Hudson graduate Cameron Bujaucius overcomes scary eating disorder to become three-time national qualifier

FRANK ACETO Reporter
John Carroll University rising junior Cameron Bujaucius runs in a race last fall. The 2018 Hudson graduate is a three-time national qualifier despite being diagnosed with an eating disorder four years ago.

Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “Courage is like love; it must have hope for nourishment.”

Unlike the 19th-century French emperor, Cameron Bujaucius isn’t looking to satisfy her appetite for world domination.

Nevertheless, the 2018 Hudson graduate has found herself fighting her own torturous war.

It’s an invisible war — a war that has haunted mainly women for at least 150 years.

Anorexia nervosa.

Bujaucius has been a victim of this bloodless but exhausting battle since she was a teenager. This mysterious eating disorder is characterized by the Mayo Clinic as an “abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of weight.”

The cause for this obsessive disorder is unknown. Sadly, it affects nearly one percent of American women during their lifetime, according to anad.org.

Bujaucius may have to deal with these “Napoleonic Wars” for the rest of her life.

Much like “the little corporal,” her courage to conquer this sometimes deadly illness will be critical as she pursues her everlasting “hope for nourishment.”

“I wasn’t giving my body enough fuel,” Bujaucius said. “I would eat certain amounts of food and then I would still be hungry. It’s such a terrible way to live.”

Bujaucius has lived quite dangerously despite her dreary diagnosis. She was a former state qualifier when she ran for the Explorers cross country team and is currently a three-sport standout for John Carroll University in University Heights.

Bujaucius has managed to travel long distances at a fast pace despite not having anywhere close to a full tank. She is a two-time NCAA Division III national qualifier in cross country and is a member of the Blue Streaks’ indoor and outdoor track and field teams too.

So how is this possible?

The answer might surprise you. She has managed to limit her irrational fixation with a certain four-letter word. And this dirty little word happens to be absolutely essential when it comes to maintaining a healthy immune system.

“I think less about food,” Bujaucius said. “When you’re so hyper-focused on food, it can affect you mentally.”

Fortunately, the rising junior’s well-being is stronger than ever nowadays. Bujaucius finished 43rd at the NCAA Division III Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, last fall after placing 62nd as a freshman.

John Carroll, which won the Great Lakes Regional title, finished 21st in the team standings. It was the Blue Streaks’ first trip to the national championships in school history.

“It was great,” Bujaucius said. “It was really cool to be at nationals with the entire team. It was especially exciting when we won the regional.

“Every single one of us worked so hard. It paid off. All of us came together. There were definitely a lot of tears shed.”

Bujaucius made an immediate impact on the track too. She reached the national competition in the 10,000-meter race last year.

Regrettably, a late-season ailment destroyed her chances of reaching elite status this spring.

“It was something like the flu,” Bujaucius said of her illness. “I wasn’t able to go to the OAC (Ohio Athletic Conference) meet. I was getting updates through FaceTime. Even though I wasn’t there, I was screaming my teammates’ names and cheering them on.”

Ironically, this setback proved to be a moot point a little more than two weeks later.

Due to a deadly respiratory tract infection known as the coronavirus, the indoor track season was cut short. The entire outdoor track season was canceled too.

“I was excited to see what we could do,” Bujaucius said. “I was sad for everyone, especially the seniors. I won’t be able to race with Lila Graham in the 10K since she was a senior. It would have been so fun to race with her, but now I won’t be able to do that.”

Kyle Basista, who is John Carroll’s head coach of both the cross country and track and field teams, believes his star pupil can achieve even more greatness.

In a world where relentless hard work pays extraordinary dividends, Basista’s recommendation may seem a tad bit nutty.

Less is more.

“She’s still learning,” Basista said. “There’s room for growth. Athletes are not robots. Everyone has their limitations.

“She has a hard time with balance. Any high-achieving athlete wants to get better. Doing more doesn’t always equal better. The big thing with her is recognizing the importance of an easy recovery day when she’s not working out or racing.”

Basista’s advice includes the offseason too. Slowly but surely, Bujaucius seems to be getting the message. She certainly did during a recent trip to the Rocky Mountains.

Bujaucius and some of her friends drove to Colorado to explore the various trails. Was Bujaucius tempted to treat this vacation as if it was a hardcore training session?

Absolutely.

However, Bujaucius assessed her situation and decided a friendly stroll was much more alluring.

“I took it as a break,” she said. “I had kind of let myself become a slave to running. There was no reason to try to hit paces. We had a really great time.”

While her ordeal has been quite a nightmare in recent years, Bujaucius has used her disorder to become quite the expert when it comes to mental illness. After giving physics a try, Bujaucius is now majoring in psychology.

“I’ve learned a lot,” she said. “The worst thing you can do is not nourish yourself. It affects bone density and the muscles. A lot of malnourished people have a low heart rate.”

This learning process began a little more than four years ago.

That was when Bujaucius checked into the The Emily Program in Cleveland. Formerly known as the Anna Westin Foundation, this program specializes in eating-disorder awareness, treatment and lifetime recovery.

When she first joined, Bujaucius was convinced she would be healed in no time.

That was not the case — at all.

“I ended up missing the whole third quarter of my freshman year,” Bujaucius said. “I was around people who were going through the same thing. I didn’t want to go at first, but I’m glad I did.”

Bujaucius gained some much-needed weight when she left Cleveland. That didn’t exactly alleviate her anxiety, though.

“I was so scared to go back to school,” Bujaucius said. “When I went on my first run, the whole team embraced me. It felt really good to get back out there.”

If Bujaucius didn’t feel particularly good about herself, she had her own flesh and blood to console her.

That would be her sister, Kelsey Kennedy, a 2009 Hudson graduate.

“When I’m dealing with something unbearable, she’s one of the first people I turn to,” Bujaucius said. “She knows just what to say. I appreciate her. I don’t know what I’d do without her.”

Now that she has a much firmer grip of her situation, Bujaucius can continue achieving great things on the collegiate level.

Her coach won’t bet against her.

“If she becomes a two-time All-American or a national champion, it won’t surprise me,” Basista said. “She is definitely one of the top runners in the country. She has all of the capabilities.”

There was a time when Bujaucius may have been reluctant to tell her traumatic story.

Not anymore.

Nowadays, the thoughtful distance star is determined to spread the word when it comes to tackling this complex psychological disease head on.

For Bujaucius, her mission could best be described by Indian spiritual master Amit Ray.

“Enlightenment is the ultimate nourishment for body, mind and soul. It is the ultimate freedom and ecstasy of life.”

“There’s always going to be good days and bad days,” Bujaucius said. “I’m in a very good position now. I think less about food and focus more on being able to enjoy running.

“I’m learning to get control of my eating disorder. It’s not something that’s a part of me.”

Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, faceto@recordpub.com or @Faceto_Gannett.