Kyle McCarty’s Christmas list two years ago was very short. It contained only one, very expensive gift. And when his mother saw it hanging on the fridge, she began to cry.
The overweight teenager asked for gastric bypass surgery, the same procedure his parents received some years earlier.
“She was like, ‘I know you really want this and we’ll do the best we can,” Mr. McCarty, now 18 years old and enlisted in the Marines Corps, recalled March 5 during an after-school workout session.
That moment began a long process in which, little by little, Mr. McCarty shed nearly half his body weight — some 165 pounds.
At age 16, the Baker County High School student tipped the scales at 340 pounds. He did little outside of school except play video games. It was painful to walk around campus. He was teased by classmates. He needed special chairs because he couldn’t fit into standard seats.
Now, all of that is in the past.
After asking his parents for the gastric bypass, also known as the stomach stapling surgery, they took him to see the same doctor who oversaw their surgeries when they each weighed more than 300 pounds.
The physician prescribed a diet of no more than 1000 calories a day and regular exercise.
“My parents literally, physically pushed me to do exercise,” Mr. McCarty said. “All I used to do, day and night, was play video games. I wouldn’t go outside for days at a time.”
The Macclenny teen soon dropped 15 pounds.
“After that first week, it just kept getting easier and easier,” he said.
Mr. McCarty went to see his doctor again. He’d lost 50 pounds at that point and the doctor refused to move ahead with the surgery. “He said you’re too young, we can’t give this to you,” Mr. McCarty recalled.
More time passed and the youth kept feeling better and better, physically and emotionally. Last September, he walked into a military recruiting office and enlisted in the Marines.
Looking back, he said, it was a blessing his doctor and his parent’s health insurance carrier turned him down for the gastric bypass. “Luckily, I didn’t have it, because if I did, they said they wouldn’t be able to take me,” Mr. McCarty said of the Marine Corps.
When asked how someone so young and so overweight could drop so many pounds, the high school senior credited plenty of motivation.
He wanted to follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and become a Marine. “It’s just a tradition,” he said. “I wanted to continue that.”
He had the support of his family. When he began his diet, the house was purged of all junk food. While temptations were everywhere at school, he said he persevered and stuck to his microwavable meals.
And last, but not least, “there was this girl at school,” he said.
“That’s why I really lost the weight. At 300 pounds, I had no chance,” said Mr. McCarty.
The Jacksonville native still craves key lime pie and chocolate covered cherries, but now they’re an occasional treat instead of an everyday snack. He remains a gamer — playing titles like Call of Duty, Battlefield and his first love World of Warcraft — but he also spends 15 to 20 minutes each morning running.
He attends workouts in the evenings, too, either with other BCHS students competing in the Clash of the Wildcats exercise program or fellow Marine recruits in Jacksonville.
His other hobby is Airsoft, which he describes as “just like paintball, but awesomer.”
Mr. McCarty is the son of Priscilla and Ray McCarty.
“We’re the proudest we’ve ever been of him,” said his father, recalling when his son first began to exercise, he couldn’t walk around the block, a distance less than 1 mile.
“Now he’s running 5Ks,” he said. “To see where he’s been and where’s he’s at now, it’s a story that merits being told ... People need to know that there’s a choice in life.”
Kyle McCarty has an older brother, a six-year Army veteran and zookeeper at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, and three elder sisters. He said he hopes his transformation will inspire other overweight youths to follow in his footsteps and lead healthier lifestyles.