For Jon Sestak, the name of his new dog says it all: Champ.
The former Shawnee Mission Northwest High School soccer captain got the dog — a black beagle/pug mix — after beating an eating disorder that threatened to take his life in 2011.
Anorexia nervosa, a disease that typically affects women, seized control of Sestak’s body and mind, dropping the 5-foot-6 Lake Quivira resident to 119 pounds. His family worried for his safety before watching him turn his life around at various recovery centers, including InSight Counseling of Overland Park.
He has now graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in economics. He has a new job, a stronger faith, a stronger relationship with his family, as well as dozens of caring fraternity brothers.
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And soon he hopes to move into his own place. With his new best friend.
“My dog is sort of symbolic,” he said. “I got him right when I officially realized that I was over the last hump as far as the eating disorder goes. And his name, Champ, symbolizes that.”
He adopted the 7-year-old dog from the Lawrence Humane Society.
“The last owner tried to train him as a fight dog,” he said. “But he was far more of a lover than a fighter, and he was thrown out on the street. I had always wanted to give a home to a dog. And Champ is one of the most well-behaved dogs I have ever come across.”
He knew it was a perfect match from the first day.
“He jumped right in the car and sat on my lap the entire way home,” he said. “It was a unique experience, and one that I am very glad that I had the opportunity to have.”
If his dog is a champ, so is he. Sestak’s weight has now stabilized at 160. In all he has gained back 41 pounds over the last several years.
“That’s where my body balance seems to be,” he said.
Anorexia knocked his body out of balance. The disease persuaded him that he was fat when he clearly wasn’t. He exercised obsessively while radically reducing his calories.
His doctor didn’t mince words. His disease, he told him, could end his life. Now Sestak is 21, and that same life is back on track.
He’s happy and healthy. He’s working as an associate benefits analyst at Lockton Cos. in Kansas City, an insurance brokerage firm. And in January he’s planning to move into his own apartment on the Country Club Plaza.
Still, he knows the disease can return.
“It’s a continual process of staying on top of it,” he said. “Making sure that you are in the right state of mind and not in that altered state of thinking. Making sure you exercise at a healthy level. All that stuff can snowball really fast.”
He is determined not to let it.
Following the The Star’s article in August 2013, he discovered that many people — even some family friends — had the same type of eating disorder. Many people have asked him to try to help their loved ones, who are struggling with similar disorders.
He tries his best to help.
“It’s rewarding and saddening at the same time,” he said. “I really know that there is nothing you can do but let (their loved ones) hit rock bottom. And I know how hard it was for me to hit rock bottom, and I know how hard it was for my family.”
For him it helped to have so much support.
“It was actually very overwhelming,” he said. “We received phone calls for weeks, messages and letters. It was all (very positive). But it made me very self-conscious knowing people knew that I suffered from this illness. But it all worked out for the best. I just remember a lot of people saying, ‘If you ever need me I am just a phone call or a short drive away.’”
To reach feature writer James A. Fussell, call (913) 492-7893 or send email to email@example.com.