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Biking Against Obesity

Arriving by bike at the state capitol this week, Romano Scaturro is on a cross-country campaign for children’s health

by Erin Pihlaja on August 9, 2012 · 1 comment

Romano Scaturro photographed by Erin Pihlaja


Romano Scaturro was sweating as he climbed the steps of the New York State Capitol building late on Tuesday afternoon. He wore a bright orange T-shirt with the words “Be Like Gump” above a yellow cartoonish smiley face. As he approached the state trooper guarding the building, he asked how to reach the governor’s office. The officer eyed him suspiciously and said that if he went in without an appointment he would likely be meeting with another state trooper instead. “I might have an appointment,” Scaturro replied. “My organization contacted this office months ago.” The trooper begrudgingly let him by, after thoroughly inspecting Scaturro’s bottle of lemonade.

“This is so much more formal than some of the capitols I’ve been to,” Scaturro said. “In Alaska, you just walk right, straight into the Governor’s office.” He met another trooper on the second floor of the building and was told that none of the governor’s staff was present. On the way out, Scaturro stopped at the desk of a receptionist on the same floor and asked her if there was an official registry for visitors. She politely nodded as he tried to explain why he wanted to document his arrival in New York’s capitol. She wasn’t much help, but in her defense, Scaturro looked like a disturbed man on his last legs. He carried his documents in a plastic bag and had the appearance of someone who had spent more than a few nights sleeping outside. In actuality, he had spent the last 114 days on a kayak and bicycle expedition that started in Alaska and he doesn’t plan on stopping until he reaches every capital in the United States.

“There are times that I just want to cry,” said Scaturro. “I get up in the morning and lay in my tent and say, ‘Not another day.’” He isn’t generally a miserable soul—Scaturro lives a happy life in Arizona with his wife, four children, and has a successful family restaurant.  He is an athletic man who has competed in triathlons and participated in cycle tours across the United States. This particular trek, which he calls 50@50 (visiting 50 state capitols at 50 years old), marked the first time that he had attempted anything this drastic before.

Scaturro is the founder of the organization, Family Ride Across America to Nurture Kids (FRAANK) which helps disadvantaged children in central Arizona who often have serious medical illnesses. The 50@50 ride has a broader goal in mind: to raise awareness for childhood obesity and hunger in the United States.  According to a written statement by FRAANK, “Nearly one in three children in America today are overweight or obese, due primarily to poor diet and lack of exercise, while at the same time there is a massive food shortage resulting in one in six children going to bed hungry.” The Center for Disease Control puts the number of obese American children at around 12.5 million. “This is a locomotive waiting to roll over the U.S. economy,” said Scaturro. “It leads to type two diabetes, cardiovascular problems, muscular-skeletal problems, and emotional problems. People need to get out more. We need to introduce kids to activities such as biking.”

Averaging around 70 miles each day by bicycle, Albany was the 20th capitol that  Scaturro reached. “The last few days through central New York have been some of the most difficult terrain,” he said. “The cold and wind in British Colombia were bad and the rains in the northwest got to me.” Scaturro keeps a daily blog on FRAANK.org, detailing the milestones of the journey. He has been attacked by swarms of bees in one state, and in another found hundreds of dollars on the side of the road (he was able to return the cash to its owner). The blog is a candid account of Scaturro’s travels, and he holds little back. One entry reads, “Why are people so unfriendly here in NY? Why can’t the civil engineers try to make a road flatter? Why are the wind gods always against me? Who would ever want to live in such a horrible place? This sucks. I can’t wait to be finished with this awful trip and am never planning anything like it again.”

“Today we live a sedentary lifestyle,” he said while parking his bicycle in the Empire State plaza. “It’s the age of computers and video games. Plus parents are way more paranoid with their kids these days. I used to be outside all the time. I never even saw my mom until after it got dark.” He gets equally upset about budget cuts to physical education in schools, the fast food diets of school-age kids, and sports leagues. “I’m so tired of kids not being able to do anything without it being organized with an adult around,” he said. “We need to have a national discussion about this.”

Which is exactly what Scaturro is trying to do. A few days after he found the money on the side of the road he wrote, “I was reminded of the money incident a few days ago when hundreds of cars had passed by hundreds of dollars all day long blowing around in the wind but took no notice of its existence. Out of sight, out of mind. It also confirms my belief that most of us live in a box, the interior of which is laid out like a maze with impenetrable walls, blindly proceeding through life unaware of 99 percent of the happenings going on outside of the box.”  Even when Scaturro arrives at a capitol and no one is there to speak with, he is doing something. He is thinking and acting outside of the box.

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