Last summer, before beginning his first year at Robert Land Academy 15-year-old Peter Darwin (who requested that his real name not be used) weighed 360 lbs. Since then Canada’s only military-themed school for adolescent boys with multiple challenges has transformed him.
He Was A Poster Boy For Morbid Obesity
Darwin has dropped 105 lbs., and now weighs 252 lbs., since boarding at the 33-year-old school in Southern Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula. This summer he hopes to continue losing weight and ultimately reach his 210-pound goal.
Morbid obesity, an increasingly critical societal, cultural, medical and emotional concern, especially for young people, jeopardizes every sphere of their lives.
A Self-Described “Emotional Eater“
“At home, I used to raid the fridge whenever I wanted and I used to think I ate pretty healthy,” Darwin said, at this year’s graduation ceremony. “When I got sad, though, I’d eat a lot. Emotions controlled my eating.
“Robert Land Academy taught me a lot. It taught me how to set goals properly, to value my nutrition, to work out properly. Now, I eat three times a day. I like the food here. It tastes good. They don’t give you too much or too little. You control your portioning. Learn to make choices.”
Feeding Mind, Body And Soul
In 1995, Chef Bruce Ness, an RLA graduate and classically trained professional, returned to his alma mater.
“I wanted the opportunity to give something back to Robert Land, to be a part of the boys’ success. I wanted to provide good, nutritious home-style cooking for the cadets,” Ness said. “I’m a believer in food that sticks to your ribs, feeds the mind, body and soul, that carries you for the day.”
After one year of rugged physical activity, healthy meals, focused academic instruction and the support of his teachers and classmates, Darwin has reconfigured himself physically and academically.
Last year, he admitted, he couldn’t run one lap, “without getting out of breath. I couldn’t do anything. Nobody liked me. I had friends, but, yeah, who wants to hang out with the fat guy, right?”
Darwin stresses the encouragement and inspiration of Deputy Headmaster Major Colin Doig who ran with him after he had foot surgery.
“I wasn’t able to run for two weeks, but as soon as I could, we went for a run outside,” Darwin said. “It might have been hard, but he stayed at my pace and pushed me, teaching me how to run properly. This year, without Major Doig, I wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere.”
Doig explained that the accomplishments of Robert Land Academy students, like Darwin, rest in its military-style structure.
“Structure is huge component of what we do. It’s really the backbone of what we do. I think some people might use the term rigid. That’s probably a misnomer. The structure that we have is really there to make the boys feel safe and secure and comfortable.”
Academic Progress and Motivation
Darwin’s grades dramatically improved.
“Before I used to have very poor study habits. I couldn’t do my homework properly. I couldn’t read. Now, I can sit down. I can read. I can concentrate. I can study for exams and I can do all my courses properly.”
With the motivation and inspiration he received from Doig within the Academy environment, from its staff and his classmates, Darwin said he feels he can do anything he wants, though it wasn’t always easy.
“At the beginning, being away from my parents was upsetting and the first week was really hard,” he said. “I was so incapable of doing things when I was heavy. But now, I’m maintaining my weight, losing more, and the school taught me I can’t just sit home this summer, so I applied for a job landscaping and I got it.
“In September, I’m coming back and I want to push myself even harder.”
Photo: Chris Payne