By Marlena Rubenstein
At 12, I could barely run across the gym without gasping for breath. So if someone had predicted that I would one day run 3.1 miles continuously, I would have rolled my eyes and mumbled, “Yeah, right.” That image was as plausible to me as the idea of playing “Ode to Joy” on the moon.
Back on Earth, lunch in a middle school cafeteria is hell by definition; my classmates made it worse. Carrying a plate filled with questionable-quality cafeteria food, I passed girls sitting at bare tables. As I silently scarfed down my food, I overheard nearby conversations: “Well, since I’m going to a party tomorrow, I’ll look better if I don’t eat anything today.” I opened my mouth to correct the error of their thinking…and then immediately decide to stay quiet. I knew that these girls didn’t want my input, and I wanted to avoid conflict.
I endured endless bullying throughout middle school because of my weight. The advice I always received was: “Don’t let the bullies get to you,” but in following that advice I disregarded the origin of the bullying–my size.
I cannot remember a single visit to our family pediatrician that did not include a lengthy, worried lecture about my weight; and though I agreed, I wanted someone to wave a magic wand and solve the problem for me.
In 10th grade I realized that my fairy godmother wasn’t coming, and that my health deserved my full time attention. So I flew across the country to spend six weeks in the summer at a place that helps kids like me, and I returned home forever changed.
My typical day at Wellspring began at 7am with ‘Mama’ Christine, my favorite counselor, knocking on my door. By 7:30am, we were downstairs stretching on the grass for our pre-breakfast hike. In addition to the standard goal of reaching 10,000 steps per day, we went around the circle and gave a personal goal, which had to be S.M.A.R.T.–simple, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Whether we were running laps or kickboxing, we kept moving until lights out at 10pm. Silently, we would each walk to our rooms, close the doors, and collapse on our beds.
The end-of-camp 5K was on the day before my 17th birthday; it was mandatory to complete, but campers set their own paces.
The gun boomed, and dozens of people shot down the track. I jogged slowly, my breathing in time with my footsteps. I saw those who had sprinted off slow down or stop entirely, gripping their sides and heaving. I steadily passed them all.
At the 1 mile mark, my nutritionist Mia stood at the water table where runners stalled their inevitable return to the monotony of jogging. “Looking great, Marlena! Wanna stop for some water?”
“No thanks, I’m not slowing down. See you at the finish line!” I called out over my shoulder, more determined than ever to make it to the end. I completed the 3.1 miles in 36 minutes and 50 seconds, and have never felt a stronger sense of accomplishment. This race put the sugar-free icing on the fat-free cake of my transformation at Wellspring.
I did not change my life because others said I should. I made my decision in my own way, and crossed the finish line as a new person. Every aspect of my life has changed because of the discovery of willpower that I never knew I had.
On the plane home, I worried that others wouldn’t see the new Marlena. To my delight, I was wrong. Walking through the door, my little brother enveloped me in a hug and exclaimed with genuine surprise: “Marlena, I can wrap my hands around you now!”
He would soon realize that my change in size was only the tip of the iceberg.
Marlena Rubenstein, a 2014 graduate of The Hewitt School, will be a freshman at American University in the fall.