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Fine-Tuning Your Serve

Where Should I Hit the Ball?

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By Brandi Givens, RDN

Paddle Away the Pounds!

I once believed that simply providing education to clients struggling with weight would help them. I soon learned that no matter what nutritional ATP equivalents I would try, my information was often blocked by resistance. On the other hand, some patients would charge into the office, paddles up and determined to change—and they did!

What causes a person to become so determined? Here are three outstanding pickleball players who have agreed to share their stories of struggle and success in hopes to help others.

The Trainer/Coach: Jeff “Cobra Kai” Cederna


Jeff is a personal trainer and pickleball coach in Michigan who lost 135 pounds in eight months. While he realizes people may judge him as a health professional, he’s raising awareness that no one is immune to underlying problems like injury and depression, which often contribute to being overweight. His message to those who need it: “You can do this. You are not alone.”

He adds, “It’s sad but people look down on you and talk about you. The worst is when you join in—I was my biggest hater and was physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted.”

Motivation to lose weight came when Jeff decided he wanted to feel better, play pickleball better, and be able to live longer. His friend, professional player KaSandra Gehrke, was also a huge influence when he saw how her performance was elevated by her own weight loss.

Jeff admits that before he lost weight, he ate food with little nutritional value—eating whatever, whenever. Now he eats five to six servings of vegetables, three servings of fruit, lots of lean protein, and healthier carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes and whole grains. He knows his body burns calories while digesting, so he takes advantage of that by eating smaller portions every 2 to 4 hours. The accountability of weighing in with someone every week and keeping a food journal are other tools that help keep him on track.

To stay motivated, Jeff looks to his faith and to his inner circle of family and friends. He is grateful and says, “Man, I couldn’t do it without all of their love and support.”

The Center Director: Richard Kahalioumi

Richard is the director at the Holua Racquet and Paddle Center in Hawaii, head high school tennis coach, high school counselor, and a 5.0-level pickleball player. As a vital contributor to the success of the Hawaii Open tournament, Richard’s 117-pound weight loss story is an inspiration. “I really just wanted to be here longer for my wife and daughters,” he says. He had also found that the extra weight was causing too many injuries for such an active person.

Through pickleball, Richard met “Uncle” Kevin Teves, who opened his gym to him and offered nutrition tips to kick-start his weight loss. Kevin also helped Richard stay active with workouts and pickleball practice six days a week.


Richard felt that cutting out white rice was important, but living in Hawaii makes it hard to do. He also stopped drinking high-calorie fluids such as soda and sports drinks. He admits to drinking a lot before deciding to lose weight, and stopped eating late-night meals as well.

Richard says his girls keep him accountable with their watchful eyes and brutal comments only daughters can get away with—“I thought you weren’t drinking soda, Dad!”

The Pro: KaSandra Gehrke

KaSandra is a physical education teacher turned full-time professional pickleball player, thanks in part to her weight loss success. She had been an active athlete throughout childhood, but found weight creeping up on her in college when she transitioned from playing sports to coaching. With her busy life, she ate out a lot, and before long had gained 70 unwanted pounds.

KaSandra credits pickleball as her motivation to lose those pounds and keep them off. In 2017, she lost a 5.0 tournament because she physically couldn’t keep up with the competition in the finals. That day, KaSandra decided to make a change. “I was motivated to keep a better eye on my nutrition so I could compete at the highest level,” she recalls. “I began to feel better physically and mentally, and that kept pushing me for the next three years.”

Nutritionally, KaSandra made quite a few changes. She used the 16/8 form of intermittent fasting, where she chose a specific eight-hour window to eat each day and fasted for the other 16. She also ate high-protein foods like eggs and protein-fortified pancakes, and high-fiber snacks like fruits and vegetables to keep her fuller longer. She stays hydrated with water, drinking at least 100 ounces each day.

During her weight loss period, she also made time for an hour of cardio and weightlifting every day with Orangetheory Fitness in addition to evening pickleball practices. This wasn’t easy with her packed schedule; it meant she had to work out at 5 a.m.

KaSandra is thankful for the support of her mother, Wendy Mattie, who has always believed in her ability to do anything she puts her mind to. KaSandra now hopes to help others succeed and leaves us with the motivational words, “Losing weight takes hard work and dedication, and for years I was not ready to put in the work. It feels so much worse not to put in the work. It feels better to be proud of what I’ve accomplished and what I can do. You CAN make the choice to change your life and, trust me, it’s totally worth it.” 

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