Gabriel Mendez Ramirez, from Oceanside, California, knew he wanted to become a Marine since his childhood. However, his dream was fraught with self-doubt, as he was bullied for his massive weight. Now, after overcoming all the obstacles, the 18-year-old has lost 186 pounds (approx. 84 kg) and has left to start his Marine Corps recruit training.
According to Defense Visual Information Distribution Services, Ramirez had his first encounter with a United States Marine in a crowded restaurant a few years ago. At that time, Ramirez had no idea who the person was but was just attracted by his uniform. After he approached him to know more, Ramirez was determined that one day he would become a Marine too.
However, ever since he embarked on the path to achieve his dream, he has faced numerous challenges.
As a freshman in Rancho Buena Vista High School, Ramirez weighed 365 pounds (approx. 166 kg). Friends and classmates would tease him and call him cruel names such as “meatball.”
But Ramirez’s turning point in life came when he first met Staff Sgt. Anna Rodrigues at the end of his sophomore year in high school. Rodrigues spoke to his class about her experience at the Marine Corps and shared stories. Right after the session, she pulled Ramirez aside and asked him about his interests and gave him her card.
“She looked at me, not at my weight,” Ramirez recalled. “She told me ‘It’s all up to you if you want it.’”
After the initial push from Rodrigues, Ramirez was determined to work toward achieving his goal. However, in junior year, Ramirez was overcome with self-doubt and struggled, as people around told him that he wouldn’t be able to do it. Meanwhile, other branches also echoed that he wouldn’t be able to achieve his dream owing to his weight. But then he saw Rodrigues again and visited the Recruiting Sub-Station Oceanside.
“I did my first workout with them and it killed me,” said Ramirez. “I ran a 26-minute mile and a half, I couldn’t do any pull-ups, and I couldn’t even do 20 crunches. But, they always encouraged me, motivated me, and pushed me.”
Determined for a while, he showed up at workouts, but not long after, he discontinued his exercise and stopped coming. The teen realized at that time that it wasn’t only all the extra weight that he had to shed but that he also needed to work on improving his scores for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test.
Describing himself as not being in a “good place” at that time, Ramirez started to regain all the weight he had worked so hard to lose. By this time, he lacked motivation and was reconsidering achieving his dream of becoming a Marine Corp. However, Rodrigues never seemed to give up on him. She texted him regularly and motivated him.
“There were a lot of people that put Gabriel down, and I would tell him you can be upset about it or you can show them you won’t be the person they think you are,” Rodrigues told Stars and Stripes, an American Military Newspaper.
Touched by the constant motivation from Rodrigues, Ramirez, who has grown up with a single mother, picked up from where he left off and worked hard. He also joined his school’s wrestling team. At that time, his coach, a Marine Veteran, also encouraged him and taught him perseverance. However, within a month, his mentor was replaced.
Ramirez then shared that the new coach and his teammates didn’t seem to like him and made him believe that he would really not be able to achieve his goal. “At first I didn’t let it get to me, but once my new coach told me ‘You suck.’ His words really hit me hard and I quit the team,” Ramirez said, according to Defense Visual Information Distribution Services.
However, Rodrigues always stood by his side, not letting him give up on his dream. “The kids I talk to, one thing I look for is heart,” Rodrigues told Stars and Stripes. “I am looking for someone that won’t quit and will accept the challenge.”
During his high school, Ramirez battled between self-doubt and determination. After a lot of discouragement from people around him, Rodrigues one day turned up at Ramirez’s front door. “She really put me in check that day. She told me to stop doubting myself and just put my mind to what I wanted to accomplish. I was the only one that could make this happen for me. No one could do it for me,” Ramirez recalled.
Now, finally after losing 186 pounds (approx. 84 kg) at the end of May, Ramirez left to train at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, according to Military.com.