Written by Maria Caprigno, OAC/Convention Welcoming Committee Member
My name is Maria Caprigno and just last summer, my mom Terrie and I attended the 2016 Your Weight Matters National Convention in Washington, DC. As a long-time member of the OAC, I have been attending Your Weight Matters Conventions for a few years now and have even served as a member of the Convention Welcoming Committee since 2014.
My mom, however, has never been to a National Convention. When I was a teenager, she used to travel with me for every advocacy trip and speaking engagement I did – but as I got older, she stopped coming and I missed that bonding experience. So, when I learned that the 2016 Convention was only a short plane ride from our native Boston, I asked my mom if she would consider attending with me. After a while, she agreed to come! I was absolutely thrilled because I knew that she would enjoy this Convention as much as I do. I couldn’t wait to introduce her to my friends, show her around the exhibition hall and get all dressed up to enjoy the annual costume party and awards night together. I was also looking forward to learning with my mom and implementing all the new tips and habits we would learn throughout the weekend into our daily lives back home.
The Your Weight Matters National Convention is, without a doubt, the highlight of my year. It gives me the opportunity to see my friends from all over the country (and make some new ones as well!) and attend a variety of amazing educational sessions that keep me much more engaged than some of my grad school classes could ever hope to. Most importantly though, the Convention allows me to feel less self-conscious and much more comfortable talking about my struggles with childhood obesity, my decision to have bariatric surgery at 14 years old, and my recent surgical revision last June. It gives me a place to share my story and hear the stories of others, which is definitely one of my favorite parts of the Your Weight Matters National Convention as a whole. Sharing stories and experiences is so important in this community, and I really wanted my mom to experience this as well – especially since she was in the process of deciding whether or not to undergo bariatric surgery after removing her eight-year-old LapBand last fall. I knew that at this Convention and within this community, she could meet people who have undergone band-to-sleeve and band-to-bypass revisions, hear their stories and come home ready to make more informed decisions about her weight-loss options.
Along with the stories and knowledge, I wanted my mom, as well as every single Convention attendee, to feel comfortable with themselves during the Your Weight Matters Convention. I love this Convention and look forward to it all year because I feel incredibly safe and accepted during this special weekend. As soon as I arrive at the Convention, I know I’m not being judged based on my size and that everyone is truly interested in getting to know me for me – and that is an amazing feeling!
YWM2016 not only met these expectations, but exceeded them. The overall attitude of this Convention was more powerful, more comfortable and even more inclusive. Maybe this is because we were in the Nation’s capital, or because of the amazing 2016 speakers and the improved OAC ENGAGE area, or maybe it was because I was sharing this experience with my mom (I think it was actually a combination of all of them). The ENGAGE area at YWM2016 provided a comfortable place for my mom and I to sit and meet other Convention attendees, speak with the amazing OAC staff and Board members, and get access to all the incredible educational materials that the OAC produces. It was by far one of my favorite spots during the downtime between education sessions.
Speaking of the education sessions, there were some really impressive speakers and presentations last year with topics that ran the gambit:
- The always amazing Merrill Littleberry, who brought out the emotion in everyone else as she spoke about making yourself and your health a priority in life
- A focus on advocacy with the always fun and educational OAC advocacy training sessions
- Dr. Scott Kahan’s panel, “Reimagining the World in Which We Live”
- The “Balancing Perspectives” breakout session (My mom’s favorite because it introduced bariatric surgery patients’ personal stories on a panel)
- The vibrant and entertaining Dawn Jackson Blatner who shared her “Behind the Scenes” perspective from a weight-loss competition
Though all of these sessions and speakers were amazing, my favorite session was Brian Wansink’s “Health by Design” and mindful eating presentation because I feel that I got a TON out of it education-wise!
Leaving Washington, DC after the end of Convention was bittersweet for both my mom and I. We were excited to bring our new knowledge (and all the samples from the exhibition hall) home and mom felt a lot more calm and confident in her surgical decision after speaking with other attendees. However, we missed our friends and the safe and welcoming environment that the OAC created for us. Almost as soon as we got back to Boston, we began discussing YWM2017 in New Orleans. I can’t even express how much I’m looking forward to it, and I hope everyone else is too!
To learn more about the OAC’s Your Weight Matters National Convention and make your plans to attend this August 10-13 in New Orleans, please CLICK HERE.