Darlene Zackery takes a deep breath and then steps on the scale. She’s eager to see her progress from this week, and a line of men and women wait patiently behind her to do the same.
Zackery looks down between her feet at the scale’s digital display, which hesitates for what seems like forever before showing her new weight.
Zackery slowly breathes out, like a tremendous weight had been lifted off her shoulders – in this case, roughly 400 pounds, which Zackery lost over a span of two years from walking a mile every Monday and Wednesday and ramping up her weekly exercise routine.
One of the many diabetics living in Eatonville, Zackery is fighting back.
Eatonville and its residents are coming together to promote healthy habits and combat diabetes, a condition that represents 24 percent of the town’s population.
That number has the potential to get even higher. Out of the 2,500 residents in Eatonville, 65 percent are obese, according to a study done by the UCF College of Sociology.
These numbers struck Eatonville Mayor Bruce Mount in 2011 when he realized he was signing far too many funeral resolutions for families losing loved ones due to health-related issues.
“I found myself signing two or three of those a week,” Mount said. “Young, old, it didn’t matter.”
“I thought ‘We have to do something to get healthy.’”
In August of that year, Mount began to move his town in the right direction when he organized Walk and Talks, where residents can walk a mile with the mayor, discuss local issues and lose weight all at the same time every Monday and Wednesday.
The Walk and Talks started as an eight-week program, but the 20 to 25 attending regulars pushed for the walks to continue.
Nearly two years later, the Walk and Talks are still going strong.
“I love the Walk and Talks; I’ve been a faithful member for a good year,” said Linda Chavis, an Eatonville resident who has lost 25 pounds since joining. “When I come, it helps me to stay on a regular eating program and exercise more. The pounds do come off.”
Backing up Eatonville on the initiative is Healthy Central Florida, a health-awareness organization formed under the partnership of Florida Hospital and the Winter Park Health Foundation.
The organization provided the town with educational materials about eating right and helped establish a community group called Healthy Eatonville, which holds community conversations and advocates for health-related changes to its town.
Healthy Central Florida Executive Director Jill Hamilton Buss spoke about Central Florida’s desperate need to prevent diabetes.
“We’re not going in the right direction. Children are continuing to get Type 2 diabetes, which used to be called adult-onset diabetes,” Hamilton Buss said.
“We had to get in front of it, get out into the community and be prevention oriented.”
Earlier this year, Healthy Eatonville organizers realized that the town lacked a fitness center where residents can work out, so Healthy Central Florida reached out to RDV Sportsplex about building a gym in Eatonville’s Hungerford Prep School, which serves as the town’s community center.
RDV Sportsplex’s MVP Sports Clubs stepped up to the plate, and volunteered to refurbish a room into a brand new cardio room, complete with treadmills, stepping machines, cycling machines, new floors and flat-screen TVs. More than 100 residents came to the cardio-fitness center’s grand opening in late April.
Mayor Mount said that RDV Sportsplex also plans on adding a weight room to the town’s community center, and that the town plans to incorporate the new cardio-fitness center with the Walk and Talks to further their health initiative.
And a few hundred pounds lighter, Zackery is living proof that it can work.
“This can be turned around,” she said. “People just got to have the will to do it.”