Melisa's 19-year-old son often walks with his mom now.
"I used to be embarrassed of her, but now she's my hero," he said. During the workouts, he baby-sits anywhere from four to a dozen kids, keeping them active. He has cut his soda pop consumption from more than 20 cans a day to an occasional can. He's lost more than 50 pounds.
Tuesday night's "Our America" episode is divided into three segments. First, there is an Arkansas 4-year-old who weighs more than 100 pounds and already has sleep apnea. A doctor tells the mother that, if he doesn't lose weight, "he will have the diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol problems . . . . It's a ticking time bomb." Then a Mississippi couple tells Ling they know their 347-pound 12-year-old needs to eat more healthy food, but don't know what's healthy or how to cook it.
The Pound Puncher segment is placed last, to show that change is possible, that "if you can band together somehow with other people, you have support," Ling said. "It makes it easier. You can hold each other accountable and think of creative, fun ways to do this."
The Pound Punchers weren't allowed to see the show until it airs. "We're nervous as cats, because we just aren't sure how they're going to show us," said volunteer firefighter Annie Toney. "My stomach flops every time I think about it."
"When they asked us about doing it, we thought, well, if we do this, maybe it would inspire other people to get up off the couch and have fun together like we do," said Pound Puncher founder Melisa Ferrell. "But right now, we're kind of holding our breath."
She and the other Pound Punchers have heard people complain about the MTV show, "Buckwild," which many say casts the state in a bad light. "Oh Lord, I hope they don't make us look like that," Toney said. "We're so proud of what we do, and we're proud of our fire department, the way it helps our community."
They've thought of every minute that could be in there, like the time they sang "Country Girl, Shake that Thing" as they walked, "just cutting up, goofing with them, but maybe it ended up in the show?" Toney said.
"Oh, please tell them not to worry," "Our America" host Ling said when reached in Los Angeles on Friday. People who have seen the episode "have been so moved by them," she said. "Every one of us was inspired by our time with the Pound Punchers. I truly hope people from all across this country will be inspired, too."
This will be nothing like "Buckwild," she said.
The whole Mud River crew will gather at the fire hall Tuesday night to watch the show with their families and close friends. "I'll be happy if I don't have to duck my head," Annie Toney said.
"We'll all be happy if it turns out to be something that helps people," Melisa Ferrell said. "We also hope TV doesn't add 20 pounds to you, like they say it does."
Reach Kate Long at katel...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1798.
"The Shape We're In" has been supported by a Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism fellowship, administered by the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.