John Clay

What a writer who shared Jared Lorenzen’s struggle wants us to know now

Through his writing, the way Tommy Tomlinson described his relationship with Jared Lorenzen was like this: “We never got to be friends, exactly. We were more like soldiers who fought in the same war.”

Tomlinson was a sportswriter, a former columnist at the Charlotte Observer. Lorenzen was a quarterback, a former star at Kentucky. Both were overweight. More like obese. Tomlinson once weighed 460 pounds. Lorenzen once weighed over 500. When Tomlinson saw a clip one night on ESPN of Lorenzen playing minor league football, he knew he had to write about him “because I can tell that story better than anybody because of my own struggles.”

In 2014, he made several trips to Lexington to talk to Jared. He talked to Jared’s mom and his ex-wife and his former coaches. “They all painted a picture of this great guy who was so much fun to be around, and such a kind person, except for his weight. That was the one part he couldn’t control. That was a compelling story to me because I felt like that was my story, too.”

Jared Lorenzen passed away Wednesday at the age of 38 after being admitted to a hospital with kidney and heart issues. Before that, however, he served as an inspiration for Tomlinson’s well-received own book, “The Elephant In The Room,” about the writer’s own struggle with his weight. Tweeted former Vanity Fair media critic James Wolcott, “It’s a terrific, mordantly funny, moving book.”

Here’s an excerpt when Tomlinson, before meeting someone for dinner, arrives early at a restaurant to scout out where he can sit: “I check the tables, gauging the chairs. Flimsy chairs creak and quake beneath me. These look solid. I spot a table in the corner with just enough room. I sit down slowly — the chair seems OK, yep, it’ll hold me up. For the first time in an hour, I take an untroubled breath.”

Said Tomlinson on Friday, “I couldn’t have ever told mine without telling his first.”

He wrote a piece for ESPN on Friday about that, but I wanted to talk to him about what he thought the effect of Lorenzen’s death could have now, that here was a person who was open about his struggles but were never able to conquer them.

“That’s a good question,” Tomlinson said. “I hope that for a lot of people this will be sort of an extra dose of a wake-up call in the sense that not only do I need to do something but I better do it now because who knows when my body is going to fail me.”

He also hopes they know there is another part of Lorenzen’s story, however.

“I hope that other people will see and know that he did have some successes before he died,” Tomlinson said. “I hope that other people will see that and try to focus on the successes, and also understand that it’s a really, really difficult thing and it’s not something that you can do quickly. It’s really a lifelong struggle for many of us.”

According to a 2015-16 study by the Center for Disease Control, “the prevalence of obesity was 39.8 percent and affected about 93.3 million of U.S. adults.” But those dealing with obesity “feel like we’re dealing with this alone,” Tomlinson said. “I think Jared telling his story made them feel like they weren’t alone and that was somebody else with them that was dealing with a lot of the same things.”

And Lorenzen dealt with it in his own way.

“The thing I probably didn’t get across enough in my story, he was a lot of fun to be around. He could joke about his weight. I think to some level it stung but he could try to relate to other people in that way,” Tomlinson said. “A lot of people see this as sort of a grim battle, and it can be at times, but I think Jared by and large carried himself with a lot of humor and a lot of positive vibes. I hope that’s also a model for the way the rest of us deal with that stuff. It doesn’t have to be completely a dark, grim struggle. We can face it with some humor, too.”

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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
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