CANONSBURG – For Jason Leadingham, the turning point in his life came three years ago, when he was trying to teach his twins, Karlie and Katie, to ride their bicycles.
Try as he might, Leadingham could not keep up. He couldn’t run behind the bicycles to provide his children a safety net if they lost their balance.
His heart was racing, his breath became short; the stamina was simply not there anymore.
Leadingham knew why. The 38-year-old weighed 423 pounds, more than at any time in his life.
“It was embarrassing,” Leadingham said.
So he decided to undergo gastric bypass surgery, performed by Dr. Geoffrey Wilcox at the Hope Bariatric Surgery Center in Sewickley Feb. 6, 2012.
On a pleasant Wednesday morning, Leadingham moved with ease over the Southpointe Golf Club as a participant in the Mylan Classic Pro-Am event. Leadingham has lost 225 pounds – easily more than the equivalent of an average-sized male – and now weighs around 200 pounds.
“It was not like I never tried to lose weight, but I made the decision to do the surgery and do something I knew would work and allow me to get active again,” said Leadingham.
His compelling story made Leadingham the winner of the Observer-Reporter’s contest, the winner earning a spot in the tournament’s pro-am.
The Mylan Classic begins today at Southpointe with the first tee times at 7:10 a.m. The tournament runs through Sunday.
Leadingham has played golf since 1993 after his friends persuaded him to try it. He is now a 7 handicap and showed off a strong game over the hilly 6,984-yard, par-72 course of Southpointe.
“I’m still better than I was at my peak before I put the weight on,” he said. “I’m in the best physical shape of my life right now. I’m not as strong as I was when I was playing football.”
Leadingham grew up on a farm in Greenup, Ky., about a 40-minute drive to Huntington, W.Va. His chores kept him fit and healthy, especially baling hay.
“My brother was slightly overweight but not my parents,” Leadingham said. “There was no real explanation why. They chalked it up to me being a bigger person. It wasn’t heredity.”
Leadingham earned a degree in Applied Process Technology from Kentucky Technical College in Versailles, Ky. He worked in the oil and gas field before starting his own company, Landmark Surveying & Mapping Inc., in Washington. He sold the company to Stantec Consulting, Inc., last December.
“Probably in two years, I gained 80 pounds,” he said. “I’ve always been around 270 to 300, which is pretty big, but I was active with walking and things like that. I got bigger really fast and to the point where, physically, I couldn’t do anything. I tried (to play golf), but I could hardly make it through a round.”
The surgery reduced the size of his stomach and forced a restricted diet.
“For the first year, you can hold about six ounces of food,” he said. “It also changes your digestive track to where if you eat something you shouldn’t, it will make you sick. That trains you to have proper eating habits and portions because you don’t want to be deathly ill. It stretches back out over time. I eat a pretty normal diet now.
“You have to take vitamins the rest of your life, so I take a lot of multi-vitamins and calcium. When they restrict the stomach size, the rate you absorb the vitamins through the food is not the same. It’s pretty complicated but once you get the hang of it, it’s not bad. That’s the purpose of the first year, to get a routine that’s really healthy.”
So what were the reactions from friends and family to his weight loss.
“They were pretty surprised, mostly because they live in Kentucky. They see me once, then don’t see me again for three months. There is a pretty significant weight loss in between visits.
“Surprisingly, (my family) didn’t say much about it. My little ones said, ‘We never thought you were fat anyway.’ It’s something you don’t think about with your parents. They’re certainly glad I can get out and be more active now. I bought a bike so I can ride with the little ones. My older girl and the twins both play softball, so I try to play softball with them when I can. My oldest girl goes out and plays golf with me.”
Leadingham hits the ball long and straight and has a soft touch around the greens. He was a member at Rolling Hills Country Club and is thankful to be able to play a full round without tiring out.
“My big thing was clothes,” he said. “Being that big, the only place you could buy clothes was at specialty stores. It’s neat to buy something off the shelf, which is kind of weird to hear from a guy. It’s great to be able to walk into a store and buy something that fits. I’ve held onto a few things just as a reminder.
“This is something I wanted to do. And I don’t regret it for one day.”