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For Teens : Ex-Gymnast Warns Against Obsession With Dieting : Health: Kelly Macy tells all-girl school that undereating and overexercising nearly killed her. A coach’s ‘wake-up call’ helped save her.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Young, bright and talented, Kelly Macy was headed for world-class fame as a gymnast in her first year at the University of Georgia. She left school for summer vacation that year as the Southeast Conference’s Freshman of the Year.

But by the time she returned to school that September, Macy didn’t have the strength to do a simple handstand. Over the summer of 1991, Macy, now 23, had become obsessed with losing weight, working out eight hours a day and often eating as little as an apple slice or a piece of bread. She lost 30 pounds off an already slender frame.

“I did it just to lose a few pounds, and it became an addiction,” Macy recalled recently before speaking to 160 students at the Vivien Webb School, an all-girl boarding school in Claremont. Macy said losing weight through undereating and overexercising, a pattern of behavior she would later refer to as “the game,” nearly killed her.

“Mine is pretty much a miracle story. I’m the first person to come back and be able to compete again,” she said.

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Macy’s presentation, part of the school’s Speaker’s Series, was aimed at teen-agers who are under some of the same pressures to excel as Macy faced--only in academics. All of the high school’s students, who pay $22,000 annually in tuition and fees, go on to four-year colleges, said Jinx Tong, dean of the school.

“Kelly is an example of someone who can come back against this kind of compulsive disorder,” Tong said.

During her presentation, Macy spoke of the drive to succeed and the kinds of pressures she and other gymnasts are under to perform. She particularly focused on her friend, Christie Henrich. Henrich was an Olympic-caliber gymnast who died last summer. She weighed 60 pounds at the time of her death.

Macy said she too might have died if it hadn’t been for her coach at the University of Georgia, Suzanne Yucolan. Yucolan immediately noticed Macy’s 30-pound weight loss when she returned to school the semester after her freshman year. Yucolan barred Macy from competing and practicing but forced her to attend practices and watch.

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Yucolan’s “wake-up call,” as Macy calls it, along with medication and therapy, led to her comeback. In her senior year, Macy won All-American honors, both scholastically and athletically. Macy then went to graduate school, where she is studying sports management.

“One of the things that kept me going was Christie’s memory. I want to show there is a flip side to this,” she said.

After her speech, several students said they connected to Macy’s story.

“I guess the main point was that it could happen to you,” said 15-year-old Mira Park of Palos Verdes Estates.

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Jenhee Newcomb, also 15, of Upland, said she thought of a friend who talks constantly about being overweight.

“Being at a boarding school,” where the pressure to achieve academic excellence is high, “a lot of people are worried about being anorexic,” said Asha Bala, 15, of Alta Loma.


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