Big Weight Loss and Pickleball

By Matthew Schwartz

June 5, 2024 

(Mac McCune at 447 pounds and now at 265)


Mac McCune was morbidly obese. He was 40 years old, a married father of two young kids, and weighed 447 pounds.

With all that weight on his 6’2” frame, maybe it shouldn’t have been shocking when McCune suffered a spinal stroke in 2018. But still, when it happens to you, it can feel like getting body-bagged on the pickleball court. Especially when the stroke paralyzes your left leg. “It’s life changing,” McCune told me via email. “It opens your eyes.”   

McCune had to learn to walk again. He needed a walker for six weeks and then a cane for a few more. “I worked really hard in PT and when I went back to the neurologist he was amazed and said less than one percent of spine stroke people ever walk again without assistance,” McCune said.

He’s 46 now, a lifelong resident of the small western Oklahoma town of Weatherford. McCune has been big most of his adult life. He weighed 330 pounds when he graduated high school. He played football and other sports and describes his younger self as a “pretty fit big.”

He went into construction, got married 15 years ago, had a son 14 years ago, and a daughter, 10. As the family grew so did Mac. He packed on more than 100 pounds since high school.  

The stroke may have opened his eyes about his weight but it still didn’t stop his over-eating immediately. I asked McCune what foods he ate daily. “Whatever I liked,” he said. “Pizza, pasta, tacos.” And he added, “I drank lots of beer.”  

In 2020, two years after the stroke, McCune was in the local YMCA only because he had driven his daughter to a swim session. While hanging around he saw people playing pickleball. “I watched for a while and it looked like fun,” McCune said. “That night I got on Amazon and bought a paddle. I got addicted pretty fast and started getting my friends to play.”

There are thousands of similar stories of people getting hooked on pickleball and losing weight by incorporating it into a program of healthy eating. But to have the willpower, determination and energy when you weigh 450 pounds isn’t so common. Many pickleball newbies may be 15 pounds overweight. Not as many are 200 pounds overweight.

Mac McCune, long addicted to food, quickly became addicted to pickleball.

He began playing regularly, hitting the pickleball but also hitting the gym.  He embarked on a low carb, no sugar diet (he did Keto but you should check with your doctor before starting a diet, and beware that Keto has its share of critics). He cut out junk food and fried food. His doctor is a close friend and now is also his pickleball tournament partner.  Mac vowed to his family that he’d quit his longtime habit of chewing tobacco if he could lose 100 pounds. He did both.

While McCune’s weight loss is obviously more drastic than most, thousands of pickleball players have lost those frustrating extra 10 to 20 pounds with regular play being part of their lifestyle change. You can play pickleball every day for hours but not lose weight if you still go home and eat too much. Caloric intake impacts weight loss more than exercise. Ideally you have a healthy diet and active lifestyle. It’s not rocket science but it’s not easy.

Numerous studies have shown that a pickleball player who weighs 150 pounds and plays for an hour using light effort will burn about 215 calories; using moderate effort the number increases to 357 calories. A 150-pound player using maximum effort can burn 500 calories an hour. One study showed that pickleball increased heart rate and burned more calories than walking. Of course, these stats are averages and depend greatly on your body type and metabolism.

In addition to the physical perks, pickleball provides mental health benefits. Research shows that people who play pickleball experience significant improvements in personal well-being and happiness and start new friendships.

Mac McCune knows all the positive benefits that pickleball provides and continues his reformation. He’d be unrecognizable now if he didn’t live in a town of 12,000 where everyone knows each other. Still, some folks who haven’t seen him in a while might do a double take looking at a guy who weighed 447 two years ago, and now weighs 265.

“When I started, I thought, ‘If I can get to 300, I’ll be in pretty good shape.’ Now I’d like to get to 250. I don’t really have a target date,” he says.

 When McCune gets to 250 pounds, he plans to stay there. He will hopefully be healthier than ever while having more fun than ever, especially on the pickleball court.

My thoughts of the week, not all pickleball

-During Ben Johns’ first year as a professional pickleball player in 2018, he could barely support himself financially. The 25-year-old top ranked male player recently told CNBC he’ll make at least $2.5 million this year, adding: “I think there’s still an upward trend.” Johns seems like a good guy who has his head on straight, has handled fame and fortune well. A good face for the sport.

-If you believe that news media reports “fake news” that’s one thing. But here’s something I saw during my previous life as a television news reporter: When some of those people screaming “fake news” have a consumer problem (say they’re getting ripped-off by a contractor), the first person they often call for help is their local TV news consumer/investigative reporter. Seems hypocritical to me that they believe the news media reports “fake news” until they need help.  

-I’d never play pickleball without protective eyeglasses. All it takes is one smash in the eye.  I look quite dorky in my protective glasses and I don’t care. Not worth the risk.

-As I wrote last week, the parks & recreation department in Asheville, NC, on May 24 removed the eight portable pickleball nets it had provided on the city’s 23 public courts, which are lined for both pickleball and tennis. The removal was due to surface damage caused by the weight of the nets. The wheels had caused divots to form. A few pickleball players failed to roll the nets to the side after playing.  But the net removal caught pickleball players by surprise. The whole thing seemed sneaky and inconsiderate. The city could have avoided that by announcing the net removal in advance and providing new nets at the same time as removal.

Asheville, a city of 95,000, does not have one public dedicated pickleball court. You want to play there? Bring your own net or borrow one from the city for seven days.


Today we begin a monthly contest to win a free Hudef paddle. The contest will appear in my first column of every month. The first person who emails the correct answer to will win a Hudef Viva Pro Gen3 paddle, valued at $169.99. 

Today’s question: How many different paddles does Hudef sell? (Note: the same model with two core sizes counts as one).

The winner will be announced in next week’s column.