What does any of this have to do with King’s Island’s new roller coaster? Well as any big and/or tall roller coaster enthusiast will tell you, nothing is worse than the roller coaster “Walk of Shame.” That’s the moment when you are asked to get off a roller coaster because the restraint cannot properly close around you because of your size. It’s painful, and I know all too well how it feels.
At my largest, I weighed around 430 pounds. By that point, I had all but given up on ever riding coasters again.
But when Kings Island announced its plans for Orion, I knew it was time for a change.
>> Meet Orion: Kings Island’s delayed opening brings biggest investment online
A LOVE FOR ROLLER COASTERS
Growing up in Fairborn, my family and I made annual trips to Kings Island, my favorite summer hangout. Some years we even had season passes. Starting off with the Beastie, my love of roller coasters began to grow. I eventually graduated to the bigger rides like the Racers, Adventure Express, and even Vortex (RIP).
There was only one coaster that I can remember being truly afraid to ride: The Beast. Not being able to see the layout terrified me. It didn’t help that my older brothers would tell me that a giant monster jumps out of the woods and tries to eat you. Eventually, I mustered up the nerve to ride it, and I remember feeling a true sense of accomplishment. I had conquered a genuine fear.
>> PHOTOS: Kings Island through the years in archive photos
As I got older, I started to learn more about how roller coasters worked, who designed them, and where to go to find the best rides. My mind started to become an encyclopedia of theme parks and coaster knowledge. It was my passion. I started to travel to other parks.
My favorite roller coaster of all time is Millennium Force, a 310-foot Giga Coaster up at Cedar Point that opened in 2000. That was the first roller coaster to truly take my breath away, therefore I credit it for the intense passion for roller coasters that I have today.
THE ‘WALK OF SHAME’
I have always been a bigger guy. Growing up I have always been tall for my age. I remember when we went to Kings Island my mother would always say, “If anyone gets separated, then meet at Jared.” I am a beacon to the lost within a crowd. That is still echoed to this day as I currently measure in with a height of 6’9”. Sometimes my height can restrict me from being able to ride certain rides. There isn’t much I can do about that, so it’s something that I just must accept and move on.
Now I have always had issues with my weight. Working in a restaurant around food every day didn’t help. It wasn’t until I decided to follow my passion for roller coasters that being a heavier guy started to become a major issue. Being told that you are too big to ride a coaster is painful for anyone, but it was especially hard when I had my first “Walk of Shame” on Millennium Force. It was then that I decided to take some action to lose weight for the first time. More than 100 pounds lost, and my weight was no longer an issue, for the time being.
>> Kings Island opening debuting planet’s seventh ‘giga’ coaster, Orion
I was lucky in that my first career sent me traveling all over the U.S. I would always schedule a few extra days to stay wherever I traveled so that I could visit the nearest theme park. I learned that my favorite ride manufacturer was B&M, having ridden almost all of them in the continental United States up until that point, with most of my top 10 coasters being designed by B&M. I was a true coaster enthusiast by that point, being a card-carrying member of ACE – The American Coaster Enthusiasts. My coaster count kept growing, reaching well into the 100s, 200s, 250s, eventually exceeding 295. I was so close to reaching 300. But then tragedy happened… a desk job.
Switching careers is hard, but going from a job that was 100% physical, to a job that is 0% physical can surely take a toll on you, especially physically. My weight skyrocketed. All the good things that I was doing to keep the weight off went right out the window. Snacking became the norm. Late-night meals and binge viewing replaced exercising and healthy eating. When my weight was over 300, I knew there was no way that I could fit into coasters anymore. My self-esteem dropped. My blood pressure and cholesterol ballooned. I stopped weighing myself because it just became too depressing. I stopped going to parks because I knew there was no point. Within the last 10 years, some truly amazing roller coasters have been built, and I’ve missed out on most of them.
THE MOTIVATION I NEEDED
On Aug. 15, 2019, Kings Island made the announcement that would change everything for me. They were building Orion. A 300-foot-tall B&M Giga-coaster. All my favorite things in one roller coaster, and at my home park.
This was it. This was the motivation I needed. I had always made a promise to myself that if Kings Island ever built a B&M Giga, that I would have to ride it, no matter what it took for me to do so. Well, they finally were doing it, and now it was time to act. I decided the day of the announcement that I would lose all the weight and ride it on opening day.
I bought a scale and weighed myself — 430 pounds. Ouch. But with that in mind, I set a goal of 175 total pounds lost by opening day, April 11, 2020. That’s around 22 pounds each month. I knew it would be hard, but since I had experience with it before, I knew I could do it if I set my mind to it.
Everyone knows how to lose weight. Diet & Exercise, right? Well as everyone also knows, that’s easier said than done. Here is where self-control comes in. I knew that no matter what, I had to stick to it. If I was going to make my deadline, I couldn’t have cheat days. I couldn’t have days off. Save those days for when something happens that is out of my control, because it’s bound to happen. When someone asked me if I wanted a donut, I had to say no. If I went out to dinner, I had to resist that bowl of pasta and get a salad instead.
I had to ride Orion. It was more important than the temporary happiness of a piece of cake.
With exercise, I started slowly. A simple half-hour jog in place within my garage. If I didn’t start slowly, I knew that I would burn out. I had to be dedicated to daily exercise. I took a TV and a gaming console out into the garage to keep track of my progress while simultaneously binge-watching Netflix. I kept it up and eventually graduated to an hour and a half each day of exercise.
I decided to go with a multi-prong strategy to my diet. First off was to eat healthy foods. I tried to keep it under 2,000 calories a day, consisting mostly of fruits and veggies. I also decided to do intermittent fasting, only eating between the hours of 11 a.m.-6 p.m. each day. I also made sure to get plenty of sleep with at least 8-10 hours per day. Sleep was key in my case. If I was sleeping, then I was not eating.
With all that, I was off. I kept track of my weight every day, writing the number down on my roller coaster wall calendar. I found it very motivating to see the number dropping almost every day. If it didn’t go down that day, it was even more motivation to keep trying for the next day.
FIRST REAL TEST
My first real test came during Winterfest. By that point, I had lost around 100 pounds. Because I had yet to ride Mystic Timbers, I decided that I would go a few days after Christmas and see if I could fit. I sat down in the front seat, hoping that restraint would close. I was at the limits, but I made it. I didn’t have the dreaded walk of shame. I ended up riding the coaster twice in the freezing December air. But I couldn’t stop here. Orion has different restraints, and I had to make sure that I was going to fit.
I was doing great. By March, I was on track to meet my opening day deadline when COVID-19 hit. The world began to shut down. Kings Island announced that they would not be opening the park due to the quarantine. We all were now confined to our homes, not allowed to go anywhere. But I tried to stay positive. I knew the world would open eventually, and Orion would be waiting for me when they finally open. I kept going.
Because of COVID-19, I am now working from home. Some find it hard to stay motivated with health and fitness while being stuck at home. For me, it was easier. There are fewer temptations, and it’s easier to stick to a regular exercise and sleeping routine. Because of this, I was able to hit my initial weight-loss goal with time to spare. I decided that I could still stand to lose a bit more weight, so I decided to keep going.
Finally, Kings Island announced an opening date of July 2, 2020, along with some new COVID-19 safety measures in place. I am very grateful the park decided to reopen with these measures in place. The temperature screenings, mask requirement and other social distancing practices make me feel safe to be in the park again. I will gladly go to any park with these changes in place if it means that I can ride coasters again.
THE DAY I HAD BEEN WAITING FOR
After sharing my story, I was invited to attend the Orion media event before opening day to ride the coaster for the first time. The day I had been waiting for was finally here.
My final weigh-in was 240 pounds, 190 pounds lost over the course of 321 days. I did it!! But was it all going to be worth it?
With my mask in place, I headed through the temperature checks, and through the main entrance of the park.
The coaster is beautiful, dominating the Kings Island skyline. The iconic B&M track can be seen from practically everywhere in the park, as it towers over the other coasters. As we slowly walk toward the back of the park, I just kept thinking about how lucky I was to be there. Not only was all the hard work worth it for my health, but I was also finally getting to now experience my passion again — something I hadn’t been able to do for many years.
I walked over to the test seat and sat down, pausing for a second to reflect on the past times where that green indicator light did not illuminate. I pulled the restraint down and heard it click into place. One click. Two clicks. The light lit up. Not only was I in, but I had room to spare! One more click for safe keeping. I was thrilled. It was official that I was going to ride Orion today.
I went through the queue and into the station. I immediately jumped into the line for a reverse POV. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to get a recording of myself riding my 300th roller coaster for the first time. I sat down, buckled my seatbelt and lowered the iconic B&M clamshell restraint onto my lap. Finally, after all that work, the moment was here. The train was dispatched, and I was off.
You couldn’t see it because of my mask, but I had the biggest smile on my face. I was so happy and excited that I forgot to look around and enjoy the view. We were already at the top and began to drop down that amazing first drop. The rest flew by. Since I was alone in my socially distanced row, I just let my arms and legs fly wherever the coaster told them they had to go. Speed. Height. Airtime. This coaster had it all. I was having the time of my life. We hit that final break run and all I could think was, “Amazing!”
As we pulled into the station, I just wanted to go again. I decided to get back in line. I wasn’t going to stop riding until they told me I couldn’t anymore. I hopped in the front seat. Looking straight up that lift hill with nothing in front of you is breathtaking. There is nothing like watching that track fly underneath you as you speed along at 91 mph. We finished and I immediately wanted to go again.
Nobody was in line for the front seat, so I just sat back down. This time around the track, I was really going to focus on enjoying the view. Looking out at The Beast’s iconic lift hills poking through the treetops, I remembered how I used to be so afraid to ride it. Oh, how times have changed. People think I’m odd when I say this, but I can truly say I’m more at peace while riding a roller coaster then I am at any other time. Although, the first drop on Orion might be an exception to this. It sure does pack quite a punch.
After my third ride, I knew my remaining time was limited. Reporters started to leave by this point to make their deadlines, but I knew that I could get at least one more ride in. I got back in line and walked up to the station, this time opting to do a back-seat ride. I sat down only to realize that I was alone on the train, a “Zen” ride as enthusiasts like to call it. This was going to be the last train of the event. I crested the hill all by myself and was immediately thrown out of my seat. The ejector air in the back seat of that first drop is amazing. This is the kind of thing coaster enthusiasts live for.
Returning to the station for the last time, I wanted more, but alas it was time to go home. As I walked away from the station, I thanked every Kings Island employee that I could see. I was so very grateful for them inviting me to come to this event and ride this very special coaster. It’s special not only for its amazing size and statistics but also because it is very close to me personally.
Just the idea of this coaster helped inspire me to change my life. I worked so hard just to ride this monster of a machine. I can truly say it was all worth it, and I know I have the rest of my life to ride it over and over again.