carry torch
Weight loss, attitude inspire others
torch bearer before
LeBaron once weighed nearly 300 pounds. - photo by Submitted
When Taylor LeBaron gets mail, he often finds packages reminding him of his selection as a torchbearer for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

But three and a half years ago, Vancouver, Canada, wasn’t the destination. Instead, LeBaron was huffing and puffing just to make it up the steep driveway to his home.

The 17-year-old Forsyth County resident has shed more than 150 pounds since that trip to the mailbox made him realize he needed to get in shape.

His weight loss, in combination with community efforts, positive thinking and environmental commitment, have earned him a spot as one of 10 U.S. teen participants in the Olympic torch relay across Canada.

Before each Olympics, the torch makes its way across the host country.

This year, the torch will travel 45,000 kilometers through the hands of 12,000 people across Canada. LeBaron will carry it for 300 meters at 12:08 p.m. on Jan. 18.

“I was very excited that I get to carry the torch, to think that I will be the only person keeping that torch alive for those 300 meters,” he said.
LeBaron will travel with his mother for his first visit out of the country.

Travel didn’t come easily in the past.

At nearly 300 pounds, 14-year-old LeBaron knew he had to change his eating and exercise habits for his health.

He created the Ultimate Fitness Game as his personal weight loss program. The game allots $2,200, representing calories, which LeBaron can spend each day on food.

He also added a five-day-a-week workout at the Forsyth County YMCA gym.

LeBaron prefers running on the treadmill while listening to Marine cadences. He said the music keeps him pumped up and motivated, like a soldier in battle.

“I feel so empowered when I can run down the treadmill and feel as if I’ve got an M-16 in my hand, and I’m going to defend my country,” he said.

Now in the best shape of his life, the 145-pound LeBaron has a different way to represent his country.

His grandmother, Mary Branson, nominated LeBaron for the U.S. teen torchbearer contest organized by the Coca-Cola Co.

“To him and to the family, the Olympics represents that Taylor conquered his weight,” she said.

Initially, his family didn’t understand how LeBaron had managed to get in shape on his own.

When Branson heard about his game, she suggested he write a book. As authors, his grandparents compiled the book and sought contacts for networking and publishing. But LeBaron wrote just about every word of it.

The book, “Cutting Myself in Half,” will hit shelves Jan. 4, just in time for others to make health and weight loss resolutions.

“I hope to get other teens on target and staying on target,” LeBaron said.

According to Branson, no publishers mentioned voiding the book contract if LeBaron regained the weight. After talking to him, she said, they realized it’s that he never will.

For every meal prepared at home, LeBaron has an index card with the calories and portion size at the table.

He always takes the time to measure out portions or look up nutritional facts for a restaurant.

He knows the exact calorie count of an apple (82) and a banana (109). He knows that his favorite drink, Coke Zero, actually has 1.5 calories, though FDA requirements allow any product with less than 5 calories to label it as having none.

LeBaron has gotten rid of nearly all his “fat clothes.” In fact, he cited the cost of buying a new wardrobe as the only drawback to losing weight.

Regaining those pounds would mean the embarrassment of having to buy bigger sizes. He kept one pair of size 44 jeans to remind him of his progress.

Years of memories of being an overweight child serve as motivation.

He noticed the difference between himself and his peers as early as elementary school.

“I once overheard one student say, ‘I bet Taylor weighs over 100 pounds,’” LeBaron recalled. “And I sure did. I weighed 132.

“It made me embarrassed because I knew that I was someone who was overweight at the time, even at such a young age.”

The teasing grew worse with age.

In sixth grade, LeBaron was humiliated after bending over to pick up a book. A classmate announced he had a double chin.

Such memories keep LeBaron from picking up a piece of pizza, something he hasn’t eaten during his transformation.

Throughout those painful childhood experiences, he has maintained good grades and his good nature.

He likes to remind people on his blog that everyone is an “amazingly amazing” person, but others may have trouble seeing that past extra fat.

For those who knew LeBaron, it wasn’t difficult to see.

“We never saw Taylor as obese because he was just Taylor, very outgoing and so confident,” Branson said. “Now we look at those pictures and say, ‘Oh my goodness, he was a fat kid.’”

The same sentiment was echoed by peers and instructors at his school, Chrysalis Experiencial Academy in Roswell, said director Richard Becker.
Chrysalis has given LeBaron a new environment where he felt comfortable and thrived among friends.

“All the good things [about LeBaron] were the focus,” Becker said. “What has really changed over this time is how he feels about himself.”

LeBaron is active on campus. He’s a school ambassador and a leading member of Geeks Get It Done.

The “geeks” repair and recycle computers, volunteer in the community and serve on the school’s informational technology committee.

On the business side, the club owns and operates a campus vending machine and sells items online, initiatives led by LeBaron. Fifteen percent of the profits go to charity.

For an “internally motivated” and “unbelievably creative” boy, LeBaron’s book and torchbearer selection were not surprises, Becker said.

Even when he was weighed down, LeBaron was never afraid to think big.

He had a recurring dream back then where he asked for three things: to weigh 180 pounds, have $10 million and own General Lee, the car from TV show “Dukes of Hazard.”

He’s far surpassed one wish.