By Josh Katzowitz, WCI Content Director
Dylan Frazier probably thought he had Collin Shick on the run. Stationed in front of the pickleball net (and positioned just outside of the kitchen), Frazier, the seventh-seeded men’s player in last month’s Red Clay Florida Open, took Shick’s backhand and whacked a forehanded volley deep to the left side of the court. The ball probably should have been a winner for Frazier.
Instead, Shick ran down the ball, made contact, and spun his forehand just inside the line and just outside of Frazier’s reach to win the point.
“Oh ho ho ho,” one announcer exclaimed. “What a passing shot!” Said his colleague: “Shut up, Shick! What are you doing, man?”
That wasn't the only shock caused by Shick. More commentary:
“Look at this ridiculousness. I mean, that’s as good a ball as you’re going to see all year long.”
“No way! Collin Shick again sliding through the kitchen.”
“Oh my . . . That went a millimeter over the net and at the most severe angle. Come on. We’re just going to stop being surprised.”
Yes, Shick was causing quite a stir. Six hundred miles away, his University of North Carolina classmates were starting the GI block in their first year of medical school. Meanwhile, Shick was causing distress for some of the best pickleball players in the world.
“It’s been overwhelming,” Shick told me several days after his impressive and unforeseen run to the finals in his Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) tournament debut. “But I still feel like I’m having time to get everything in. I definitely fell behind a little bit as we were starting the GI block, because of the travel. But I caught up. We’re making it work.”
Meet Collin Shick. He’s a former collegiate tennis player at NC State who is now a first-year medical student at the University of North Carolina with aspirations of becoming a surgeon. His dad is an interventional radiologist. His mom is a family medicine doctor. Shick has wanted to be a physician for many years. That is his passion.
But he’s also clearly a fantastic athlete with a flair for the dramatic.
He traveled to the Red Clay Florida Open as a qualifier, meaning he had to win three matches just to advance to the main draw of the pickleball tournament. Then, he beat the tournament’s No. 3 seed, the No. 19 seed, the No. 6 seed, and Frazier (the No. 7 seed). All in a 12-hour span.
“It was amazing and extremely tiring,” Shick said. “We’ve had a lot of long tennis days, but nothing like that. My realistic goal going in was to make the main draw just so I can start making some [PPA] points so I could start playing tournaments where I wouldn’t have to qualify. I played with some pros before that, so I had an idea where my level was. I thought it was good; I just didn’t know it would be like that.”
Thanks to his run to the Florida Open finals, where he actually won a game from the world’s No. 1 player Ben Johns before ultimately losing the match, Shick won’t have to play qualifying matches to get into the singles main draws anymore. That is key for Shick as he toggles between medical school classes and studying and the world of pickleball. One less day of travel to play qualifying matches and one less day of uncertainty will make him a better student and a better player.
While playing mostly as a doubles specialist at NC State, Shick briefly flirted with the idea of joining the professional tennis tour. But the ATP Tour, especially for those who are exclusively doubles players, has a notoriously long and exhausting schedule, and it would probably be difficult to consistently make top-notch money.
Forget about Roger Federer’s income. You can also probably forget about the $33 million made by Bob and Mike Bryan, the most famous doubles duo in history. Maybe Shick could have a similar career to France’s Jonathan Eysseric, currently the 100th-ranked doubles player on the tennis tour. He turned pro in 2008, and thus far, he’s earned about $690,000 in his career. That’s $46,000 a year. Sure, Eysseric probably has sponsorship earnings, but that’s still not much money, especially when you consider Shick would have to crisscross the globe on his own dime to reach all the tournaments he’d need to play.
“I didn’t really consider it,” Shick said. “Med school was always the goal and the path.”
Now that he’s pickleball’s newest sensation, he’s actually making some cash as a professional athlete (finishing second at a PPA event this year earns you $5,500). But Shick isn’t counting on funding the rest of his life with a paddle in one hand and a plastic ball in the other. In fact, he might not be much of a pickleball fixture two years from now when he and his classmates begin their third-year rotations.
“Even if I could get a big contract for pickleball, maybe I could squeeze by on that for one or two years,” he said. “But that’s not worth putting off what you can do in medicine and what you can make. The valuable side of pickleball is the hype and growth going on with it now. There are a lot more sponsorship opportunities in pickleball. That’s how making it in pickleball would be, kind of like playing low-level pro tennis.”
Since even finishing in the top spot of a PPA tournament earns you a somewhat-paltry $10,000 payout, Shick could add to his income with sponsorship opportunities. That’s what he’s trying to do now. Whether it’s creating sponsored posts on Instagram or wearing a company patch on his shirt or proudly sporting the shoelaces of a local North Carolina brand (or potentially even striking a deal with a paddle company), there is an opportunity to make money as a pro pickleballer beyond just your tournament winnings.
But Shick understands that the real earning potential is as a physician. While growing up, his parents extolled the virtues of a career in medicine, teaching him what his income potential could be and how that would translate into the life he could lead. They still talk about money, his potential specialty, and whether starting his own practice is a feasible path.
Right now, Shick is in a good spot to begin building wealth. He was on a partial scholarship at N.C. State, and because in-state tuition was so affordable in North Carolina, there wasn’t much tuition to pay. He didn’t take out any student loans for his first year of medical school, and depending on how much money he can earn from pickleball and how much money is left in his 529, he might not need a loan for next year either.
He also knows this: pickleball isn’t easy at the top level. The week after his extraordinary Florida run, Shick competed in the Onix Austin Showdown. He got knocked out in the first round. He tried playing doubles for the first time. He and his partner got bounced out early in that draw as well.
Making a couple hundred bucks (even if his sponsored shoelaces were stunning) in a weekend isn’t a sustainable path, especially for a rookie like Shick who doesn’t have much experience at the pro level.
“Pickleball is kind of an opportunity that came into my lap,” Shick said. “I’ll do as much as I can with it this next year. But my passion is still to become a physician.”
Money Song of the Week
My knowledge of Australian rock music is basically limited to the school-boy-outfit-wearing AC/DC, the Vegemite sandwich-loving Men At Work, the teenage grunge-producing Silverchair, and the chest hair-flaunting Bee Gees. But the two songs I know from Midnight Oil are also pretty outstanding, mostly because “Blue Sky Mine” and “Beds Are Burning,” even if you don’t know what they’re about, feel important and epic when you listen to them.
Today, let’s talk about 1990’s “Blue Sky Mine,” which reflects on those who earned their living by working in Australia’s Wittenoom asbestos mines and who eventually suffered from asbestos-related diseases that, according to a 2022 New York Times article, killed about 10% of the 20,000 people who lived in the town.
The Times wrote:
“Once a symbol of economic prosperity, Wittenoom now stands as one of Australia’s greatest industrial tragedies, left uninhabitable by the actions of unaccountable mining interests and neglected by a government that has done nothing to clean it up.”
As noted by Genius.com, Midnight Oil’s Peter Garrett sings about the effects of mesothelioma and that the workers who mined the asbestos meant little to those who were profiting off their production. The blue-collar workers who needed the money kept on working despite the danger (and because maybe they didn’t know the danger they faced).
As Garrett sings,
“The candy store paupers lie to the shareholders/They're crossing their fingers, they pay the truth makers/The balance sheet is breaking up the sky/So I'm caught at the junction, still waiting for medicine/The sweat of my brow keeps on feeding the engine/Hope the crumbs in my pocket can keep me for another night . . .
But if I work all day on the Blue Sky Mine/There'll be food on the table tonight/And if walk up and down on the Blue Sky Mine/There'll be pay in your pocket tonight.”
Garrett, meanwhile, talked about how future generations would study our civilization and note that we were “being incredibly wealthy and incredibly wasteful. When you have those sorts of crazy contradictions, you get madness as a result of it. You get human madness and you get structural madness.”
But also a pretty darn good song.
Tweet of the Week
The fewer fees paid, the better it is for you.
[Editor's Note: For comments, complaints, suggestions, or plaudits, email Josh Katzowitz at [email protected].]
"There's no #investing strategy so good that a high fee can't make it bad."
The same goes for any tax benefit.
There's no tax benefit so good that a high fee can't make it bad.
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— Jon Luskin, CFP® (@JonLuskin) January 27, 2023