Reflections on 'Fat School'
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
The drive on New Year's Day 2006 was tense and silent: Fairfax County deputy sheriff Paul Maltagliati was bound for Dulles Airport, his daughter Vicky reluctantly in tow. The 14-year-old would board two flights alone that would take her to a California boarding school neither she nor her parents had seen.
"We were out of options," Maltagliati recalled. Vicky, who weighed 230 pounds, was furious with her parents for sending her so far away and scared about what lay ahead. She was also miserable, and routinely came home from her freshman year at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax in tears, once after a boy pasted a picture of a pregnant woman on her locker.
"I figured if I removed Vicky from school, she'd lose weight and get counseling and her education," Maltagliati said. One night while searching the Internet for help, he said he stumbled upon the nation's first boarding school for obese teenagers, located in the middle of a plum orchard in California's Central Valley. This, he hoped, would be the fresh start the youngest of his three children badly needed.
Vicky's resistance melted as she began losing weight, even though she said "there was always a lot of drama" among students and she clashed with her therapist, whom she described as skinny and unsupportive. But in six months she had lost 68 pounds.
Summer back home was rocky. Vicky diligently stuck to Wellspring's very low-fat diet the first month and logged at least 10,000 steps each day. But that regimen got old fast. She decided she was more interested in partying and quickly gained 20 pounds.
Alarmed, her parents persuaded her to join the track team her sophomore year. She also started therapy and soon began losing weight again.
Vicky now weighs 164, which is what she weighed when she left boarding school in June 2006. Most days she works out at a gym and sticks to the Wellspring diet. "If I have a bad day of eating," she said, "I make sure I work out more the next day." When she goes to parties, she often brings her own food.
She attributes her turnaround to the things she learned at boarding school and to her own gritty determination. "People were saying I wouldn't succeed," she said. "I wanted to prove them wrong."