Columbia tennis player changes life, loses 130 pounds in 13 months

by Jonathon Braden

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Standing near the baseline during a USTA league doubles match, Lyn Hibino prepares to show what losing 130 pounds has done for her.

She bends her knees, stares straight ahead and eyes the ball, which is headed away from her, near the baseline on the other end of the court.

Hibino, though, glides to the opposite side and hits a backhand, which is returned. With her opponent’s next shot, she cuts an unreturnable backhand drop shot.

Point, Hibino’s doubles team, and another point to Hibino’s decision to change her life a year ago.

Lyn Hibino readies for a shot during a USTA South Carolina league match on Sept. 22, 2014. (USTA SC photo)

Lyn Hibino readies for a shot during a USTA South Carolina league match on Sept. 22, 2014. (USTA SC photo)

* * *

She was always most depressed before tennis, which was odd, because she loved tennis the most.

But for years after playing in a weekday morning league match, having lunch with friends and running errands, Hibino would lie on her couch in her northeast Columbia home, snack on chips and salsa, play Tivo’d episodes of “Investigation Discovery” and wish her life wasn’t this way.

She didn’t want to have to rest for hours in between playing tennis in the morning and at night. She was 44, after all, not 74. Why did it feel like she had arthritis in her left foot and right knee? And what was making her knees and joints hurt so bad that she once thought to herself, “Maybe I have bone cancer.”

Hibino wished she wasn’t carrying 272 pounds on her 5 foot, 3 inch frame. She wanted to run down her stairs, not cling to the railing with each step. She also could do without her daily ibuprofen intake – 2,400 milligrams, the equivalent of 12 over-the-counter pills – that she’d been taking for two years.

Hibino at her home in July 2013. (Submitted photo.)

Hibino at her home in July 2013. (Submitted photo.)

And, sure, she didn’t particularly enjoy cropping photos of herself – always making sure nothing below her shoulders showed – before sharing them on Facebook. But what could she do? She had gradually gained the weight – about 10 pounds a year since 2001 – and it wasn’t coming off.

Hibino had tried nearly every diet and exercise program – Weight Watchers, Curves, Slimfast. None worked.

She even had tried over-the-counter diet medicine, but that made her jittery. Old-fashioned diet and exercise never worked, either.

She needed something that helped her control her emotional eating, something that physically stopped her from eating that bowl of Lay’s Sour Cream & Onion chips as a midnight snack.

No diet program provided Hibino that, so she kept lying on the couch, watching murder mystery after murder mystery. And in early 2013, she quit her latest weight-loss program – Nutrisystem – and decided to altogether quit worrying about her health.

She had plenty going on to keep her busy. Her son was finishing his senior year at Dutch Fork High School, and her contract work with the South Carolina Department of Social Services was steady.

And, really, how bad could her health be? Her husband loved her, told her she was beautiful. She was playing tennis a few times a week, and she was winning her matches. In 2013, one of her doubles teams went 11-1.

Maybe this – this life of mandatory rest between matches, achy knees and worn-out joints – was just how her life would be. But Hibino knew it was going to only get worse. She remembers thinking, “I’m just not going to be able to do the things I enjoy.”

* * *

So life went for Hibino, until June 2, 2013.

She was dropping off some mail at the post office when she briefly chatted with an acquaintance.

My, Hibino thought, did that woman look different. She looked younger. She had lost weight. And she had ditched her walking cane.

Lying in bed that night, Hibino’s husband, Bob, encouraged her to reach out to the woman.

Lyn Hibino messaged her on Facebook, and within a week, Hibino was reading the response that changed how she would think about weight loss: The woman had undergone gastric sleeve surgery.

The surgery removes part of a person’s stomach and creates a new, smaller stomach, one that’s about the size of a banana. The surgery, in effect, forces the person to eat much smaller portions.

Days later, Hibino and her husband were in the car, headed to a local hospital to learn more about weight-loss surgeries.

At the appointment, they learned gastric sleeve surgery at that hospital was going to cost the couple too much, but they also learned what Lyn Hibino had been waiting years to hear: The weight-loss surgery would work.

And if it had worked for her acquaintance, Hibino was going to make it work for her as well.

On the drive home, she called and left messages for hospitals in Florence and Greenville. She also filled out a “contact us” form for a surgical weight-loss clinic near Charlotte.

Within 24 hours, Hibino was exchanging emails with Dr. Ryan Heider of The Center for Surgical Weight Loss at Lake Norman.

Two weeks later, Bob and Lyn Hibino were driving up to Mooresville, North Carolina, to meet Heider.

At his clinic, Heider told her the surgery would cost a price she and her husband could afford. Heider also told her she was a strong candidate for the surgery, but she would have to lose at least 20 pounds before any operation.

For three weeks, Hibino stuck to a diet of protein shakes, bars, soups and unlimited cucumbers and celery stalks. On August 22, she went through with the surgery.

Hibino on August 29, 2013, one week after her surgery. (Submitted photo.)

Hibino on August 29, 2013, one week after her surgery. (Submitted photo.)

* * *

More than 13 months have passed since Hibino had the surgery, and since, she has shrunk considerably.

She wears a size 8, down from a size 22. She weighs 144 pounds, down from 272.

All of the pain and painkillers are gone as well. She can run up and down her stairs. On the tennis court, she easily covers side to side, net to baseline.

Hibino knows the surgery helped her lose so much weight so quickly. But she also knows her actions have greatly helped her health as well.

Daily, she chooses a V8 instead of a Diet Coke. She mostly continues to eat only eraser-tip-sized portions of food. She savors Dannon Oikos banana cream yogurt instead of chocolate brownies. She also plays tennis a few times a week.

Hibino’s dietitian in Mooresville said weight-loss surgery obviously helps patients, but it’s what people do after surgery that matters most.

“The surgery only gets people so far with weight loss. It’s a tool,” said Amanda Downs, the program dietitian at The Center for Surgical Weight Loss at Lake Norman. “The patients who take full advantage of that new tool and use it and take care of it, do awesome.”

Hibino’s new life also features more enjoyable moments with her family.

On a Saturday afternoon in late May, the family was boating and slaloming with friends on Lake Murray.

It had been some 25 years since Hibino had attempted to slalom but, here she was, jumping in Lake Murray to try.

You’re not going to be able to get up, a friend teased her.

On her second attempt, though, Hibino stood straight on the skis. The boat circled on Lake Murray, and Hibino kept standing and smiling, skipping over wave after wave.

On the boat, her daughter kept screaming, “Mom!” Her son sat back and nodded his approval.

After about five minutes, the waves no challenge for Hibino, she motioned for the driver to stop and let someone else attempt.

Back near the boat, Hibino slid out of the skis, placed them on board, and grabbed her son’s hand to get out of the water.

He told her how cool that was. Her daughter kept screaming.

And Hibino sat down, smiled and felt good about another decision that had made her family and friends proud.


Click here to see more Lyn Hibino photos.