[From The Tennessean:]. Hey, Julie Nidiffer shouted over to her husband, Jerry, in their Bellevue home a year ago, maybe we should start playing pickleball. They say old people can play it, so maybe fat people can, too.
“Pickle what?” he said.
The two laughed at the name.
But it was a serious idea, one that might have saved Nidiffer’s life.
Days later, Nidiffer, morbidly obese and depressed, put on her baggiest sweatpants and a long-sleeve shirt and timidly stepped onto a court for pickleball, a tennis-like paddle sport that’s sweeping the 50+ crowd.
She has been playing regularly since.
In 12 months, Nidiffer dropped more than 90 pounds and gained a new circle of friends, a combination that gave her new energy and a will to live.
“It’s on the verge of miraculous,” her husband said.
After doing the dishes, she was done
Nidiffer wasn’t always big.
In fact, she grew up a skinny, happy kid running around her working-class neighborhood in the Nations in West Nashville.
Nidiffer weighed around 110 when she went to high school and started dating her future husband. After getting married at 18, Nidiffer fell in with the 1980s aerobics classes craze – and yes, she wore the leggings.
The couple had two children early in their marriage, and Nidiffer also was going to school full time at Middle Tennessee State University.
It was easy and cheap to grab McDonald’s Big Macs and happy meals for the kids – and her weight started to creep up, despite regularly taking long walks.
During the next 20 or so years, Nidiffer got up over 150 pounds, sometimes peaking around 180.
It’s when she blew past the 200-pound mark about six years ago that she started falling apart.
Nidiffer stared at the number 207 on the digital scale in her bathroom and decided to, essentially, give up.
It wasn’t just the weight throwing her into a depression.
Her mom had died 10 years earlier after her own struggles with weight; Nidiffer recently lost the job she loved at the YMCA after working there nearly two decades; and, when she went back to college after that, she felt out of place with students much younger than herself.
All that led to anxiety and lots of tossing and turning overnight.
Plus, Nidiffer was in constant pain because her excess weight aggravated a disc degeneration in her lower back,
“I was so depressed and in so much pain and in such bad shape, if I did the dishes, that was it for me for the day,” she said.
Nidiffer did little else outside of volunteering for the Hillwood High School band boosters because her youngest was in band.
“I actually became one of those people who felt like the world would be better without me. It was the lowest point I’d ever been in my life.”
Pickleball pals picked her up
Nidiffer and her husband, longtime members of the Gordon Jewish Community Center’s gym, got emails regularly from the JCC, and Nidiffer became intrigued with the word “pickleball” she kept seeing.
The emails said the sport is good for beginners of all fitness levels, and that instructors would show newcomers how to play.
With her husband in tow, Nidiffer showed up last January, anxious, weighing 243 pounds – and she had a good time.
She wasn’t any good, and she needed her husband to retrieve the balls that got by her so she wouldn’t get too winded.
But Nidiffer found the other players welcoming and encouraging.
“If I hit one good shot out of a 100, there was always a compliment on the good shot, never a criticism of the ones I missed,” she said, smiling.
Nidiffer got a little bit better every time, and she lost a little weight every time. Nidiffer dropped 10 pounds in four months – and that was enough to inspire her to take the next step of joining the Weight Watchers weight-loss program.
“She became a much lighter person, physically and spiritually,” said her husband, who has lost 70 pounds himself this year. “She was having fun, and she realized she could have fun.”
Band booster parents also started noticing changes, and not just in Nidiffer’s weight.
“She has always been a light in any room,” said boosters president Sheryl Wilson, “but she seemed to shine even brighter, as if a figurative weight was also being lifted.”