Running Thin: Evan Pardi’s fight with eating and control
Summer in Alabama can be brutal. Temperatures hover around 90, with heavy humidity. You wouldn’t catch anyone out wearing more than one layer of clothing — anyone other than Evan Pardi.
During the summer of his freshman year of high school, 6-foot-tall Pardi weighed only 120 pounds. He had developed a serious eating disorder, dropped 60 pounds and had almost no body fat. Even though the temperatures were close to 100 degrees with 90 percent humidity, Evan had to wear a jacket and coat because his body temperature was dangerously low.
Seven years later, Pardi is now one of the elite athletes at the University of Oregon.
In just three years of competition, Pardi, a member of the club triathlon team, has managed to land a podium spot in every race in the Pacific Northwest. Along the way, he’s had to endure not just the grueling training of an elite triathlete, but also an internal struggle that has given him the mental toughness he needs to compete at the highest level.
‘Why is the fat kid running?’
In elementary school, he considered himself obese.
When Pardi transitioned to middle school he sought to change that. He started exercising a lot — specifically running and rowing — but he wasn’t losing the weight as quickly as he had hoped.
“I started to get teased about it,” Pardi said. “It became a peer pressure thing, like ‘Why is the fat kid running?’ ”
Pardi continued running through middle school and into high school, when he finally began to see results. In his freshman year of high school, his weight dropped from 180 pounds to 150.
“That would’ve been a nice area to stop, but then I kept going,” Pardi said.
He began to push himself more and more, which wouldn’t have been so bad if he had continued to eat. Although he didn’t realize it at first, Pardi was developing the traits of anorexia and bulimia. He was running more, eating less, and using excessive exercise as a distraction from his growing problem.
Pardi didn’t think he had a problem, but his condition was beginning to worsen.
“When you don’t eat enough, you don’t have any energy,” Pardi said. “So I’m trying to run faster because I wanted to be competitive, but I was just getting slower and slower, so it became more and more frustrating.”
Pardi had developed symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety, stemming from his frustration about his slow times and weight.
“It was terrifying,” said Paul Pardi, Evan’s father.
Paul Pardi was having dinner with his son one night when he saw him struggling to figure out what to eat. Noticing a growing issue, they decided to seek professional help. Their doctor immediately knew something was wrong, and recommended Pardi start seeing a dietitian and psychiatrist.
The doctors and psychiatrist prescribed him, as Pardi put it, “a lot of drugs.”
‘I would’ve put me in the hospital’
His dietitian, Anna Key, noticed from his appearance that he was going through something serious.
“He was kind of gaunt and sunken,” Key said. “He had dark eyes and a pale look to his face.”
When he first saw Key, Pardi was more interested in sports nutrition and eating better, but after a few more meetings, Key recognized there was a more important issue at hand.
“It wasn’t necessarily about the sports nutrition at that point,” Key said. “We had a more critical issue that we needed to address.”
“In hindsight, seven years later, I would’ve put me in the hospital,” Pardi said.
Pardi was suffering from a severe eating disorder that affected him physically and mentally. For an intense endurance athlete like himself, the problem was not uncommon. According to the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, 9 percent of males who compete in endurance sports suffer from eating disorders. For women, that rate is much higher — about 24 percent.
Tim Crowley, Evan’s Florida-based trainer who has trained several endurance athletes who competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said the problem is common among athletes competing at the highest levels.
Crowley and Pardi agree most of these athletes are perfectionists who push themselves to extremes and pressure themselves to be the best. With little control over their circumstances, many triathletes strive to find some aspect of their life they can control.
With food, “you can control everything, and with that comes a certain amount of satisfaction,” Crowley said.
“In a screwed-up way it was like an escape from everything,” Pardi said. “Because all I did was worry about food all day and all night, I didn’t worry about anything else.”
Pardi was sidelined from the start of his freshman summer to the first few months of his sophomore year on doctor-ordered rest.
“It was killing me,” he said about not being able to run.
As he entered his sophomore year, Pardi began to regain his health. He saw a psychiatrist and dietitian weekly. He ate more and gained some weight back, but was still far from returning to running.
His parents knew the hiatus was necessary but understood how hard it was for him to stop doing what he loved.
“He was active all the time, so it was really tough for him,” Paul Pardi said. “But we wanted him to gain weight. Exercising and running five miles a day wasn’t going to help him do that.”
After five months of visits to his therapist, calorie-heavy dieting, and no hard exercise, Pardi was ready to run again. He tried out for the cross country team his sophomore year, but realized he was a lot slower than before. Soon, though, he figured out his struggle could be a growing and learning process.
By the time his junior year rolled around, Pardi was up to 150 pounds and the fastest cross country runner in the state.
Even after overcoming all this, the disorder took another toll. Pardi suffered a stress fracture in his hip caused by a calcium deficiency in his bones that originated from his eating disorder. It sidelined him from running for a year.
“My bones were basically the bones of a 70-year-old woman,” Pardi said.
Now, Evan says his injury was more of a “blessing in disguise.” It only prevented him from running, so he found an outlet in another sport: triathlons.
He began swimming and, as he grew healthier, biking. Soon, a year had passed and Pardi was running again. Problems with his hip, however, lingered, and he realized his future lay in triathlons.
Pardi has thrived in his three years as a triathlete. He was the second-fastest American finisher in the 2014 ITU World Triathlon Championship in Edmonton, and placed 11th in the 2015 USA Triathlon Sprint National Championship in Milwaukee.
But Pardi, a music performance major, will always remember his battle with his eating disorder and how it helped him grow as a person and an athlete.
“As horrible as it was, it’s made me so much stronger mentally,” Pardi said. “It’s made me able take losses in a race, or losses in music or life, and put them into perspective. It used to be a dream to be able to sleep a whole night, wake up and not almost pass out from standing up.”
Still training hard, Pardi hopes to compete for a spot on Team USA in the next year.
He’s come a long way from being the fat kid who likes to run.
Follow Gus Morris on Twitter @g_amorris.
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