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Now that I decided I would like to become a Marine musician, there was one thing standing in my way: my weight. When I enlisted in the Marine Corps (pre-9/11), the height and weight standards had not been adjusted since 1955. In order to enlist, you had to be under your weight max for your height. I had about 7-10 pounds to lose, and I was determined to do it!
My efforts for weight loss started with regular exercise. I ran a mountain in NJ with a friend’s dad on at least a weekly basis in addition to running with my recruiter a few days a week and playing soccer 1-2 times a week. I ran distances I had never ran before and never thought I could. I had a lot of support surrounding me and my efforts, and I probably lost about 2-3 pounds over a month. When that wasn’t doing what I needed it to do, my mom hired a personal trainer for me. (Thanks, Mom! You’re the best!) I went to him 2 days a week on top of everything else I was doing to lose weight. The trainer provided me a nutrition plan which consisted mostly of canned tuna and egg whites. It was a body builder’s nutrition plan for sure. I didn’t cut much weight, but I did get stronger and better at the events for what would become my Physical Fitness Test (PFT) in the Marine Corps. When the trainer’s nutrition plan and exercise regime didn’t do enough in my short time period, I ended up resorting to the cabbage soup diet. If you are not familiar with that diet, it goes something like this:
1- Make an obscenely large vat of cabbage soup (cabbage, tomatoes, broth, celery, and onions).
2- Eat 2 bowls cabbage soup a day and drink water. You may have limited fruits and veggies, and few days in you are permitted to have lean protein too.
3- Sit on the toilet for 7 days. With all of the fiber and water, you use the bathroom frequently.
Finally, my recruiter submitted for a body fat waiver. Basically that meant that the Marine Corps would be OK with my weight not meeting the standards as long as I was less than 26% body fat or less. When I was measured, I think I came in at 22% and officially began my dream, turned mission, to become a US Marine. Regardless of the road ahead, on April 26, 1998, I proudly enlisted in the Marine Corps.
My senior year of high school I knew where I wanted to go to college and applied for early admission. Of course, to be sure I had a place to attend school, I applied to and auditioned for several schools. I was going to college to become a professional musician and get a teaching credential (because the performance market for musicians is competitive and doesn’t always pay). If I hadn’t already shared, I played bassoon for many years. By December, I was offered a full music and academic scholarship to my top choice school, The Catholic University of America in Washington DC. Life was on track.
Flashback: The summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school my family took a vacation to Washington DC. While there, we visited Annapolis and the Naval Academy. I actually fell in love with the school immediately, but I couldn’t major in music. For me, that was a deal breaker so I never planned to apply. I did, however, decide to request information about NROTC. (I swear this is coming to a point).
Fast forward: It was January of my senior year and I receive a phone call from a Naval ROTC recruiter while my boyfriend is over. I told him I was not interested so that I could get back to hanging out with my boyfriend, but this Marine Captain was a salesman. He kept pushing. I told him that I wouldn’t have time for NROTC because I had scholarships and soccer to keep up with. Being the salesman he was, he pushed to find out what types of scholarships. When I explained I had music and academic scholarships, his role changed from pushy salesman to excited, desperate salesman . He asked what the music scholarship was for. When I told him bassoon, I believe he put me on mute, did a cartwheel, and broke out the champagne bottle (I'll never really know, but I'm pretty sure that's how that went down). When he turned off mute he asked if I had ever thought about joining the Marine Band. My favorite band to see perform was the President’s Own, but I was not at that professional level yet. So the conversations went like this:
Me: “Like the President’s Own?”
Capt: “The President’s Own is a little different, but the Marine Corps actually has 13 fleet bands you can join.”
Me: “I didn’t know that. But I am not interested. Like I said I have a full scholarship to my top choice school.”
Capt: “You could just take an audition.”
Me: “I’m really not interested.” (Bubble thought, “Will this guy just go away already?!”)
Capt: “Why aren’t you interested in even taking an audition?”
Me: “I am happy with where I am going to school. It was my top choice.”
Capt: “Did you know that if you join the Marine Corps, you can get free money for school?”
Capt: “How about I contact your local musicians’ recruiter, and you take an audition. She will come to your school or home for the audition. Once you audition, she can let you know if you qualify to apply for the program.”
Me: (Bubble thought, “I will do anything to get this guy off the phone and hang out with my boyfriend. Plus, I can audition in my sleep.”) “OK.”
After that, he got my information and the other recruiter called, we set up a date and I was back to doing really important stuff like hanging out with my boyfriend.
Just a few days later was the audition; I rocked it. I played everything they asked and then some. The recruiter offered for me to enlist with the musician’s contract. I told them I would think about it and contact them later in the week.
I vividly remember going home that night and my mom was making dinner. She asked how it went. I told her that they want me to join. And my mom said, “I think you would be nuts to not join!” I was caught off guard a little. I knew she supported the military (my sister had just joined the Navy), but I didn’t think she would support it over college. She told me that I could still get those scholarships in 4 years, PLUS, I would have the Montgomery GI Bill to help me get through my daily living expenses. She also said. “You are 18 years old, you will get paid to play your bassoon, and get to travel the world. I would go for it if I was you.” So I decided to do it.
Now would begin a true struggle with my weight. The Marine Corps has tight height weight standards and I was “big-boned” or “athletic”. It was an uphill battle I did not anticipate. I will post all of that journey next week. Until then, keep moving!
In my Junior High Chronicles, I talked about my tendency to jump from boyfriend to boyfriend. I “dated” more boys than any one girl should have by time I finished 8th grade and never found self-worth through dating. Of course it’s not surprising that it didn’t boost my self-worth since you cannot find self-worth through other people. Well, my charades of always being in a relationship continued while I was in high school. I dated a kid, we’ll call him Bud, 2 years older than me for some of my freshman year and most of my sophomore year. He was an OK guy, and I would say he treated me fairly well. To be honest, even though we dated all of that time, I don’t remember a lot about the relationship. We broke up when he was getting ready to graduate mostly because he was getting ready to graduate and wanted to move on. What was the main reason he wanted to move on? He got a Calvin Klein modeling gig and thought he could get any girl his heart desired. See Bud was approached by some scouts leaving a concert one night. If you knew this guy, you may be a little surprised that someone approached him, but back then Calvin Klein scouts were looking for extremely slender young men to model for their ads. Bud was definitely slender. He didn’t go looking for this job; it came to him which inflated his ego exponentially. Fast forward a few months…I am over the relationship, hanging out with my summer soccer pals at camp. One of the girls is flipping through a Seventeen magazine during lunch, stops at a Calvin Klein ad and says, “Wow! That’s an ugly model!” And my partner-in-crime through all of those weeks at summer camp, Lola, said, “LJ, isn’t that Bud?!” And to my utter embarrassment with my head hung low, I mumbled, “Yes…” I couldn’t believe he actually made it into a national, mainstream publication. On top of that, I discover it at soccer camp with my summer-time friends, and they think he is hideous! It was probably the most embarrassing moment of my life! Even thinking about that ad now, I am uncomfortable. It was so hard in that moment; I felt like they were calling me ugly. It was as though I was inadequate and ugly because the guy who had broken up with me was considered unattractive by a few summer-time friends. My self-esteem really took a hit that day which made me feel even more unattractive and too “athletic” or “big-boned” to have an average looking boyfriend, never mind a good looking one! How do you recover from those feelings of inadequacy? It’s not an easy feat. As an adult I would say, “You have to realize the summer-time friend didn’t say anything negative about you. Your self-worth does not depend on the opinion of a single comment. Even more, it doesn’t depend on one person’s opinion on the looks of your ex-boyfriend.” As a teenager, I am certain my coping mechanism that night was to go home and eat my way into pathetic self-pity party. Of course this is not actually coping with anything, rather trying to satisfy my emotions with food which doesn’t work...my next blog we’ll talk about the stress eating nightmare that has existed as long as I can remember... Until then, healthy regards.