Gabriel Ramirez’s high school classmates viewed him as “Meatball.”
But not Staff Sgt. Anna Rodrigues. She saw a future Marine.
Now, Ramirez is about to head off to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego to start recruit training. However, it took a lot of effort for Ramirez to get to this point — including losing 186 pounds to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a Marine.
Ramirez and Rodrigues first met when Ramirez was a sophomore at Rancho Buena Vista High School — and weighed over 350 pounds. She visited one of his classes to discuss the Marine Corps and her personal story of joining the service. Afterwards, she approached Ramirez about possibly joining the service.
“She looked at me, not at my weight,” Ramirez said, according to a Marine Corps news release. “She told me ‘It’s all up to you if you want it,’ and from there I got her card.”
Even so, Ramirez struggled dealing with motivation his junior year of high school, especially after people he knew cast doubt on whether it was possible to join the military. Even other branches of the military were skeptical and told him it wasn’t in the cards for him, the news release said.
But he continued to remain in contact with Rodriguez and also stopped by Recruiting Sub-Station Oceanside to start his fitness journey.
“I did my first workout with them and it killed me,” Ramirez said. “I ran a 26-minute mile and a half, I couldn’t do any pull-ups, and I couldn’t even do 20 crunches. But, they always encouraged me, motivated me, and pushed me.”
The 18-year-old from Las Vegas made major life changes so he could join the service.
After making some improvements, Ramirez was burdened with some frustrations because he needed to boost his ASVAB score as well. He stopped training and regained the weight he had shed, and even questioned why Rodrigues was “wasting” her time on him.
“She called me and asked, ‘What happened? I thought you wanted it,’” said Ramirez. “I asked her, ‘Why are you wasting your time on me?’”
But Rodrigues provided Ramirez support, and said she recognized his potential — allowing Ramirez to get back on track.
He also joined the wrestling team whose coach was a Marine veteran. The coach helped Ramirez stay motivated, but only for a short time since he left not long after Ramirez joined the team.
Ramirez ultimately quit the team, but kept working toward his goals. Additionally, Rodrigues regularly called and texted him to offer him the encouragement he needed to boost his confidence.
“She showed up at my house one day out of the blue,” said Ramirez. “She really put me in check that day. She told me to stop doubting myself and just put my mind to what I want to accomplish. I was the only one that could make this happen for me. No one could do it for me.”
After years of work, Ramirez slimmed down to accomplish his dreams, and Stars and Stripes reports he has enlisted for an infantry job.