PR: A PERSONAL RECORD OF
RUNNING FROM ANOREXIA
By Amber Sayer
When she was a student at Amherst Regional High School in the early 2000s, Amber Sayer was a champion runner, piling up school, regional and statewide titles in cross-country races and in 3,000- and 5,000-meter runs in track. She won All-American honors in track the summer after her junior year and just weeks later raced in the Junior Pan American Games in Barbados.
But Sayer, a 2004 ARHS graduate who now lives in New York City, was also battling a crippling case of anorexia, a problem she’d developed when she was still in grade school. At 16, her bones, starved of calcium, were as brittle as those of an 82-year-old woman, and she weighed so little — 68 pounds — that her parents severely restricted her running, an order she secretly defied.
That’s part of the narrative Sayer lays out in “PR: A Personal Record of Running from Anorexia,” a memoir of her struggles with the disease, her running career, and her attempt to try and gain control of her life. She writes that her eating disorder not only robbed her body of desperately needed nutrition, it strained her relationship with friends and family, gave her a terrible self-image and made her more susceptible to injury.
“I didn’t have any real friends who would be happy to hear from me,” she writes about feeling lonely one night. “By avoiding social events at school, being obsessed with running and wanting to avoid eating at all costs, I had alienated most of my friends.”
Now an exercise physiologist and personal trainer, Sayer eventually began eating more and gaining weight, which slowed her somewhat as a college runner — she spent three years at the University of Massachusetts Amherst — and also caused her to believe, falsely, that she was fat.
Indeed, despite her athletic success, much of what Sayer recounts is painful, as she writes about the disappointment she feels about what she’s accomplished in her life. She says she’s written the book to “face her past demons” of anorexia, better understand her relationship with loved ones, and help other young runners battling the same issue.
“My hope is to spark a dialogue somewhere about the pervasiveness and seriousness of eating disorders in distance running or athletics in general,” she writes, “breaking the silence on an issue we all should be working to prevent.”
UNLEASHED TO LEARN: EMPOWERING STUDENTS TO LEARN AT FULL CAPACITY
By Linda Aronson
Longtime educator and teacher trainer Linda Aronson, author of the new book “Unleashed to Learn,” says it’s way past time to revise our basic education model and create a new dynamic for high school students. What’s needed, she says, is a student-centered method of learning that makes use of new research on how children learn and that’s based on their own interests and strengths.
Aronson, who has lived in a number of places in New England and now makes her home in Amherst, is a former school-based occupational therapist and has studied human neurobiology and development, sensory integration and multiple intelligences. As a former high school teacher, she’s also devised what she calls the Senior Capstone Initiative, a program in which high school seniors develop individual, experiential learning projects they’re passionate about and, with limited teacher guidance, carry them out.
“Unleashed to Learn” includes case studies of some of the projects Aronson’s former students undertook. For instance, a star baseball player with an interest in architectural engineering rebuilt a defunct neighborhood baseball diamond. A class valedictorian studied the work of educational reformers, then used their principles to paint an unorthodox self-portrait.
Another student helped introduce changes to the school’s sex education program by arguing in a report for a more positive, social and emotional approach to the subject.
Aronson argues that students can learn more from doing work they’re committed to than simply passively absorbing required material. “We as educators want our students to be curious and excited about learning again. We know the futility of force,” she writes. “It is time to let go of control and unleash students to learn at their full capacity to find their genius within.”
Linda Aronson will read from “Unleashed to Learn” on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Amherst Books.