Cunningham has lost about 56 pounds, gone from a size 40 waist to a 36, from a size 17 1/2 neck to a 15.
"I want you to tell people it's possible," he said. "I want people to know they can do it. That's why I'm talking to you. People need somebody like Devena to get them started right, but they can turn it around."
His doctor referred him to Devena Moore, who runs DREAM, the diabetes self-management program for the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department in Parkersburg.
Nobody keeps an accurate list of such programs in West Virginia. At the professional diabetes educator site, fewer than 80 are listed for West Virginia, mostly located in Charleston, Huntington, Morgantown, Parkersburg, and the Eastern Panhandle.
Very few are listed in rural southern and central West Virginia, where the need is greatest.
Lucky for Dannie Cunningham, he lives near Parkersburg. When he first walked through Moore's door, he was diabetic, with high blood pressure and cholesterol and serious heart issues.
"It had never really hit me that my weight could be causing all those things," he said. "I didn't know you could get your blood sugar back down to normal level.
"Devena teaches you how to manage your own health," Cunningham said. "You learn what food does in your body and how exercise helps and what's in the food you buy. She teaches you how to measure a serving and little tricks that make medicine work better for you.
The first week in the program, he said, he wore a pedometer that counted his steps. "First thing, you find out what you're already doing, so you know where you're starting from. Then the second week, she starts you keeping a food log. You don't change anything you do. Just write down everything you eat.
"That's what I did, and I'm telling you, there were surprises! I found out I was eating more than I thought at night!
"Devena and me, we'd go over my list, and she'd make suggestions."
"It's not something you can do in 15 minutes, visiting a doctor," he said. "It takes more time than that."
After six months, his triglycerides had dropped from 597 to "a little less than 200," he said. He cut his cholesterol in half, to 130.
Moore taught him how to read food labels and count carbohydrates and keep track of the fuel he was putting into his body, compared with what his body burned with exercise.
As he marched up the hill toward the camp, he pulled back his flannel shirttail to show he had his pedometer on. "I've got a little book called Calorie King that breaks down fast food menus," he said. "I was getting Burger King spicy chicken sandwiches, thinking they were low-fat till I looked in there and found it has more fat than a hamburger." He switched to a low-fat sandwich.
His weight is staying off, but he still keeps his food log. "It's part of my life now. It keeps me on track. I check in with Devena once a month so I can show off."
At the top of the hill, he threw his arms wide, gesturing at a wide, round field. "Take a look at heaven," he said. A camper sits at the edge of the field under a shelter. He showed off the pathways he mows through the brush to attract deer.
"I climb up here several times a week," he said. "Right now, there's not much more I want out of life, except maybe a 10-point buck.
"My neighbor got a nine-point yesterday. That means I need to get a 10-point," he said. "I'll be back up here tonight, waiting for it.
"If I have to keep track of what I eat, to have this, it's worth it," he said. "I just wish everyone knew how to do it."
Reach Kate Long at 304-348-1798 or katel...@wvgazette.com.
This article was written with the help of the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism, administered by the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.