The weight room is not just a place for sculpting chiseled abs and amped-up biceps — for Marika Morelan CM ’20, weightlifting was instrumental in battling and recovering from anorexia.
Morelan is a thrower for CMS women’s track and field, an avid handstander and a personal CrossFit trainer at the 5Cs. As a gymnast for 14 years, cheerleader for six and competitive runner for two, she was particularly susceptible to eating disorders throughout her youth athletic career.
“I do think that it is very common for teams such as gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, running — those that are part of the athlete triad and are really at risk for eating disorders — to sway the way [athletes] eat,” she said.
Weightlifting can be challenging to pick up, and Morelan was not a fan at the beginning.
“The thing that really got me to be more passionate about it was recovering from anorexia,” she said.
“I think it was really helpful in reframing my mindset from skinny to strong. … Striving to be skinnier will never get you anywhere — there’s no limit to that,” she added. “Weightlifting motivated me to recover. I don’t think I would’ve if I didn’t start lifting weights.”
Outside her personal journey, Morelan has dedicated much of her time helping others succeed in the weight room as well.
Zoey Ryu CM ’20, a long-time trainee of Morelan’s, said: “The best part of training with Marika, aside from physical benefits, is how empowered I feel after I leave each session. She reminds me each time that I am capable and strong. She has helped me feel comfortable in my own skin and consistently motivates me to stay body positive.”
When she is not in the weight room, Morelan advocates for healthy eating habits, pointing out that body image is “massively a problem” at the 5Cs and that in a warm place like Southern California, there is often pressure to fit the stereotype of the “green beach girl.”
“I see in the dining hall and in the gym a lot of misinformation and unhealthy habits that are perpetuating body images,” she said.
She encourages her peers to remember that “as a general rule, you can eat more than you think you can to look the way you want.”
As CrossFit is Morelan’s main passion, she balances training for both CrossFit and track and field in her everyday fitness routine.
“In the mornings, I’ll do throwing practices — I do hammer and shot — so some combination of hammer and shot practice, and then we do a lift for track,” she says.
“And then later on in the day, I’ll go and do my CrossFit work. So I’ll do my ‘metcon,’ which is metabolic conditioning, which is kind of what people think of when they think of CrossFit; it’s a high-pace, intensity, keep moving type of workout,” she added. “And then I’ll do whatever accessory work I didn’t hit in the lift for track.”
Morelan lifts not only for the physical gains, but also for the social aspect and the joy of challenging herself in the weight room.
“Being around my friends who lift at the same time is a way to get closer to my friends in a less anxiety-inducing environment,” she said. “I like the fact that in weightlifting, you can compete with yourself, and you can compete with the weight. You’re always challenged, and you’re never going to win at it,” Morelan said.
Fiona Gould SC ’22, another of Marika’s trainees, speaks highly of the way Morelan is able to push her during their sessions.
“Sometimes you need someone there to push you, and Marika is an amazing motivator,” Gould said. “I never knew I could lift so much.”
For Morelan, the mental confidence that weightlifting has created has boosted her self-esteem and made her proud of her body image.
“For so long, I was literally wasting away as a human,” Morelan said. “It’s just a really cool feeling to be strong.”
“We are taught not to take up space, and I think that’s BS,” she added. “We have this fake cage on how big we need to be and I just think that’s so problematic. If I want my butt to be bigger or my shoulders to be bigger, they’re going to be bigger and I’m not apologizing. You know? I’m really not.”
Morelan is a firm believer that anyone, not just varsity athletes or bodybuilders, can find their way around the weight room. That belief, and a high demand for personal lessons, is why she supplies personal training sessions and drop-in classes at Roberts Pavilion.
The weight room is “intimidating, there’s football players in there, people slamming stuff, it’s scary,” she said. “So [people] were like ‘I don’t want to be an athlete, I don’t want anything special, I just want maybe to like get stronger … and feel comfortable in there.’”
Besides the obvious increased strength, other well-known benefits of weightlifting include improved bone density, better sleep balance, higher metabolism and weight loss maintenance, according to an article on healthy living published by Chris Iliades at Everyday Health and confirmed by doctor and medical reviewer Samuel Mackenzie.
Morelan advised new lifters to “start light. No one is going to judge you for how much weight you are using.”
“Learn the form,” she added. “Watch a ton of YouTube videos and … practice in your room in the mirror so you feel comfortable going in and being like, ‘Okay, I know what a deadlift is.’”
Morelan said that no one should be intimidated by CrossFit.
“There’s always a version that you can do and also, it’s only as hard as you make it,” she said. “It’s one of the most inclusive sports.”
“I also think the power of an outfit that makes you feel good in the gym is very underrated,” she added. “Get some new leggings, go in there, and squat and feel great.”