Knee Replacement Surgery: Letter to a Friend

Dear Natalie,

Missing time on the tennis court is depressing. Playing tennis keeps us healthy, active, social, and happy!

Longevity in the sport is the ultimate goal, right? [Having a Ball: The Joy of Senior Women’s Tennis, USTA, Alex Rappoport] I want that, in the video, to be you and me playing doubles at the age of 86!

How can we get there? Well, first, what are our problems? Knees, back, and weight. Ok, weight might not be for you, but it’s a primary concern for me.

Did you know that I started playing tennis as an adult in October of 2015 after having Gastric Bypass Weight Loss Surgery in July? A major goal Roller Weight Loss encourages is a consistent activity; without activity, the weight won’t come off and it won’t stay off. They taught me that it is about lifestyle changes, not a miracle. So, as a 6-year survivor of obesity, tennis has saved me physically.

As I became more active through tennis, I had to have my knees checked out. I thought dropping the weight would take away all my knee pain. Since I had torn them both up playing basketball in high school and college, gone through 2 ACL repairs, including a staple and a screw, having 3 arthroscopic surgeries, I had no cartilage left at all – I was playing singles tennis, bone-on-bone. I was concerned with my ACLs and injuries, but I was assured that my knees were stable. The pain increased, the acetaminophen increased, and the curve of my right knee increased. Most of my opponents would ask me how I could even walk, much less play tennis. [You’ve heard that before, right?]

Several tennis friends started to mention Knee Replacement Surgery – yikes, surgery! Who wants to do that? They all said they would do it again in a heartbeat, and the only thing they would change would be to do it 10 years earlier! Then there were friends in education who said the same thing. I talked to them all: Who was your doctor? How long were you out for? Did you have both knees replaced? What about insurance? What was therapy like?

Early in the fall of 2019 I called Dr. Hanby at Ozark Orthopaedics. I didn’t get an appointment until November, which depressed me because when I make a decision I want to do it NOW, just like Veruca Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. However, after Dr. Hanby checked out the x-rays and had me walk up and down the hallway, he said that if 1,000 Orthopaedic surgeons looked at those x-rays, all 1,000 would say I should have knee replacement surgery on both knees. No doubt. This actually made me feel good – I wasn’t just being a weenie! More importantly for me, there was a solution, a fix.

The educational materials on what to expect told me everything I needed to know: the timeline for surgery and recuperation, physical therapy (1 visit before, 14 after, I think), what I needed to buy, from where, what was optional, etc. The availability of everyone from the people answering the phones to the nurses to the lady in charge of insurance questions, were all wonderful. I’m a self-advocate and you should be as well. It’s your body, your life, your health. Make sure you know what is going on, read all the materials and take notes. Go into the appointment with your questions, even if you think they might be silly. It will allay all your fears!

Natalie, you will feel so good about yourself and your knees if you will just take the plunge! It is so worth it – all the hard work and time spent! My knees are now good for 20 more years! I will follow the doctor’s orders and keep my yearly appointments so he can keep an eye on them and make sure my knees are still healthy.


  1. Washington Regional Medical Center. I trust them completely and they house Dr. Hanby’s Total Joint Center which is a well-oiled machine, but very patient, friendly, personal, knowledgeable, and cool staff! I highly recommend them if you have a choice and I would not go anywhere else, personally. From Joint Camp (in February – for the June surgery we were in COVID and everything was cut back), to billing, to check-in, to iOvera shots, to recovery, to Physical Therapy, day staff, middle-of-the-night staff, to food service. Everything felt like it was all about me because someone was always there to help me or answer questions when I needed them, no matter what.
    1. Note about COVID surgery: Dr. Hanby and his staff were still very helpful with all the educational materials, answering questions, offering the iOvera on surgery day, communication of expectations, etc. It was a very different experience, as you might imagine, but I still felt taken care of!
  2. Pain. Everyone (every single person), who had knee replacement surgery said the same thing about the pain: it was excruciating, but they would still do it again because of how great they feel now. BUT…I was offered an option called the “iOvera shot” which helps with the pain by deadening the nerves all around the knee for 3 months. It was NOT covered by my insurance, but I chose to have it anyhow. It was worth it! Truly. For both knees I did this and had almost no pain!
  3. Drugs. You do have a prescription for some heavy codone stuff. I’ve heard everything from “I never took one,” to “I had to get refills for a year.” I was somewhere in between with one refill needed, but it was mostly to get me through the night without leg twitches and discomfort more than pain. During the day I was fine. Everyone is different, just be careful since it’s an opioid.
  4. Time and Help. For 7-10 days you will need someone with you 24-7, especially if you have stairs in your house. They actually help you practice up and down stairs at the hospital before you’re allowed to leave. I had my right knee done first, so I couldn’t drive for 6 weeks, I think. For my left knee, I could drive as soon as I was not taking the pain meds.
  5. Accoutrements and Space. Walker, toilet chair, comfy chair where you can raise or lower your legs. My daughter and husband set me up with a side table to keep things to entertain me such as books, writing journal, drugs, earbuds, tv controllers, water bottle, etc. Don’t get too comfortable, though! It is extremely important to get up at least every hour or so to take a stroll around with your walker (at first), your cane, or just go to the bathroom. Movement is 100% encouraged from 2 hours after surgery and should be continued. When you fall asleep, someone should wake you up after 2 hours to get up and move a bit. Truly, the old-people toilet seat was a life saver!
  6. Dedication. This surgery is a choice, a choice to move without pain and be more active for the decades to come! It’s up to you to work hard through Physical Therapy, do what they tell you to do, do what Dr. Hanby tells you to do, ask questions when you have them – advocate for yourself, and then keep up the exercise when PT ends. Work has been my biggest challenge, especially this year with COVID teaching – I sit at a computer more than ever which is good for no human being on the planet. The challenges are greater than they were after the Gastric Bypass Surgery because of that – but aren’t we all in that same boat? Yes, at least for the time being, so we have to dedicate ourselves even more and garner the support of our friends and family!

For me, I need to walk daily as a low-impact way of keeping active. Random tennis matches, if I don’t stay fit in between, will be painful and I will run the risk of injury. I also need to keep up with some strengthening exercises like arm-raises with mini-weights, girly push-ups (sorry, that’s all I’ve been able to manage since college), step-ups, “Duck Walk” and “Bird Dog” exercises for my lower back (thank you, Dr. Eric Walker), and leg pulls with the stretchy band thing. My sister is sending me swim suits so I can start swimming laps – which will help with core strength – but will not be a tenth the fun of playing tennis with friends!

So, 6 years after Gastric Bypass and 1 year after Total Knee Replacement surgery (7 months after the left one), what do I need to do? I need to remember that staying healthy is a lifelong journey that should be fun, challenging, and always include tennis!

NOTE: I originally wrote this in the fall of 2020, but a lot of sitting still occurs and keeping up my active lifestyle really took a hit! I’m working harder than ever to get into an exercise routine. An update on my weight is that I’ve gained quite a bit since January of 2020 – COVID negatively impacted my work routine + knee surgeries and I’ve changed my eating routines and dedication quite a bit. I’m working on a reset! I’m really tired of everyone, myself included, blaming everything on COVID – we’re stronger than this! ¡Sí, se puede! Yes, I can! Yes, we can! Yes, Natalie, you can! I will help you! To end on a positive note, I have not been back to see Dr. Walker at Millennium Chiropractic since a few months after the second knee replacement – August of 2020! Now that my knees are straight, I no longer have back issues! I also got new orthotics with Dr. Bright and my bunions and heels are better!

I’m the 2nd from the left with leggings; look at that right knee curve! This was September 2019, 5 months before total knee replacement surgery.

My Tennis Journey

After a recent visit to my parents in my hometown of Mountain Home, Arkansas, I was reminded of my beginnings in tennis.

My mother organized and ran a variety of programs through the Parks & Recreation Department in the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s from synchronized swimming, to building a swim team, to tennis lessons. My older sister, younger brother, and I did it all: Red Cross swim lessons, swim team, softball, tennis lessons, and free swim days. #mountainhomearkansas

I recall tennis lessons at the public park courts with my mom at about age 10, a kids’ day camp type situation at the Racquet Club, and vague recollections of either taking lessons or just playing at an indoor facility in Midway.

As I got older other sports like swimming and basketball gained interest and I didn’t play tennis in high school. Throughout high school and college, I would occasionally grab my cheap Walmart racquet, a can of balls, and play somewhere with a friend or two or three.

One semester in college I took a 1-hour tennis elective just to have enough hours to qualify for a loan. It was in this class where I learned how to manage a “big kids” serve rather than dinking it in like that proficient 10-year-old beginner.

My tennis obsession began in 2015 after having gastric bypass surgery for weight loss (Thanks, Dr. Josh Roller!). Obvious to some is the physical activity aspect of life-long success with weight loss, but it was so strongly encouraged by Roller Weight Loss that I knew I had to find a consistent activity. Walking, jogging, and playing basketball were all out – BORING and horrible on your knees.

Enter Kim Wood: my sister is the true athlete in the family and was one of the top 2 players in the state back in high school. As a mother of a serious, traveling, nationally-ranked son, she picked tennis back up in San Antonio and was an amazing 4.5 player. She checked out tennis in my state and area and told me where to join, how to register with USTA, bought me a cool, REAL racquet and my nephew picked out my fancy Wilson tennis bag! I had the equipment and a location.

I started by joining Cardio Tennis sessions almost every night and on Saturday mornings. No one was rude or judgmental at Cardio: everyone was just there for the exercise and fun! This is where I heard people talking about leagues and teams. It was already October and no singles league teams had room and I had no idea what to do. A Pro at FAC (Fayetteville Athletic Club), gathered up enough new-to-the-area and new-to-tennis ladies for a 3.5 team. I was a 48-year-old, self-rated 3.0 who probably should have begun at 2.5, but knew I could be competitive as I lost weight and got in shape. Also, I was technically a college athlete, having swum without a scholarship for a semester at Hendrix College.

I lost my first match 0-0, the double bagel! My first lesson was learned here – tennis is fun and you meet so many people from diverse backgrounds! Jennifer Rogers was my first opponent and was so patient and pleasant that we are still friends on and off the court! Who would be EXCITED after a double bagel? Me! I called my sister immediately to tell her my results, but the fact that I was becoming active again and could even step on the court was a true achievement.

When I won my first game (not set, not match), I called again. When I won more than one game in a set I called her. My sister was always supportive of my gleeful journey and always encouraged me to just keep playing. It’s for the exercise, the fun, and meeting cool people.

When I started playing on a Spring League team (which the area League Coordinator helped me find), I finally broke down and bought a package of 4 lessons with a Pro at FAC, Dillon Yeilding. I spread them out so I could just focus on one thing as I played matches and attended a weekly drill at Memorial Park. It took me a year to use up those 4 lessons, but as I got better, I had a specific problem, deficit, or frustration each time to have Dillon help me with. It was perfect for me. (Matt Hogan, Melissa King, Wakako Yamaguchi, Robin Wise = #saturdaymorningdrill)

When I won my first singles match I was high as a kite! When I was slaughtered in my subsequent match my sister taught me my second major lesson: tennis is a humbling sport! Regardless of abilities, some days it’s just not your day AND you have to remember that the other person across the net is also trying very hard to win.

I now have a core group of cool tennis friends, play in most leagues as each season rolls around, have had two knee replacement surgeries (right then left, both in 2020, Thanks, Dr. Hanby!), and won a state championship with my team who also went to sectionals in Mobile, Alabama and made a respectable showing.

Tennis is fun, great exercise, and social. There is a place for everyone: all ages, abilities, backgrounds, races, sex, and even financial status. There are always independent teams who do not play out of a club, so players do not have to be a member of an expensive club. There are lots of parks with courts that anyone can play on, and yes, you can still buy a racquet and can of balls at Walmart!

I was under the impression that people would be very judgmental when I was unsure of a rule or etiquette, but with very few exceptions, that is not true! Everyone was super kind and helpful when I told them I just started playing and encouraged me to keep playing!

Tennis is a sport you can begin at any age and play through any age! I hope to play until I am 90+!

#tennis #getoutandplay #tennischampion #FACtennis #rollerweightloss #ozarkorthopaedics #arktennis #USTAArkansas USTA Arkansas United States Tennis Association – USTA (Official) USTA League (Official) Fayetteville Athletic Club Kristin Webb Libby Smith Kim Wood Matt Hogan

First Anniversary

Today is my First Anniversary! It has been bliss! We love each other so very much and my life has been so much better, more comfortable, more fun and active, and we care for each other so much!

No, I am not talking about my husband of 30+ years. I am talking about my new knee! On February 4, 2020 I had my right knee replacement surgery. The first of two!

I lovingly call them my bionic knees, but sadly, I’m not Jaime Sommers or even Colonel Steve Austin. However, it’s not completely an exaggeration to say that I am the Bionic Woman compared to my mobility, level of pain, and limitations prior to surgery!

My back is even less of a problem since my legs are now both straight and sturdy. Before, my right leg was becoming more and more curved, causing my back to become misaligned. Since my 30th birthday I have had a series of severe episodes where my back will go out, I can’t walk for a few days, and I’ll recover enough to survive. I am also now the ACTUAL 5’6” I have long professed to be!

So, a year later, is the honeymoon over? Not at all! With the newness wearing off, I’m finding I have to leave post-it notes around to remind myself to do strengthening exercises. ¡Sí, se puede, girl! I play tennis and try to walk more (dang – that’s another post-it I need to put up somewhere!), but stretching and strengthening exercises are extremely important to the longevity of my new knees!

Yes, knees; plural! I was so pleased with my right knee surgery – the process & recovery (Ozark Orthopedics, Dr. Hanby, Washington Regional MC), physical therapy (Ozark Orthopedics PT), and customer service (all of the above) – that I scheduled knee #2 as soon as I was allowed! June 2 will be my second First Anniversary and I expect to be over-the-moon in love with my left knee – still – when that time comes.

Maintaining a healthy body is a process that will never end! Well, it will, but then I won’t have a physical body and hope to be in heaven with my saintly grandmother when that happens! Here on earth, I will have to constantly work on my exercise routines, eating habits, and consider procedures and surgeries that will allow me to do what I want, when I want, and to the level I want! I’m not big on limitations! I have a beautiful, silly granddaughter and plan to play with her, travel with her, and provide her with a positive role model as an “old” person!

What are you doing to become or stay active?

Consejos: una rutina diaria durante COVID

Cuando se aprende en casa durante COVID, o sea como Remote Learning, es importante tener una rutina para que tu cuerpo, mente y familia sepan que hacer; aún más que lo normal, ni importa la situación de tu aprendizaje. La rutina nos da algo para esperar en vez de sorpresas inesperadas cada día.

Primero, se debe despertarse a la misma hora todos los días, ni importa si asiste a la escuela en vivo o no. El cuerpo y el cerebro funcionan mejor cuando hay una rutina. Desayunar siempre es mejor para la salud y hay muchas opciones sin tener que gastar mucho tiempo o causar estrés. El cereal, los huevos revueltos o un batido de fruta con proteína sirven para estimular el cuerpo, proveer más energía y evitar el hambre hasta la hora de almorzar.

Cada día se debe estudiar a la misma hora con la meta de finalizar ciertas tareas antes de descansar. Si se requiere mucho tiempo en la computadora, se debe parar los estudios para estirar el cuerpo cada 30 minutos. ¡Tengan cuidado, estudiantes! No se olviden volver a estudiar pronto.

Se puede disfrutar de tiempo libre planeado mucho más que tiempo libre preocupado en las muchas tareas que no se ha hecho.

Si se encuentra con un problema en una clase que requiere la ayuda de la maestra, se debe comunicar con él/ella inmediatamente y enfocarse en otra tarea por el momento.

Los fines de semana mi rutina puede variar mucho. Normalmente, me despierto a las siete para tomar café, leer y escribir. De vez en cuando juego tenis a las ocho y no hay tiempo para descansar. Tomo mi café y leo después de jugar tenis esos días. Fuera de las mañanas, no tengo rutina. Planeo las lecciones para la escuela, marco papeles, miro películas, cocino más que durante la semana y posiblemente juego tenis, ando en bicicleta con mis hijos y limpio la casa raras veces. Nunca lavo la ropa porque mis esposo lo hace, gracias a Dios. También vemos muchos deportes como familia; cuál deporte depende de la estación: fútbol americano, tenis, golf, baloncesto, fútbol, hockey, béisbol. Raramente vemos voleibol o la pista porque no se presentan estos deportes.

Para estar listo para otra semana de lecciones y aprendizaje, es necesario dormir, estar activo y tener una vida social. El balance es clave al éxito en la vida y también requiere algo espiritual. Sé intencional, mis estudiantes y, como leí recientemente: “Haga algo que su futuro ser apreciará.”

Feliz Navidad 2020 y Próspero Año 2021

Mentioning the year 2020 immediately raises most people’s blood pressure or instant grief or negative thoughts. It has inspired unique creativity in the meme world, which definitely helps relieve stress. Normally optimistic folks who take on challenges for fun have either stopped trying new things or complain more than usual. Granted, between 9 months of COVID living, racial strife, ugly political leadership, and so many changes to the perceived normal, we’re all a little on edge and a little more quick to pout or quit. Personally, 2020 will forever hold several monumental happy memories for me.

The first two events are intertwined. First, it’s the year my daughter and I spent nearly 24/7 together from February to August. Emily came home from China for Christmas break and the day she was set to fly back, February 9th, every airline cancelled all flights overseas – she was home to stay! Since I had just had my right knee replacement surgery on February 4th (positive event number 2), and she was completely my right-hand girl, this was not sad news to me. I’ve always pushed my children to go, go, go explore the world, try new things, go places! Since she couldn’t go anywhere, I felt personally blessed to have her with me. She did more than the obvious: drove me to physical therapy twice a week, drove me to school and back home, brought me things when I was too tired to get up, made me get up when I was too tired to get up. She watched funny shows to cheer me up, made me join her YouTube drawing lessons, walked with me, talked with me, drew with me, wrote with me, read with me. Replacing my horribly worn-out right knee could not have been more positive, due to Dr. Hanby and Emily Rose.

Event number three was left total knee replacement. Again, Emily was there for me and we kept learning new things, dreaming about what we wanted to do, watching more Taskmaster, and recuperating. By the end of July I was slowly playing tennis again – just standing and hitting at first – but I played my first doubles match in early August and it was a phenomenal feeling to play tennis with no pain in my knees! After not playing for 6 months, almost every other part of my body ached, but it was such a good feeling!

Next, my granddaughter Piper Joy turned a year old on August 5th. Julius and Nicole made the trip north to celebrate with GP Rains, Mama Elena, and Ganny Haynes and it was simply wonderful to see her after 8 months of separation! Julius and Nicole were wonderful about sending pictures, taking time to FaceTime on the weekends, and sharing her growth and changes with us, but seeing that beautiful, funny personality in our home in Arkansas was priceless!

After school started (crazy, blended, insane, sometimes illogical system that it has become), and I got a bit of a feel for what my year was going to look like, Fred and I decided to have our Vow-Renewal Wedding as planned. Well, not exactly as planned, but at the Christian Life Cathedral Chapel on our 30th anniversary, and live-streamed with limited, socially-distanced seating! My best friend Kristen Novotny planned and took care of about 90% of every detail, with Fred’s help on decisions. This left Fred and me free to meet with Pastor Ron Harris for counseling, growth, and planning for our Covenant Marriage ceremony. We enjoyed taking care of what details we could before we left for Florida, like shopping for outfits and buying lovely “past, present, and future” rings! With the benefit of two “Remote Learning” days which were designated “recuperation days” for teachers, students, and everyone involved in school, we headed to Florida. While there we had the time and separation from daily life to focus on our vows, the details of the ceremony, and ourselves. We chose songs to play with a slideshow we put together, decided on songs for during the ceremony (thanks to Aunt Nancy and Uncle David), and then a playlist for after the ceremony. With Pastor Ron’s direction, we discussed our Core Values, and took care of our extensive list of questions for homework. While some friends and family were able to attend the ceremony on Sunday, October 25th, most watched from the safety of their homes, sharing sweet comments on the FB Live Stream. The day was so special for both Fred and me: our best friends from college repeated as our Best Man (Gred McCone), and Maid/Matron of Honor (Irene Larson Dacus), my best friend organized everything, our daughter selected and sang “Tightrope” from “The Greatest Showman,” both my parents walked me down the aisle, and our friends Jared and Tanya Park carried a picture of Fred’s parents down the aisle. We have video, pictures, and a lovely framed picture with signatures to constantly remind us of this special day and our re-dedication to each other. Kristen collaborated with Fred, my children, Irene, Nicole, and others to ensure everything was wonderful for us. Fred made sure the day happened – for me, for him, for us, for our children. I have the most beautiful 3-stone diamond ring smiling at me every day as a reminder of our past, present, and future together!

On another professional note, we still managed to have a large number of students in Springdale apply for and earn the Arkansas Seal of Biliteracy during the Pandemic – nothing will hold some people back! Young people are resilient. Don’t let them think this is completely negative – ¡Sí, se puede! Yes, you can! Making excuses has been a problem to deal with. Perspective: if everyone on the planet is dealing with masks & COVID, you are not unique and you can’t claim “adversity,” the meaningless sports claim. Not for everyday tasks that a person can definitely perform. Make excuses and underachieve all you want, but many people are completely overcoming every obstacle thrown at them – racism, COVID, extreme poverty, language barriers, lack of resources. With excuses, you will be left in the dust. [Note: I am very aware that many people who were already struggling with anxiety, stress, and other mental illnesses, or simply needed counseling to deal with life, were hit especially hard with the isolation and differences in a COVID life. This is NOT what I mean by “making excuses;” rather, I am talking about kids and parents who have no real excuse, but use them as a crutch.]

Finally, with the support of an excellent principal in the best school district in the region, surrounded by outstanding teachers and an especially team-oriented World Language department, and of course, my best friend Kristen Novotny, the fall semester was an interesting experience. I’m not a liar – there were definite moments, days, and even a few weeks of extreme frustration and mind-blowing, life-altering situations. However, we all felt “in it together” and sometimes together against the world. We were always supported to do not just what was right for the student, but what was best for me personally so that I could survive, continue, and not give up. So much support from so many sides made it all possible and even positive overall because, after 27.5 years, I learned a great deal.

Here we are, December 31, 2020. We celebrated Christmas with all our children, our sweet, perfect granddaughter, friends, and even with family thanks to FaceTime and Zoom. We watched Christmas movies, hung the lights, sang the carols, read the Advent Calendar posts, wrapped and opened gifts, and played with Piper. [My children are amazing aunts and uncles!] Heading into 2021, we have to face the reality that our COVID situation continues and we absolutely must be diligently safe for everyone’s sake, regardless of personal safety ideas or incorrect philosophies. A vaccination has arrived on the scene, but it’s so early in the process, we have to hold strong on mask-wearing, hand-washing (still can’t believe so many needed reminding to wash hands after going to the bathroom – gross – so please continue that for the rest of your life), and socially distancing regardless of supposedly-important shopping needs or desperate need for bars (is the need for strangers so important?).

We can do it, people! Remember that “freedom” does not mean that you can do whatever you want whenever you want wherever you want…because I have rights, too. We all do – so wear your masks, treat everyone (of every race, social status, religious belief, political belief), with respect and kindness, and continue to stay at home when you can. These aren’t “limitations” but rather “measures” to keep us safe while still doing, mostly, what we want or need to do. Family game nights, family pizza nights, and family movie nights are on the rise – keep up the traditions! If you don’t have a family to stay at home with, invite 2-3 people to be part of your bubble and go out of your way to plan weekly, fun activities either in person or through technology!

I wish you all a wonderful, positive, memorable 2021 – but hopefully memorable for different reasons!

#blacklivesmatter #2bilit2quit

The Many Faces of Tennis

Tennis is solitary. Intense. Finesse. Strength. Aggression. Joy. Frustration.

Tennis is also social. Strategy. Communication. Laughter. Courtesy. Manners.

All sports done right should be the best teachers of all life’s lessons. Taking turns. Respecting your opponent. Playing fair. Physical skills and fitness. Mental toughness. Emotional control. Above all, sports are humbling. Learning to fail even when you do your best is a useful experience. Tennis does this more than any other sport in my opinion. No matter how good you are or how hard you try, you will simply not prevail every time you hit the court. Just ask Roger Federer or Serena Williams, much less any recreational tennis player. There is always a person on the other side of the net of equal or higher ranking, who also wants to win, is good, and is trying their best as well. Players seem to respect the ranking rather than look down on the lower levels: She’s a really strong 3.0. We all know that if we were actually so amazing, we’d get bumped up to the next level, or USTA rating, where we would get our back side handed to us for a while. Although there are a few out there who act like a pro contract is on the line, and whose seriousness is always mocked, most adult recreational players demonstrate a healthy balance of seriousness and the ability to laugh at oneself.

I’ve lost my mind occasionally and become angry at my mistakes and my inability to beat an opponent. Me, who does not take lessons, only plays 2-3 days a week, and is 52 with the knees and feet of a 62-year-old. What was I thinking, Wakako? My teammate was equally perplexed by my ‘tude. [Laugh at self with eyes rolling back in head]

For the little ones, tennis teaches score keeping, problem solving, communication, and again fair play. Parents can and often do ruin sports for their children by being too intense, too overbearing, or demonstrating rude, unfair attitudes. The sport itself does not. Winning at all cost is not actually winning but rather a warped, negative, mental-emotional perspective that ruins true competition. For that reason kids’ tennis is great, at least while they are on the court. The players must keep score, make their own line calls, strategize, problem solve, be courteous. No coaching, no adult interference. Ideal.

We see this less and less these days, especially in the big-money team sports – loud, angry, evil yelling. Not just at opponents or the referees. Seriously. Yelling about how horrible another child is or how dumb the coach is? 99% of the sweet, young people playing are not going on to a professional or even college level – no I did not research the statistic. The parents’ attitude suggests otherwise, but they are wrong and warped. Even if it were true and their child were indeed the best athlete on the planet, why not calmly demonstrate that through fair play and kindness? No one likes a talented, rude, elitist athlete, nor the arrogant parents who raised such an unlikable snob. No one. It’s not worth being a jerk.

Everyone should play tennis for a season because it is so undeniably humbling. The sport where, when keeping score, zero is “Love.”

Gastric-Bypass Surgery: Beginning My Journey

Growing Up

When I was growing up I was very active: riding bikes around the neighborhood or down to the creek, climbing trees, roller skating in the driveway, swimming, canoeing, camping, hiking. I swam in my first swim meet at the age of 4. It seems like I was always doing something.

In middle school I started playing basketball. I could play tennis because my mom taught me. She was always organizing classes for all ages through Parks and Recreation. I’m fairly certain she initiated all the programs in our small town. She had played field hockey in high school in Kansas City, was a PE major at Hendrix, and continued that passion raising her children.

The point is, it never occurred to me how I got “in shape,” indeed what was this concept? It was simply my normal state of being. What would “out of shape” even mean? I was never limited physically – if I wanted to do something, I simply did it, or tried it. No question.

Adulthood: Pregnancy and Changing Habits

Then came my first pregnancy. I continued playing basketball until I was 3 months along. One day I got knocked down in the lane and my husband decided that was enough. I continued to eat the same, but the four hours a day of basketball activity stopped immediately. Of course I gained 50 pounds! Who wouldn’t?

After I gave birth I walked with the stroller and soon started playing basketball – and then pregnant again 6 months later. No more exercise. I think at this point I realized I had to actually do something and basketball, competitive basketball, was not a choice. I found an aerobics class for pregnant ladies at WRMC (Washington Regional Medical Center on North Street in those days). This definitely helped me not gain more weight like I had with the first pregnancy. I was able to play basketball after number 2 as well: in the driveway and even some tournaments with friends.

Six months later, pregnant again, but now I working as a teacher full time, mother of two small boys, and there was seemingly no time to even think about playing anything. I loved what I was doing professionally as well as my precious time with my children. I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.

After number three, finally a girl, no more basketball other than the driveway. But then I started coaching as well as teaching. Even less time, but I was around basketball again. Turns out that merely standing in a gym and watching others run while you blow a whistle does nothing for you physically. Who would have thought?

Of course, six months later I’m pregnant again with number four. This time, five weeks after he’s born I try to play in a student-faculty game and simply can’t make it. For the first time in my life I actually cannot do what I want to do because of physical limitations. No doubt I was worse at basketball each year, but I had been capable of getting out there.

I transfer to another school so that I’m only teaching, no coaching. Along comes another student-faculty game. This time I’m going to get in shape first – and I’m NOT pregnant! I had begun a weekly aerobics regimen, but that week I decided to go three days in a row, plus a day of scrimmage games with my former players.

Guess what? It was January, my thirtieth birthday and, after obvious over-exertion, my back went out. Completely! I was bedridden and could not move.

The timing of hitting THIRTY, back going out, and just for good measure, a bad haircut, was too much. I was supremely depressed about where I was in life. The answer? Don’t exercise – then you can’t get hurt, right?

Life Goes On: Without Exercise

That was it. From 1997-2013: work, play with kids, some travel abroad (where your backside does not fit in the airline seat), back problems, including an embarrassing episode in Mexico at a Starbucks bathroom, a fun border crossing laid out in the back of my own van, and a disastrous trip to a hospital in San Antonio. Months of chiropractic visits followed. Exercise is a phenomenal stress reliever; without that, I was constantly stressed and tried to fill my non-existent free time with work and travel, avoiding issues in my marriage and my health.

The Journey Begins…Slowly

The year 2013 was a game changer. I had heard from teacher friends about gastric bypass surgery. I was astounded that I had never heard of this! I’m interested but assume it will cost too much. Then I go to Spain – I had gone to a great aerobics class twice weekly for 6 months without fail. Although I was stronger and felt better, I was still quite large and had lost no significant weight. My knees and back couldn’t handle more activity.

The day before we leave for Spain I go to my exercise class and overdo it with some combined twist/jump moves and I can’t even walk. I go to a the chiropractor, apply ice, pray, and am determined to go. I manage but a student has to help me with my luggage the whole trip. Ironically I always preach to students about this when I take them abroad: “No one will be there to carry your luggage, so make sure you can drag it around!” Eye roll.

With some visits to a masoquiropráctico (more like a massage therapist; no chiropractors in Spain), I survive. Great trip but I was a nuisance to my student who had to help me, and the other teacher on the trip.

Upon returning I was not better and my back actually worsened. Pain management visits for a spinal injection and a new chiropractor with facilities for traction. Because of my weight and poor overall physical condition, it took three months three times a week rather than a few weeks.

By January 2014 I’m sure I want to investigate this weight loss surgery option and seriously discuss options and experiences with several teacher friends. However, by the time I decide that I want to do this and figure out how, the program is full. Without the insurance program, I could never afford it. It was more than disappointed – a whole year more to wait. Good grief!

Near Tragedy Leads to Positive Change

Then on November 17, 2014 my husband had a heart attack at age 48. As he says, he earned it through lack of exercise and poor diet, including too many snacks.

Overnight our diet habits changed for the first time. As a couple, doing this is much easier! This whole garbage of eating raw vegetables while your family eats pizza, hamburgers, chips, cookie dough ice cream, cheese dip (etc, etc, etc), does not work on any planet. Sure, I can make decisions and I don’t have to eat certain things – it’s up to me, right? Not 24-7, especially when tired, overworked, stressed, or just limited on time. But dang! When that juicy pepperoni pizza smell fills the house and six people around you are joyously chowing down every Friday night for the Pizza Night family tradition, it’s just not possible. It’s masochistic to abstain. My children are also older by this time (24, 23, 21, 20, 20, 18) and they were on their own if they were not going to eat healthy.

Program Enrollment and Roller Seminar

On January 2, 2015, the first day possible, I call my insurance company to enroll! No questions – ready! I begin my required monthly visits to my family doctor, and get signed up for the first available Seminar at Roller Weight Loss in Fayetteville. My family doctor knew precisely what to do because her co-office doctor had gone through the surgery and process and had recently left the WRMC clinic to open up the Fort Smith Roller Weight Loss office branch.

  • 1200 calorie diet
  • An app to count calories daily
  • Prescription appetite suppressant (limited time use because it can be addictive)

The Seminar was amazing! My husband was skeptical, not that it would work, but why I wanted to do this, my motivation. He truly doesn’t care if I’m large or small, but the Seminar was all about being healthy, living longer, not by waving a magic wand, but being the catalyst to change your lifestyle. He was 100% in favor of my decision to take this journey.

Between that January and July 10, the date of my surgery, I lost forty (40) pounds and was doing great on my diet, along with my husband. He had lost so much weight as well! After the success of losing so much “on my own,” which was required by my insurance program prior to surgery, maybe to demonstrate dedication and change, a good friend asked why I was still going to have the surgery.

It was actually a good question – why?

Why Weight Loss Surgery?

For me personally, I knew I needed a permanent solution to keep me honest long-term. After years of trying to lose weight on my own and failing, I was determined not just to lose weight, but to be my ideal weight, be active, and remain that weight forever. No turning back!

There are choices on types of procedures:

  • Gastric-Bypass, oldest, since 1967 (the year I was born – irony); most successful, permanent
  • Sleeve – cut stomach in half; seen many not have success
  • Band – slippage, having to go in and have it readjusted; seen too many not have success

I knew I needed the most permanent solution, but would still have to be dedicated, both physically and mentally.

Active Again

My sister helped the most with the physically active aspect by calling around and getting me into tennis locally. With her support I knew I couldn’t wimp out. Tennis has been the difference for me. Fun! Friends to keep me playing, because it’s socially and physically challenging. It feeds my competitive spirit at my level of capability and age. Perfect.

Life is different now. I have more energy. I want to do so many things – travel, activities – participate in life to my fullest! No limitations. It makes me feel younger to be limitless again. Ok, I now have horrible knees due to basketball injuries and genetics, and a wacky back from 5+ years in a row of carrying babies on my hip; but for a banged-up 52-year-old (in January, 2019), I am fit as a fiddle!

Next Steps…For the Rest of My Life

The journey is not over. It will never be over. Weight Loss Surgery, any option, is not a magic pill or wand, nor the final solution, nor the end. It is the beginning. It allows me to start again once I hit my ideal weight or thereabouts. It’s the beginning of the journey that I will be on for the rest of my life.

Encouragement 2 Years Post-Surgery

Balance. Embrace the new lifestyle. Repeat. Remember all the advice from the 6-month scramble before surgery? Appointments and nurse phone calls twice a month. Feeling engrossed, inundated, obsessed, determined, fired up, excited!


No more appointments; less automatic support. As a friend from church stated, “You made it! You’re done! Now you’re just living.” While that’s true and still exciting to me, I must remember that it’s never over. However, this is not in a depressing, struggling sort of way. I keep up the new diet: high protein, tons of water, supplements; I keep up the exercise routine: move, do something fun, find people to do it with, and do it consistently. It’s all about routine!

Helpful Reminders

Continue to stand up for yourself and your new lifestyle. Be strong when your family or friends go out for ice cream…after already having eaten hamburgers or pizza for dinner! Remember, you’re not a martyr either: “Oh, poor you!” Find something fun to do while they’re eating. Dr. Roller would say, “Eat because you have to, then go do something!” Eating isn’t something to do.


I’m now 50+ and planning to live to 95+. This is my deal with my husband – so I have 45+ years to stay active. Someday grandchildren will come and possibly great-grandchildren. I’d prefer to be like the gentleman from the movie Unbroken and perform outrageous, unexpected feats that amaze and astound others well into my 90s! I do not wish to be a burden now or later to my family.

Long-term Goal

I want to be able to do whatever I want to do, without physical limitations. No diabetes. No heart disease. No cholesterol-laden arteries. No whining and huffing and puffing from getting up to go to the bathroom. No sleeping all day because I’m tired from regular, everyday activities. How do I achieve this? Eat right, exercise, go to doctors for preventive measures, and keep mentally agile as well. I can also attend support group sessions when I need help and call Roller whenever I have any question whatsoever – for life!


This past weekend [2017] I participated in my tennis team’s State Tournament in Little Rock. It was an inspiration to be surrounded by such active ladies in my 40+ age league bracket. There really are a host of friends out there who are active physically, while also being very busy with work, children, grandchildren, and other responsibilities. For my part, as I was preparing to serve during one match on this sunny, warm, Saturday evening at Burns Park, I looked up to see this gorgeous view of a forest of pine trees and thought, “This is it. This is what I wanted: to participate in life rather than waving sadly as it passes me by.” And I won my third singles match in a row for the weekend! I lost my next one, but that was incredibly fun as well. It’s not the winning, nor even the competing, but the participating!

We can do this! Join me in participating in life!

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