I spent the better part of this week in Reedley, California working on a story that I am doing about obesity. I visited the Wellspring Academy, a weight loss camp for high school and college level students. After close to three months of coordination with the Wellspring staff, I was given the opportunity to follow around one of their students going through their program. Seventeen year-old Marissa Hamilton from Seattle, Washington arrived at Wellspring two months ago and weighed in at 340 pounds. In the first two months of her journey she has shed over 40 pounds and is on her way to losing much more. Marissa, or “Missy” as her friends like to call her, is an amazing young adult. I commend her for being open to the idea of someone photographing her in what most would be embarrassed of. She is a smart, driven and very positive person. She is one of the best subjects I have had the privilege of photographing. Usually when you follow someone around they are very conscious of the camera and are always asking you what they should do or will stop doing things once they hear the click of the shutter. Not Marissa.
On the first day of hanging out with Marissa I met her at 7:15 in the morning before her and her classmates went on a morning walk. Every day is started with a physical activity and today was a 3 mile walk around the grounds of the academy. For the most part her and her friends just chatted amongst themselves as I shadowed them. Marissa mentioned a few times that I didn’t have to go on the entire walk if I didn’t want to or I could cut across the field to save my legs. The days were long and the students kept busy from morning to evening. The bulk of the day was spent in the classroom studying everything from math and english to chemistry and cooking. There were, of course, a lot of physical activities throughout the day like soccer, walking and kickboxing. Meals were offered three times a day with two snacks in between. Whenever we were in the cafeteria Marissa would always tell me that I had to eat something because if I was following her I had to eat the same food. I had a few meals with her and her friends and I thought the food wasn’t that bad. The buffalo sloppy joe that I ate was pretty tasty. Most of the students might disagree with me.
Marissa will be at the Academy until May of next year. She has set goals for herself and is aspiring to cut her weight down to 200 pounds. She is determined to achieve this goal as a tribute to her mother who died about a year ago, on the first week that she had originally attended Wellspring. She told me that her mother would have been proud of her doing so well at the school and she uses that for motivation. I was proud of her and I just met her. The week was inspiring for me. I got to hang out with a young girl who had a good head on her shoulders with a big future ahead of her. Hearing stories about some of Marissa’s fellow students that have lost over 100 pounds was just amazing to me. I wanted to put down the cameras and join them during their activities. I was actually a little disappointed on the second day when Marissa slept in and didn’t go on the three mile walk. I wanted to go. I’m just going to have to keep that inspiration going and get my butt back to the gym.