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ruby1On D.C. Walk, Fans Aim to Share Overweight Star’s Burden

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By Kate Kilpatrick
The Washington Post

About 60 people gathered at Georgetown University this weekend to join an immense woman who is one of America’s latest reality-TV stars as she attempted to walk a mile. The first obstacle: A set of eight concrete steps.

Reality-TV junkies know Ruby Gettinger as the redheaded, Southern-tea-sweet Savannah, Ga., woman who’s documenting her personal struggle with obesity — she weighed more than 700 pounds at her heaviest — on national television. The show “Ruby” debuted in November as the Style Network’s highest-rated original series premiere ever, attracting 545,000 viewers. The Sunday-night series regularly drew nearly 400,000 viewers throughout Season 1, according to the network.

Season 2 begins airing July 5, and so the Style Network organized “Ruby’s Walk Across America” to help promote it.

Fans who, during the first season, watched Gettinger get winded after just a few steps on her treadmill would fall off their sofas to learn she is walking across the country — except she’s not. As is often the case with reality TV, the reality part is fudgable. The “Walk Across America” is actually only five miles — one mile in each of five cities. The walk(s) started in Philadelphia in May. The District is Gettinger’s second stop before heading to New York, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

Having not yet reached her goal of wearing pants, Gettinger shows up in Washington wearing an ankle-length black dress with black sneakers, a pink baseball cap and a white button-down shirt tied at the waist.

Right away, fans begin sharing their personal stories of weight gains and losses. “They say I’m inspiring them but actually they’re inspiring me,” Gettinger says.

Should we be surprised that this woman — unemployed, overweight, unlucky in love — has fans, many of whom got up early to join her at 9 a.m. Saturday at the gates to Georgetown University?

Overweight contestants on “The Biggest Loser” take to the scales each week in front of nearly 10 million anxious viewers, while glossy magazines regularly feature a celeb’s flabby thighs on the cover: Buy the mag and you can see which A-lister hasn’t been keeping up with her squat thrusts. Lose the saggy arms and love handles and you too can be red-carpet-ready, or the next great American hero/huckster, e.g., Jared the Subway Guy.

Dee Webb, 49, of Baltimore, had been reminding herself of the walk for weeks and was clear about her own weight-loss goals.

“I want to weigh something with a one in the front, and I want to wear something with a one in the front,” she says. “It’s been at least 25 years — and probably more than that — that I can say either of those things.”

Gettinger isn’t a busty, back-stabbing, gold-digging O.C. wife or a sniffly top-model wannabe. This is an inspirational branch of reality TV. One of her goals is to fit into a bathtub.

“My friends take tub baths with candles around them and they say it’s sooooo relaxing,” Gettinger says.

“I’m hoping she gets down into the 200s,” says another fan, Birgitte Newman, of Gaithersburg. “She’s come so far. I don’t know what her magic number is — just to where she feels normal and healthy and happy.”

At the start of Season 1, Ruby weighed about 500 pounds. She’s since dropped to nearly 350 by sticking (for the most part) to a diet plan, working out with a personal trainer and seeing a therapist regularly. Rounding out her support network are her two roommates, nephew Jim and guy-friend Jeff, and her best girlfriends Georgia and Brittany. Sometimes they’re helpful, sometimes not so much. Georgia is trying to lose weight herself, but likes cooking Ruby fried dinners and cheesecakes, while Brittany is the spandex-wearing L.A. bud who buys her a treadmill and a trendy fedora.

Gettinger and her nephew are the only cast members who attend Saturday’s walk.

After some light stretches, the walkers get started. “We’ve been training for this!” someone shouts. The walkers are promised they’ll each get a chance to walk with Gettinger, and a few speed up to secure a spot by her side. The group winds its way in a circle around the core of the campus.

A power walk this isn’t. Gettinger treads leisurely, holding fans’ hands and dispensing words of acceptance and thinspiration. When they get to the step, a fit brunette from the Style Network urges everyone to go easy on their knees.

After crossing the finish line, a light sweat on her makeup-covered brow, Gettinger surveys the crowd and the walk they just completed.

“This feels better than food,” she says.

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