Tracy McKibben Rallies His Way to Health in 50-Lb Transformation

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 McKibben Before and After

Is this the same person!? Tracy McKibben’s amazing before and after!

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.

Blood pressure cuff

Tracy didn’t give up when he found out his blood pressure was high (Image credit: Quinn Dombrowski)

“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.

FitBit

A Fitbit helped Tracy keep track of his long walks and results

“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 Power

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!

Tracy playing pickleball

Tracy playing pickleball

“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:

Tracy on the pickleball court

“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!

What To Eat For Pickleball (And When!)

It’s hard to enjoy a great game of pickleball while your stomach is grumbling. On the flip side, feeling too full makes you lethargic and the last thing you’ll want to do is chase after a ball! Nutrition is key when it comes to athletic performance.

Think of your body as a car. Cars require gas to get you from point A to point B efficiently and without any problems. Without gas, your vehicle would sputter out!

Your body is the same way. If you don’t feed your body adequately before exercising, you’ll either run out of stamina or struggle to muster up energy, period.

Follow these guidelines to have a stellar pickleball game from the first call of “zero, zero, two” all the way through the final rally.
BeforeIdeally, eat a high-carbohydrate snack 30 minutes to 1 hour before picking up your paddle. In a nutshell, carbs are your energy-boosting best friends.

They provide you with a steady stream of energy to get you through all your pickleball playing. By giving yourself some time between eating and playing, your body can work on digesting your snack. This way, it doesn’t have to split its energy between providing your muscles with energy to play and digesting your food!

Some awesome options would be a rice cake topped with a smidge of peanut butter and banana slices, a bowl of cereal, a fruit smoothie, a small bowl of oatmeal, or a small low-fat muffin.

Delicious low-fat muffinsIf you’re in a time crunch and only have time to eat right before you play, eat something quick digesting. Your body needs energy pronto and doesn’t have the time to break down more complex carbohydrates. Eat something light made up of simple carbs to fire up your energy levels and get your through your game.

Think: a handful of dried fruit, a sports drink or a piece of white bread.
DuringThe most important, non-negotiable dietary requirement during exercise is water. Your body can actually sweat out over a quart of water during an hour or so of pickleball playing. Just about 2/3 of the muscle tissues in your body are actually water, so it’s vital that you drink up to keep your energy levels humming.

Here’s an awesome calculator from Camelback which determines how much water you need per day.

If your pickleball playing spans beyond an hour in duration, you may benefit from giving your body additional fuel from food. Don’t eat anything heavy that will sit in your stomach; again, keep it light and easy to digest. A banana is a great food that will give you an extra boost of energy as well as replenish your electrolyte levels.

Gauge your playing though and determine if your body really needs more food. Most people don’t need to refeed during an average game of pickleball unless you’re playing several intense games in a row, or if you’re playing for several hours. However, you know your body best so listen to it and do what works for you.
AfterAll that pickleball paddle swingin’ really can take a toll on your arm and shoulder muscles, while your legs worked hard to chase down those lobs. It’s important to nourish your muscles to prevent soreness or injury!

You need to replenish the carbs that you burned off during exercise so your energy levels don’t plummet. Try a piece of fruit paired with a handful of nuts, or a serving of Greek yogurt topped with low-fat granola and fruit.

Granola mix with yogurtWhile you may be tired after playing, don’t reach for quick fixes that are made of simple carbs. These were great for a fast boost of energy before your games, but they’ll just spike your blood sugar and cause a crash later on. Bring a small 8 oz bottle of chocolate milk with you to drink after playing in case you may be tempted to reach for a candy bar instead. Low-fat chocolate milk is an awesome combination of carbs, protein and chocolate flavor!

Of course, always drink water after exercising.
AvoidYou don’t want an upset stomach to be distracting you from play. Avoid eating these foods to prevent any discomfort:

  • Spicy foods
  • High-fiber foods
  • High-fat foods
  • Alcohol
  • Too much food, period

The rule of thumb is to not eat anything new before an important event to avoid any unpleasant responses from your body. Don’t try out a new granola bar right before your tournament or you may be focused on an upset stomach rather than your important game.

Following these nutrition tips is a good way to feel great, look awesome and rock your pickleball game!

Baby Boomers Return to College for Pickleball! The Western Institute for Lifelong Learning

When you think of a “typical college kid”, what do you picture? An 18-year old walking around with an oversized backpack and a pile of books? Perhaps a young adult with a look of pure excitement on her face, walking across the stage on her graduation day?

Would you picture a 68-year old married woman, with two kids and 7 grandchildren, with a degree she received over 40 years ago?

This is just an example of a typical student you’d meet at the Western Institute for Lifelong Learning, or WILL. According to their website, “WILL offers a lifetime adventure for continued intellectual discovery in a supportive, expansive, and informal learning environment – for eager learners of any age”. The idea for this sort of program stemmed directly from the local townspeople, who had seen similar ideas in other communities.

Western Institute for Lifelong Learning

 

 

Offering 70 courses this fall, ranging from a one day hike to a semester long program, WILL is a unique opportunity for students who may not fall into the “traditional” age group. For only $75 per semester, students can take as many classes or activities as they want. Held at Western New Mexico University, inside the city limits of Silver City, the program is a convenient way to have both an active mind and an active body.

June Decker, the facilitator of the pickleball course, is thrilled that pickleball has caught on in her community. In 1979, Decker was teaching at a university in Vegas, where a coworker introduced her to pickleball. For years, they joked that they were the only two in New Mexico who knew how to play! After moving to Silver City from Vegas, Decker was determined to start pickleball as a part of the New Mexico Senior Olympics. Once they started playing at the state level, the cities wanted to join in on the fun as well. Decker had the skillset and the drive – all she needed was a facility. That’s when the WILL program came along. The Western New Mexico University already had good pickleball paddles and indoor pickleball balls, giving her a great opportunity to share pickleball.

WILL pickleball players

Once pickleball was introduced, the community caught the pickleball craze! Decker jokes that she “never would have believed I would create a community of addicts”.

Pickleball is one of the most popular classes at WILL. When pickleball was first offered as a course in the fall of 2013, registration for the 18-person class was full within minutes of opening. There were so many people on the waiting list that the decision was made to create a second class section. This year, in addition to the beginner’s class, there is also an ‘Intermediate’ class offered for those who took the class the previous year. Each class lasts for about an hour, and there are thirteen sessions per semester (once per week).

Thanks to the large number of pickleball fans, Western New Mexico State now offers community play two days per week. There’s always enough space, thanks to the 6 outdoor courts and the 4 indoor courts in the university gym. Decker said, “I am very glad we have a pickleball community here so I have people to play with, and I’m glad that people enjoy this great sport.”

WILL pickleballers

Decker keeps her advice for new players simple: “See the ball, hit the ball. If you think too much, you tend to over-teach, and then the [new student’s] heads are spinning!”

As the conversation ended, Decker started laughing while she joked, “We’re keeping senior citizens off the streets!”

Thanks for sharing your story with us, June!

Photos courtesy of http://www.will-learning.com/

by Miranda

Pickleball, a Great Cardio Workout

It’s important at any age to keep your health in tip-top shape. Along with eating right, getting enough sleep and keeping your stress low, another important element of wellbeing is physical exercise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate activity per week or 75 minutes of intense activity per week (http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html)

Recommendations for adult weekly exercise

 

 

A great way to keep your body healthy is to play everyone’s favorite sport- pickleball!

 

Pickleball is the perfect combination of cardio and hand-eye coordination training. It’s flexible to anyone’s fitness abilities and can be as leisurely or fast-paced as you desire.

 

Want an intensified cardio workout? Play a singles match! Although a pickleball court is smaller than a tennis court, you’ll still get a challenging workout as you run sideline to sideline. If you’re looking for a more mild form of exercise, grab three friends and play doubles. With a partner, you only have to cover half the court!

 

You can also choose the pace of the game by adapting the delivery of the ball. Instead of playing with the goal to beat your partner, try to see how many hits you can get in a row. This changes the focus of the game to a cooperative challenge.

 

Pickleball doesn’t only tone your muscles- it also sharpens your mind!

 

Thanks to the design of the ball, a plastic whiffle ball, it’s difficult to predict where the ball will go. Watching the ball  requires focused attention to the game, which in turn keeps the mind alert and stimulated. The Institute for the Study of Aging reports that, “Remaining socially engaged, continuing life-long learning, and engaging in activities… stimulate the brain, build cognitive reserve, and promote cognitive vitality” (ISOA, 2005, p. 12).

 

Pickleball may have a funny name, but its’ health benefits are nothing to laugh at. With the possibility of improving both your body and your mind, pickleball is a game that anyone can play for a lifetime of fun and health.

There are health benefits for both children and adults playing pickleball

 

 

The 82 Year Old Beginner

Dwight McConnell the 82 year old beginner to pickleball

Dwight McConnell the 82 year old beginner to pickleball

A gentleman from Ely, Minnesota, sharing his thoughts on a purchase from us, wrote, “It works well for me… an 82 year old beginner.”
The phrase “82 year old beginner” ran through my head all day, and I began to wonder about the man behind those words. My curiosity piqued, I decided to delve further and explore the unique perspective of an octogenarian just starting out at the game.
Dwight McConnell, the writer of that inspiring quote, was happy to share his insights with me.  “Discovery is life and life is discovery,” he stated, eloquently expressing his belief that you are never too old to try new activities. 
McConnell hadn’t heard of pickleball until he was approached by a neighbor in early 2012, who invited him to join their local club. After she explained the game, he was skeptical that a man of his age and physical condition would be able to play such a vigorous sport.  McConnell had recently suffered a broken hip and wrist and had been diagnosed with type II diabetes, giving him additional reasons to take pause.
After some introspection, McConnell decided to give it a shot. That following Tuesday, he arrived at the club’s designated pickleball court: A gymnasium on the third floor of the town’s public library. He was greeted by a group of middle-aged folks, each sporting athletic apparel and brandishing pickleball paddles.
Fascinated with the pickleball equipment and the players, McConnell jumped into his first game. The newcomer learned quickly how to position himself within the court and manage movements to effectively navigate and return the ball. By the end of the game he was hooked. “Pickleball was such a great discovery,” he said, with passion in his voice. “The physical activity, the sense of community… I can’t say enough good things about it.”
Now, months later, McConnell has a few “bragging rights.” Pickleball has helped him maintain a twenty pound weight loss and therefore is no longer required to take medication to control his diabetes. He’s fit, feeling fabulous and has made many lifelong friends.
Dwight with some of his pickleball friends

Dwight with some of his pickleball friends