At 18, Joey Stagnitta seems to have it all — healthy good looks, a stellar academic record and a generous scholarship package to Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
But two years ago, the math wiz at Lakewood High School's Center for Advanced Technologies was on a different trajectory.
Joey, a former junk food junkie and fan of video games, started packing on the weight in middle school. By his sophomore year, he was carrying 230 pounds on his 5-foot-7 frame.
"I was a bowling ball with a mustache and 2 feet of dark curly hair," he said.
He wasn't teased about his looks.
"I was too scary looking," he said.
"My weight was starting to affect my relationships with others. I wasn't nice to people because I was feeling bad about myself," he said.
By his 16th birthday, Joey was ready for a transformation.
"I knew there was a better person inside — I just had to find him."
• • •
That summer, Joey took advantage of a free teen summer membership at Lifestyle Family Fitness and lost 15 pounds.
It jump-started his desire to lose more, but since he couldn't afford a paid membership, he started running and working out at home doing calisthenics and working with free weights.
He also cut out the cheeseburgers, fries and desserts and started eating salads — lots of them.
"I ate salad with fat-free dressing for every meal. I ate lots of vegetables. Sometimes I'd have grilled chicken. I cut out sodas and drank nothing but water," he said.
The pounds melted away.
He admitted the food routine got boring, but the declining numbers on the scale kept him motivated.
So did the compliments.
A year later he had whittled down to a svelte 140 pounds and gained tons of self-esteem in the process.
He cut his hair and started adding color to his formerly dark wardrobe, adopting a more clean-cut, classic look.
He was named "Most Changed" at a senior banquet.
Some of his former teachers said they didn't recognize him.
He'd just as soon forget about the big guy with the long locks, chains and quirky party hats.
• • •
These days Joey maintains his physique by making smart food choices and eating smaller portions. A typical dinner may include fish, broccoli and a side of pasta.
He runs a 7-minute mile and usually does 200 push-ups or 400 crunches a day. He's gained 10 pounds of muscle and now weighs 150 pounds.
His mother, Michelle Stagnitta, couldn't be prouder.
Her honor student, a National Merit Commended Student and a National AP Scholar, is leaving for college with a healthy mind and body.
"He's a very determined person," she said. "When he sets his sights on a goal, he goes for it.
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.