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2 Stories Of Survival: How Fitness Saved Morgan Wehmer And Elizabeth Aguilera

Vital Stats

When it comes to diseases, lots of syllables often make for a scary diagnosis.

Take melanoma, for instance. Elizabeth Aguilera has it and, according to her doctors, always will. Every two months she meets with a specialist to look for spots on her skin, have them tested, and determine whether to have another surgery. At the tender age of 24, she’s had four already, to remove seven cancerous patches of skin from her stomach 2, leg 3, and hip 2.

“I check myself all the time,” says Elizabeth, a spokesmodel for Oh Yeah! Nutrition. “As long as I keep consistent, and go every two months for the rest of my life, I will be fine. If it advances to a stage 3, or 4, it will get into my lymph nodes and organs. I just have to monitor it.”

Take anorexia–not a disease, but a disorder. Morgan Wehmer, Elizabeth’s sister, has wrestled that dietary demon and lived to tell. She was bullied in high school and took extreme dietary measures because she felt like it was the only thing she could control.

The sisters deal with their dilemmas, with their syllables. They lift each other in hard times. That is what families do.

THE BIG SISTER

Treatment and surgery are intense, and a body needs rest. Elizabeth strives to put in max effort in the weight room, but with regular treatment and surgery, she’s not always able to. She has to be careful, patient, and confident. Each day presents a challenge.

Elizabeth’s efforts inspire her younger sister, Morgan, “On her most horrible days, she’d post the most inspirational things,” says Morgan. “The things that upset her the most, she’d turn into positives for other people. And it was therapeutic for her. It gives me strength should I ever want to complain, give up, or slack off. She’s my other half. How can I slack if Liz would go 110 percent?”

“The sisters deal with their dilemmas, with their syllables. They lift each other in hard times. That is what families do.”

Even before her diagnosis was delivered, Elizabeth was fit, but with her life in the balance, she has taken it to a new level. She took the stage in 2013–in part to mark a check on her bucket list–and finished fourth. But her doctors asked her to take a break in 2014. Her goal to turn pro remains unfulfilled.

That bucket list was lengthy but the sisters have shortened it in the past six months. They worked as models and did photo shoots. Liz has asked photographers not to “edit out” her scars. She wants people to see them. They are markers of his past, and she wants people to know that cancer survivors can still be models.

THE LITTLE SISTER

Morgan Wehmer was suffering from anorexia. She is a tall girl, with long arms and legs, so when she dwindled her body weight down to 113 pounds, she simply looked ill.

In high school, she seemed like a regular kid. She was heavily involved in extracurricular activities, had a boyfriend, and was an athlete. She loved organized dance and sang in the choir. She played softball and ran track. She got good grades and never got into trouble. She was a good kid.

But, high school brought unforeseen torment for Morgan. She was bullied by older, taller, more athletic girls, who called her names. They’d walk behind her and shout “slut” to terrorize young Morgan. That was her first significant freshman experience. “That’s not what you want to happen in that foreign land,” Morgan says. “Girls … there’s never a reason. Girls can just be so, so mean. [Elizabeth] would get into fights with them and protect me.”

The bullying continued for years. Morgan tried to bury the jabs and insults, but their effects manifested in other ways. She and Elizabeth, tight as toddlers, grew apart as they fought through adolescence. When Morgan needed protecting, Liz had her back in the school hallways. When she wasn’t around, the taunts intensified.

When the pressures of dating, studies, incessant bullying, and self-image worries left Morgan reeling, she took control of the one thing she could: food. She started to cut back calories, skipped meals, and found excuses to avoid the dinner table.

“Stop fighting yourself and start fighting for yourself.”

“There was faulty thinking before, and after,” Morgan says. “I feel like I am talking about a different person now. Food was the only thing I could control, but I over controlled it.”

Elizabeth was one of the first people to notice the changes in Morgan. She fought off the mean girls, but anorexia was a more elusive and subtle foe. “Everyone was worried about her,” Liz says. “She was in denial about it.”

THE LIFTER SISTERS

Morgan stewed in her own torment, her thoughts growing more and more negative. Her family broached the subject to little avail. It strained the family, and Morgan saw it. She says something changed in her psyche.

“All of my thoughts about food and what I needed to eat to keep me going…all of that was faulty,” Morgan says. “When I realized I was looking at things in horrible ways, there was this light switch. I can never go back to that.”

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a person’s intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat. People who suffer from the disorder may practice unhealthy behaviors such as extreme calorie restriction, only eating specific foods, or skipping meals frequently. Treatment includes counseling, nutritional rehab and training, and various support therapies.

She began to research nutrition and very slowly gained her weight back. It took two years, and it’s still an ongoing struggle. She wants more muscle. Morgan’s research produced some unplanned results. She fell in love with the study of nutrition and decided to pursue dietetics as a profession, before switching to another health-conscious field, nursing.

“I wanted to do it the right way, the healthy way,” Morgan says. “I ate a lot of healthy foods, basically double what I am eating now. I was doubling up on carbs and healthy fats, along with working out. I used machines, free weights, and bodyweight exercises. I wanted to build muscle, and it took time.”

While Morgan was flipping the script on her education, Elizabeth learned she had melanoma. Thus began an endless series of exams, scans, surgeries, biopsies, and doctor visits. She took monthly flights to Jacksonville for treatment, then flew back to school for coursework, determined to graduate.

“Looking at Morgan now, it’s hard to tell that she was anorexic.”

“I can’t even fathom how I’d feel about having a constant unknown diagnosis,” Morgan says of her sister’s plight. “As these spots appear, she has to get them cultured and then wait weeks for results.”

To make matters worse, Elizabeth’s husband was deployed overseas as a member of the U.S. Navy. She graduated college during his absence and underwent treatment while he was stationed in Japan. Their separation further alienated the struggling older sister, but she had Morgan to lean on. It’s not that their roles reversed. Morgan didn’t become a “big sister.” They simply grew closer, and each time one faltered, the other offered support.

“Everything is about your attitude and fighting for what you want in life,” Elizabeth says. “I wanted to start my life, and [melanoma] put me on hold. It gave me time to start doing more things. I sat down, wrote down things I wanted to do.”

THE THINGS WE HIDE

Looking at Morgan now, it’s hard to tell that she was anorexic. If you don’t notice Elizabeth’s scars and ask her about it, you might not know that she has recurring skin cancer. Just imagine what all the other lifters are going through. How many battle confidence or body-image issues? Who is sick? Who is mentally ill? You can hide a lot of pain under your gym clothes.

What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a deadly form of skin cancer. Cancerous growths develop when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells triggers mutations. Skin cells multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. Causes include ultraviolet radiation from sunshine and tanning beds. Melanoma kills an estimated 9,000 people per year in the United States alone.

Morgan suffered from the mental anguish of anorexia for two years before she started to pull out of it. Even then it took two more years before she felt “over” it. It’s hard to talk about. Subjects like this aren’t exactly locker-room chatter. “It’s sensitive subject matter to talk about, but it’s happening a lot more than people think,” Morgan says. “It’s something that needs to be addressed.”

Magazines and infomercials boast about fat-loss techniques, playing on image fears. Fitness and nutrition make headlines, but profound subjects like disease, disorder, and death get overlooked by our mainstream social conscience. “A lot of people talk about weight loss, which is great, but at the same time there are problems that people don’t talk about every day,” Elizabeth says. “People are still battling disease every day, but it’s good to see that there are people getting through these things.”

NEVER ALONE

The distance between a healthy lifestyle and a debilitating one is not as great as you might think. A doctor’s diagnosis or a bully’s attack can change everything.

The support of a sister, a brother, a friend, or even a stranger can help reverse a slide. “[Morgan] came out of it, graduated high school with honors, and she had a greater sense of health and well being,” Elizabeth says. “It changed her life and her career. Everything she went through happened for a reason. It made her who she is today.”

To work on the items on their bucket list, the lifter sisters created a website, a Facebook page, and spread their message via social media. They use Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, BodySpace, and their website to reach people all over the globe, and not just to people with cancer or eating disorders. They’re out to help anyone who asks.

REFERENCES

  1. www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/melanoma
  2. www.cancer.org/research/cancerfactsstatistics/cancerfactsfigures2013/index
  3. www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/
  4. seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/melan.html

 

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2 Stories Of Survival: How Fitness Saved Morgan Wehmer And Elizabeth Aguilera

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Morgan Lake Q & A

Ahead of the 2017 World Championships in Athletics, we spoke with GB athlete Morgan Lake on how she’s balancing personal life and training

Health&Fitness: You turned 20 last week – how does an athlete celebrate her birthday?

Morgan Lake: Probably quite different to how other people celebrate their birthday. I had a full day of training and then went out for a meal with my family and friends. Quite a chilled one – but still nice.

H&F: Looking back at last year, what was it like to have made the Olympic final in Rio?

ML: It was amazing. I didn’t really expect anything from it. My biggest aim last year was to make the games and so finding out I’d made the final after qualification was more than I ever could have hoped for.

H&F: How do you cram in the training for all of the different events for the heptathlon?

ML: It’s definitely hard to programme it all. There are seven events to train for [high jump, 100 metre hurdles, shot put, 200 metres, javelin, long jump and 800 metres] and you’ve also got to have strength and conditioning as well. It is hard – I usually do about three events a day, maybe four. So training twice a day and then Sunday is a rest day. I also have to fit in studies and try to have a social life. I try and use every hour of the day. It’s not as hectic sounds, and I’ve got into a routine now where I know what I’m doing.

H&F: Away from athletics, what are your interests?

ML: I enjoy being with my friends. When I’m training I’m on my own quite a lot of the time so I don’t really have much time to relax and watch movies, listen to music. Just normal stuff.

H&F: How important to your performance is your diet?

ML: It’s very important. I’m realising that more and more, especially for my energy levels. We have a British Athletics sports nutritionist who we can go to at any time, which is really helpful.

H&F: What power foods and drinks do you use for energy?

ML: I use Red Bull – I used it a lot even before I became an athlete. I use it in training, before competitions, during competitions. During training I will have a sugar-free Red Bull, and then I use the normal kind for competitions.

H&F: What gym moves do you find work best for your overall fitness?

ML: I love core workouts. I don’t really have much time to do them at the moment but I’ll try and squeeze them in at the end of my gym sessions.

H&F: What are the expectations moving up from a successful junior athlete to a senior athlete?

ML: I’ve always had a teen title to my name and now I’m not a junior anymore. It is a bit of a jump and I’ve got to make sure I transition well. I have a long career in the sport so I’m just trying not to rush it.

We tried it!

H&F’s Hally Houldsworth tested out her high jump skills at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre with Morgan Lake and former Olympic Gold medallist Jason Gardener.

‘Beginning with a warm-up, Megan explains how important stretching is to her daily routine – she starts her day with an hour warm-up before training even begins. Cutting that back to roughly 10 minutes, our high jump session begins.

As the session unfolds, we learn that technique plays a huge part when it comes to this event. There are many components that affect your overall performance in various ways. For example, pushing hard off one leg and driving with the other gives you greater height over the pole, as does beginning the jump at a certain distance from it (which is relative to your height). ‘Jumping too close or too far away will cause you to knock it down’, Morgan explains.

Taking four large strides for my run-up and building up as much speed as I can in that time, I begin to understand that I must concentrate on using all the parts of my body in my jump. As I push hard off the ground with my left foot I drive my right knee and right arm up into the air. This pulls me up before I can arch my back and tilt to the right to bend over the pole, flicking my legs up as soon as my back has crossed it so as not to bring it down during my landing.

My various attempts at the event are recorded and Morgan watches them over, offering feedback and encouragement as she does: pointing out the importance of using my arms and engaging my core.

The session proves a valuable experience in understanding the thought process of an athlete – particularly when learning how they overcome obstacles such as mental blocks, and how the psychology of their sport allows them to push past this not only during training, but also in a competitive environment.’

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Morgan Lake Q&A

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Paige Hathaway

9 hours 54 minutes ago

In my story, the princess saved herself ✨
She no longer allowed herself be defined by the struggles in her life. Instead she chose to amplify the things that gave her joy and she looked into the future with such courage it would scare you. She finally learned to stop making other people the authors of her life. That’s when she found her own voice, made her own rules and very much lived her own life. She did not ask permission to make her dreams come true, nor did she wait for others to share her confidence in the path she set for herself because she knew the right people would eventually catch up. Throughout her life she made some questionable choices, many of which led to difficult circumstances but the most important choice she ever made was to give herself a second chance. She wanted something else, something different, something more... and that’s what she became. Now she is the queen of her own castle and everyday is the beginning of a brand new adventure.

Paige Hathaway

1 day 3 hours ago

From me to you.. Good luck in all you do. Whatever you’re up against, don’t show signs of nervousness or fear. Show them the face of someone who has already won. Show them your inner power. Your inner power called self faith. You have to see yourself winning before you win. You have to see yourself already completing your goal. How does this feeling of accomplishment make you feel? Imagine that feeling in your soul. Manifest it in your own reality. Be hungry, find that burning desire in your heart. Don’t just sit at home on your couch.. go out there and conquer your life. Have so much faith in your abilities and in yourself that people around you feel your energy and believe in you too. If you have a heartbeat then you still have time to make your dreams a reality. Happy Monday my lovely people.. Let’s stop telling people about our dreams and just start showing them.

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