Can Pickleball Save Your Life?
You know those infomercials where you’re supposed to go “from flab to fab” in just 2 weeks using some mystical supplement from Peru and three payments of $99.99? I’ve gotta’ say, they’re a little dodgy.
But beyond that, why bother with magic pills when you can be like Tracy McKibben and lose an incredible 50 pounds in 18 months with the help of an app, long runs and pickleball?
Tracy was recently featured on the American Heart Association‘s website for completely turning his lifestyle around. He went from 198 lbs to 145, has walked over 17 million steps and credits pickleball as part of his active lifestyle.
Already impressed, I knew we had to follow-up with Tracy when we heard the last bit, and he was kind enough to take the time to share more of his story with us.
From Bad News to Big Changes
Tracy was first shaken when a coworker suffered a stroke. Working in IT, Tracy had to sit at a desk for most of the day, which didn’t provide him with much opportunity to stay active. When he heard that his blood pressure was high at a health fair later in the week, he decided to visit his doctor who agreed there was a problem.
“Until my early 20s I had always been slim and fairly active. Shortly after I landed my first IT job, I started hearing jokes from my family about ‘getting a gut.’ That was in my mid-20s. From there I just kept eating, getting lazier and getting heavier. Roughly 20 years of bad habits led up to that fateful doctor’s visit that changed everything.”
Thankfully, Tracy didn’t throw up his hands and resign himself to a sad fate after getting the news. He created a game plan to get fit again.
“I am very methodical. The day I visited the doctor and received the warning about my blood pressure, I left there determined to fix the problem myself, without drugs. That was goal number 1, getting the blood pressure under control. I knew nothing about blood pressure at the time, what the numbers meant, what ‘normal’ was, or what my own ‘normal’ was.
“The first step was to start gathering data by closely tracking my blood pressure, every morning and every night. That showed me just how bad the problem was. I started reading everything I could find about high blood pressure, the causes, the treatments and the problems that can result. Ultimately, losing weight, cutting out bad foods, and becoming more active were the keys to solving the problem.
“I started tracking my food intake, literally every bit of food that I put in my mouth. I started weighing myself every morning at the same time of day, wearing the same pair of sweatpants. Lastly, I bought a Fitbit and started walking.”
Tracking the Results
Anyone can start doing research, buy equipment, psych themselves up for a change… and then fizzle out when the hard work actually starts. Tracy, however, showed incredible resolve and began managing every fitness-related aspect of his life, starting with his diet. He stayed strong by “turning [weight loss] into a game” and used an app called MyFitnessPal to track which foods he ate.
“That app gave me a target calorie count for losing 2 pounds per week. Every single day, I made sure I was under that target number. If I didn’t have enough calories left for ice cream, I didn’t eat ice cream. On the Fitbit side of things, my target every day was 10,000 steps. I made sure to hit that number, usually far exceeding it, every single day. I could earn extra calories in MyFitnessPal for Fitbit steps, so if I really wanted that ice cream, I’d go walk enough to earn the calories needed.
“I’m also a competitive person. The Fitbit app allows you to challenge other Fitbit users to step count challenges. I love doing those. Because of my treadmill desk I rarely lose one of those challenges. I’ll sometimes spend hours using my laptop while walking. I’ve racked up 55,000 steps in a single day on that treadmill.”
Pickleball became another tried-and-true part of Tracy’s health routine. He first saw the game at a local 4th of July festival and thought it looked fun. From there, he found a group that played at a local park and decided to take a trip one evening to watch the players.
“A woman there who would eventually become my mixed doubles partner and one of my best friends dragged me in to play. Her husband coached us and helped us become a competitive team, and after three years of trying, we finally won a medal this summer. I’ve never stopped playing since that first night, I simply love the game.”
I asked Tracy about his favorite part of pickleball, and he said it was hard to identify only one thing!
“I like the social aspect of the game; pickleball players seem to be a friendly bunch by nature. I love the pace, whether it’s a slow short game or fast-paced slamfest. As for goals, probably the same as everyone else who plays the game—to get better!”
Nowadays Tracy plays pickleball 3-5 nights a week, plus mornings on weekends. He also runs 2-3 days a week, usually 10-12 miles each time, and weight trains every day for about 30 minutes.
“And lots of walking. Lots and lots of walking. I average about 17,000 steps per day.”
Hard Work’s Reward
Clearly, although pickleball plays its role in Tracy’s schedule, he’s put in a ton of effort to develop a permanently healthy lifestyle. Tracy’s story is so inspiring and shows that if you put your mind to it, you can make the changes you want to see in your life.
“There’s no comparison between how I feel now and how I felt before. I have so much more energy now. I can’t stand to sit still for very long. If I’m inside and it’s nice out, I’m looking out the window trying to decide between going to play pickleball or going for a run. It took about 18 months to hit my goal weight of 145 pounds. I’ve gone as low as 140, but due to the weight training gained some of it back. I decided 145 is where I want to be, and I’ve stayed there.”
Lastly, I asked Tracy if he has any advice for people who want to get healthy like he has:
“Pay attention to what you’re eating. Don’t stop eating, just change what you’re eating. Find healthy alternatives to your favorite foods. GET MOVING. Get up and walk. Run. Play pickleball. Do something, just keep moving. Find a way to keep yourself accountable. Find a partner to help you. Post everything on Facebook for the world to see, that’s a pretty good motivator right there. Remember that you’re doing this for yourself and nobody else.”
Wise words from someone who’s gone the distance. Thank you Tracy for sharing with us, and congratulations on your incredible work and hard-won health!