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'Stairs to space' led Asheville man to massive weight loss and a romantic plot twist

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An Asheville man's weight loss mission led to the goal of "walking to space" on the Buncombe County Courthouse steps. News 13 followed the trek that led to new heights and took a surprisingly romantic turn.

"I always work Monday through Friday, 8 to 5," said Walter Beals, who works in the Public Defender's Office in downtown Asheville. "I feel like we're doing a lot of good for the community."

Being a regular guy can be a full-time job. Last year, Beals realized he needed to do some good for himself.

So, he used a heavy dose of reality as rocket fuel.

"I'm 45," he said. "So, it's something serious as far as my health to keep on top of."

Co-worker Courtney Booth saw the daily transformation.

"Every day, when I come in from court, Walter's got his exercise gear on and he's heading for the stairs," Booth observed.

At 440 pounds, he saw no time for baby steps. Beals' taken lunch breaks toward a new frontier.

Climbing the stairs at the courthouse is now his mid-day ritual.

"You're in control of your own body," he declared recently. "If you're out of shape, there's something you can do about it."

He goes up eight floors the hard way, then back down by elevator to save his knees.Then, he repeats.

In 55 minutes, he ascends 104 floors each lunch period.

"It does seem like I'm in a hamster wheel going up and around and around," he admitted.

District Attorney Todd Williams can't object, as Beals sustains his motion. Go ahead, groan.

"Walter's amazing, he's an inspiration," he said. "I've seen the pounds melt off of the guy. It's just amazing."

Pictures of Beals before show a local juggler who said he's battled weight issues his whole life.

"Like three years ago, I'd dropped a chunk of weight doing the stairs," he said. "But as happens to people, you lose the weight and gain it back."

Now, it's onward and upward. This time around, he's done the math to visualize his goal.

"I started comparing it to certain things -- how many Empire State Buildings have I climbed and how many Great Pyramid of Giza have I climbed?"

What if he went further?

Twenty-thousand floors equals 50 miles and quite an odyssey. Now, the mission that has Beals seeing stars.

"What's a nice big hefty goal," he wondered. "And my first thought was outer space."

Funny thing is, on the way to space, he didn't count on something cosmic happening. He got side-tracked on the stairway to heaven.

"She was like, 'I'm gonna come to do stairs with you,'" he said of a young woman who was curious about his ambitious journey. "And I was like, 'Yeah, sure you will."

Susannah Bew met him online, then on the steps.

"The nerd and star gazer in me was totally drawn to that," Bew told us. "I said I wanted to crash your stair climbing party, that became our first date, which was really cool."

Some couples count dates, they count stairs.

"Being physical together I feel put me at ease," she said of their dates. "It's super romantic!"

"It's such a pleasant surprise, she's such a sweet girl," Beals said.

Along the way, he lost 160 pounds and gained a girlfriend.

Beals showed her the sights, like the Coke stain on the fourth floor.

She marveled at his beautiful mind.

"Cause that was also very appealing that he had calculated how many floors it would take to reach outer space," Bew said.

All the while, a spreadsheet guided Beals to an astronomical achievement.

"According to this, I should reach this by March 1" he said weeks back.

We returned to see him at the start of March. This was the day, and there's no moon walking back.

Beals warmed up by juggling in a NASA suit, while his friends beamed up to the top floor.

"I'm here because Walter's going to space," a boy with an astronaut helmet said. "I think it's a good idea for people to go out and get their exercise."

He wasn't alone. Others turned out with space-themed outfits to celebrate.

In dramatic fashion, Beals juggled as walked to space.

"Woo, here we go!" he said, enjoying every moment.

Beals played it up during the final stretch that left us star struck.

"You can do this, too," he told us, wearing a space helmet at the finish line. "Because I am a lazy -- was a lazy, fat slob and I'm not any more."

After reaching space, Beals saids he'll cut back his routine to three stair sessions per week. He'll start some weight training the rest of the week.

Who would have thought this could be a stepping stone to a healthy future and Bew?

"She has gone 11.88 percent to space," Beals announced, handing her an award.

Maybe she'll follow him to the moon and back, but, for now, it's time to come back to earth.

"I've got to go back to work fairly soon," he told the crowd.

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