Walters, who has been challenging himself physically and mentally for 15 years to raise money and awareness for charities benefiting children, has been down this road once before. In 2007, he lost 100 pounds in a year, going from 290 pounds to 190. He worked out regularly and watched what he ate. He's about 20 pounds lighter than his high weight when he started that year-long journey. But after he met his goal for the challenge, the weight crept back on.
It's a fate Americans can relate to from nearly every walk of life. At 52 years of age, his blood pressure is now high for the first time. Walters, who completed the Ironman triathlon in Tempe, Ariz., in 2015, wants to do that again this year. Having a target helps his motivation.
"This is something I need to incorporate as a lifestyle," he said. "Some of us are quest driven."
Walters plans to do challenges over the next three years with 100 percent of profits shared by three organizations that benefit youths—Kids Against Hunger, Confidence Learning Center and the Brainerd Public School Foundation. This year, 70 percent of the funds go to Confidence Learning Center.
For this year's challenge, he is going with a team approach. Jeff Olson, longtime Confidence Learning Center executive director, has struggled with health issues for a decade after contracting Lyme disease. His joints swelled up. Formerly a runner, now even walking became a challenge. Olson said when Walters broached the idea of tackling this together, he reluctantly said yes. It wasn't clear if he meant that as a joke or not. Either way, Olson, who just turned 60, is all in at this point.
Once an active person who played football and hockey and regularly golfed and skied, Olson said for the last 10 years, he hasn't been. He doesn't want this challenge—which they've dubbed Healthy Confidence—to be about weight or a number. He wants it to be even simpler. He just wants to move again.
"I quit moving," Olson said. Looking sideways at Walters, Olson added: "I don't know how he does this wacky stuff."
Olson said when Walters creates these challenges, no one believes he can do all those things. Yet Walters continues to put himself out there and bring others along for the ride.
Walters said there will be penalties if they fail to meet their goal weight, perhaps something silly involving tights in public. They plan to challenge each other. If one is putting in a 5-mile workout, the other is challenged to be active as well. They expect to post weekly eating habits and updates. To bring others into the mix, Walters said people can post their own goals and gain that extra accountability that can act as a motivator.
"I think the most important thing is just to get moving," Olson said.
Having a goal, he said, is a personal driver.
"I just want to get moving again, like I did," Olson said. "It's real easy to sit on the couch when you hurt."
Their quest, each with a goal weight they want to reach, begins April 1 and will continue until Dec. 20. So the challenge begins with spring and on Easter, two symbols for new beginnings and fresh starts.
Olson said he put on 70 pounds since he moved to the area three decades ago. His goal is to lose 41 pounds. Walters has a goal of dropping 84 pounds.
Olson said he hasn't run in 30 years but they both plan to run a 5k race. Olson said he's game for anything that keeps him moving. And he said the health challenge isn't as important for each of them individually as much as it is about helping others. "I want to show others we can do it in one year," Olson said. "But we want to bring people with us."
Past Walters' challenges
• 2003—Walters biked from New Orleans to Baxter with his brother Craig, covering 1,540 miles in 19 days.
• 2004—He lived nine days on a ledge of Brainerd's historic water tower on South Sixth Street for "Perching for Partners."
• 2005—Walters, with his children Jackson, Jessica and Reggie participating, walked the length of Minnesota covering 437 miles in 22.5 days.
• 2006—Walters swam across a rough Mille Lacs Lake with 3-foot waves. He covered 14 miles and raised about $20,000 in pledges. Walters swam on and off from about 6:30 p.m. Aug. 16 to 2:30 a.m. Aug. 17, spent a bumpy night on a pontoon and then continued to swim on and off between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Aug. 17 before reaching shore.
• 2007—Walters lost 100 pounds in a year, going from 290 pounds to 190 through diet and exercise.
• 2008—Walters and son Jackson unicycled for 24 hours around the track at Brainerd High School.
• 2009—Walters and Jackson traveled on inline skates from Brainerd to Washington D.C. as daughter Jessica traveled with them on her bike.
• 2010—Walters completed the Twin Cities Marathon in 6 hours and 32 minutes. He said he thought about quitting, but kept on because he wasn't doing it for himself but was doing it for Kinship Partners.
• 2011—Walters, along with Jackson and Jessica, completed the "Coast to Coast for Kids" challenge, riding 3,179 miles on bicycles on a 54-day trek covering the width of the nation between the East Coast and the West Coast.
• 2012—For his 10th challenge, Walters' goal was to raise funds and awareness for Kinship Partners and focus attention on being more healthy. He set up a trifecta of activities. The trifecta included working toward and keeping a healthy weight. He biked 200 miles during 15 hours covering the distance between Baxter and Bemidji and back again with his teenage daughter Jessica. And he completed the Twin Cities Marathon in October in 5 hours and 59 minutes, in time to qualify as a marathoner.
• 2013—Walters swam across Loch Ness in Scotland to prove once and for all if the fabled monster has any interest in a man from Minnesota clad in a wetsuit. Nessie didn't. Walters said the Scottish people were great and he learned the benefit of making everything an adventure. The event raised $11,100 for Kinship Partners.
• 2014—Walters takes on Ironman triathlon in Tempe, Ariz. His day ended earlier than he hoped, but he signed up for the 2015 Ironman the next day.
• 2015—Walters takes on Ironman triathlon in Tempe, Ariz. At the end of more than a 16.5-hour day he hears, "Gary Walters, you are an Ironman."
• 2016—30 challenges in 30 days.
• 2017—A 200-mile journey from Baxter to Bemidji and back in a colorful but nearly 300-pound metal wheel that was commonly referred to as the human hamster wheel.
• Go to www.thatguyadventures.org for more information.