The Busiest Guy I Know

By Matthew Schwartz

May 1, 2024

(Dustin Fowkes)

It’s 4:45 in the morning and pickleball paddle reviewer Dustin Fowkes is wide awake. It’s time to get ready for some pickleball and play starts in 45 minutes.

Big deal, you might say, many dedicated players get in early court time before work. It’s the rest of Fowkes’ day that’s unusual.

After pickleball, the 33-year-old Chapel Hill, North Carolina resident stays on his feet for ten hours, making his hospital rounds from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. He’s in his fourth year at the University of North Carolina medical school.

Fowkes combines his passion for medicine and pickleball. He and other medical school students started an after school program for young boys from financially challenged homes. “We had an incredible amount of community support from the locals of Chapel Hill in gathering donations for nets, paddles, supplies, etc. We gave lessons, played games, and gave brief and fun health messages weekly,” he said via e-mail.

Fowkes craves action. His father competed in demolition derbies, smashing his car into others in that old last man standing competition. Fowkes followed suit when he turned 16 and won several awards as the most aggressive driver. So it’s not surprising that he wants to work in an emergency room.

“The high intensity and rapid ups and downs of the ER fit my personality well,” Fowkes told me. “I need to use my hands, so procedures such as sutures, chest tubes, intubations, decompressions, etc. are a must for me, and I work well under pressure.”

Pressure was a regular part of Fowkes’ job for eight years when he worked as a firefighter and paramedic in Salt Lake County, Utah. His adrenaline pumped when responding to often tense situations. “I thought I would do that job forever,” he said, “until my drive to do more overcame me, and my wife and I made the difficult decision to enter medical school. I knew that I was leaving perhaps the most fun job a person could ever have, to rise fully to my potential and challenge myself in a way people could more fully benefit from.”

Fowkes and his wife of five plus years, Alexa, have a son, Oakland, who turns three in July. He says the infant “has the never-ending energy and hyper-ness that I had as a child.” Fowkes sets family time for 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., then studies from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. He sleeps less than four hours a night before pickleball days, a whopping four and a half hours when he doesn’t play.

As a relatively older medical student, Fowkes isn’t wasting time.

“This is probably not healthy,” he says of his schedule, “but it is what it is for what I have to do. It’s the only way I can fit in exclusive time for family, school and side jobs like my pickleball YouTube channel.

Yes, Fowkes needed more to do, so he’s added pickleball paddle reviews to his schedule, calling his channel Pickleball Medicine. He fits in recording and editing reviews around the three hours of family time every night. He’s big on the importance of quality time with the family. He grew up in the small Utah town of Nephi, “in the dead center of the state” he says. His parents separated shortly after he was born. His parents both remarried and collectively had nine children.

Fowkes started playing pickleball six years ago at his fire station. “We would pull the fire engines and ambulances out of the bay and put tape down on the floor and play in between calls.”  He took to pickleball immediately, like most of us. “For me, it’s the perfect mix of competition and social stimulation.” His DUPR (Dynamic Universal Pickleball Rating) is 5.0.

Fowkes says his YouTube channel, “started as a thing just to tell people about things I tested out, and then like a lot of things in my life, I got more and more invested and now it is what it is, too big of a job for me to be doing most of the time.”

Since April 2023 Fowkes has churned out 40 videos for Pickleball Medicine. The channel has about 1800 subscribers-not a lot compared to some older channels-but it’s growing steadily. His most-watched video, in which he listed his top five control paddles, attracted 14,000 views. Word is spreading about the future doctor who loves talking pickleball and paddles.

“Dustin is a reviewer with great knowledge of what makes paddles unique and has a unique ability to break down those characteristics in an easy to digest review,” says Pickleball Medicine subscriber Chris Warren of Jacksonville, FL. “Dustin is also extremely open and honest when it comes to paddles regardless of brand or his own preference of paddle style. He’s definitely passionate about what he’s doing in the paddle review space and always open and willing to help people. I’ve never met the guy but I feel like I know him,” Warren said.

Another subscriber, Gary Gonte of West Bloomfield Township, MI, says,” Dustin is my go-to for paddle advice as everything he tells me tracks and that is very rare.”

Despite his rigorous schedule Fowkes is accessible to his followers. “Dustin gets back to me right away and points me in the right direction and has paddle suggestions based on my needs,” Gonte said.

Fowkes used to live not far from me. We exchanged a couple of paddles we were trying and discussed their pros and cons. Once, late at night after he drove two and a half hours from Charlotte, he came to my home because he wanted to borrow one of my paddles so he could review it. He’s one of those people you just know early on is a hard-working, solid citizen who wants to help others. His career transition to saving people in life and death situations in fires or emergency rooms seems like a natural progression and aligns with his character.

 Fowkes acknowledges his chaotic schedule. “It’s the life I live,” he said. “And at the end of the day, I can go to sleep knowing I burned it at both ends and gave it all I could.”


(Fowkes and his wife, Alexa, and son, Oakland)

My thoughts of the week, not all pickleball

I’m a big boy and don’t mind criticism about something I write. I was on television newscasts for 40 years and having a thick skin was a prerequisite. Every week I post the link to my blog on Facebook, accompanied by a couple of sentences. It’s obvious that a couple critics base their comments on those two sentences and don’t actually read the blog. I think it’s just another example of the short attention spans more and more people have these days, how some don’t read anything longer than a tweet. Read the entire column and then if you don’t like it, that’s fair.

Last week I wrote that Hudef’s new paddle, the Viva Pro Gen3, is my favorite of the 20 or so paddles I’ve played with and that I’ve never played better. Since then I’ve heard the same from several players who’ve bought it, including a few I play with. It’s gratifying to me. Especially since some of the most popular paddles now cost $250-$275.  If you order the Viva Pro Gen3 and use my discount code MS15-G3 the price is $144.50.

The thing I love most about being a writer and loved most about being an investigative reporter is when a reader/viewer says my reporting helped him or her in some way. This week I received an email from a pickleball player regarding my March 12th blog,  Hope For Your PainThe piece was about how many players hold the paddle in ways that cause pain in the hand, fingers, elbow and arm. A hand therapist explained the correct grip. Richard Shrout of Lawrence, KS, who’s been playing pickleball for six years, took her advice. Here’s part of what Richard wrote to me:

“I had tennis elbow a few weeks ago and did not know what to do. The fix recommended in your article by the hand therapist does work. I used the wrap from surgery on my arm to wrap my paddle. It is extremely useful to know that the little finger and the one next to it are the power fingers. I was holding the paddle prior to the injury primarily with my first two fingers and my fingers were overlapping.”

Richard, I’m thrilled to know that your pain is gone. Your email made my day. Thank you for taking the time to write.

It’s comforting to know that some people do read the entire column. And sometimes are helped by it.


(If you’d like to suggest a blog about a pickleball topic or a player with a fascinating backstory or have any comments please email me at