“How do I want to live life? Do I want to live in a way that they are going to put me in a coffin soon? Am I going to get my bachelor’s degree? What do I want the rest of my life to be like?”Those are the questions Mesa Community College student Ruth Vasquez asked herself before the start of the spring semester after multiple health problems threatened her life.
After developing diabetes at the age of 20, Vasquez lost her vision to diabetic retinopathy at the age of 30. Despite 11 surgeries, Vasquez’s vision was not able to be saved. This sent Vasquez down the road of obesity.
“By the time I went back to the eye doctor too much damage had occurred because of the diabetes,” Vasquez said. “My whole world was turned upside down, I lost my job and I had to figure out my life. I was a big food eater and used food for comfort and as a crutch.”
Vasquez then returned to school to pursue her associate degree in business.
“I decided to come back to school to make myself marketable and to get myself back out there,” Vasquez said.
While working on her degree, Vasquez had yet another obstacle come into her life, this time it was kidney failure.
“That was another devastation,” Vasquez said. “Dialysis was my only way to survive; I had three to six months to live without dialysis. It would have been a painful death.”
Despite the kidney failure and dialysis, she was able to get her associate degree in business with a certification in management in May 2009.
“I don’t know how I got through graduation because I was so out of breath and tired,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez’s doctor told her she would be a great candidate for a kidney transplant thanks to her spirit even with all the things she had gone through. But, she would need to pass a health evaluation to be put on this list of candidates with the possibility of receiving a transplant.
Vasquez had attempted to get herself in shape many times using the Mesa Community College Health Improvement Center.
“I would stop going sometimes just because I didn’t think I was losing weight,” Vasquez said.
Collin Post is adjunct faculty in the exercise science department at MCC and had worked with and seen this pattern with Vasquez over the course of four years in the Health Improvement Center.
“You would do well for two weeks with her and something would happen and we wouldn’t see her for a couple weeks and she would let her diet go,” Post said. “We’ve been fighting with that for about four years now.”
“Coach Collin and I had a conversation before winter break and he told me something that changed something inside my head and I kept repeating it to myself over the break,” said Vasquez.
“I can lead you to the light but you’re going to have to flip the switch and turn the light on,” Post told Vasquez.
“Over and over, I thought about what he said until I decided to take the semester off and put everything on hold to work on my health,” Vasquez said.
To ensure that the history of Vasquez working out for a week and then not showing up did not repeat itself, Post and Vasquez wrote out a contract.
The contract stated that Vasquez was to show up to the weight room every day and adhere to a diet that Post and the other coaches approved of. If Vasquez did not follow the guidelines of the contract she would receive an “F” in the class for the semester.
“I started working out and showing up every day and keeping my diet right, saying goodbye to all the fast food and making my own food,” Vasquez said, smiling with pride.
Vasquez now goes to the weight room around 30 hours each week and has felt the benefits physically and emotionally.
“I think when I lost five pounds something in me clicked,” Vasquez said. “OK the coaches know what they are talking about.”
She has lost 25 pounds and 13 inches off of her waistline.
“I look at her numbers when she gets her blood work done; her blood sugar was at 200, with 100 being normal,” Post said. “Now she is running around 140. For her, getting it down that much has been huge. It reinforces that the exercise is working.”
Vasquez has battled with depression for years and feels that exercising has helped her with this problem in a big way.
“I was just like ‘Oh my god, is this really happening?’ I feel happier now. I believe I can get my bachelor’s degree and everything is turning around,” Vasquez said. “(For) anyone that goes to school here with a sickness or disability, I would encourage them to exercise at the Health Improvement Center because you can turn it around. You feel better, have more energy and you do better in school.”
“I don’t think without Coach Collin everyone would have been onboard like they are now and I thank God for bringing him in my life,” Vasquez said. “People see me and they can’t believe it. It inspires them to go back on their diet and lose weight and I don’t even have to say anything.”
“She’s never given up. The thing that impresses me the most is she has stuck it out even when she didn’t get the results she wanted. She kept coming and now (she) is seeing the results,” Post said.
“I’m excited for the fall to come and to go back to school,” Vasquez said. “I have more energy now than I ever did before.”
Vasquez continues to remain hopeful that she will be chosen to receive a pancreas and kidney transplant. She plans on participating in the Susan G. Komen 60-mile/3-day Breast Cancer Walk in November.