Two buddies in Sarasota, Florida, who share a love for flying and pickleball have found a way to combine them in an unusual feat.
Shannon Yeager, 47, a professional private pilot, and his friend, Dean Matt, 63, who calls himself “The Pickleball Pilot,” are trying to set a Guinness World Record by playing one game of pickleball in each of the 48 states in the continental United States over a 48-day period.
The 48-48-48 Pickleball Challenge will fly them in a Cessna Turbo 206 plane over a mapped out route spanning 8,122 nautical miles and 82 hours of flight time.
“The event is just to showcase all the different places pickleball is played,” Matt said. “From park district courts, to country club courts, to private residences. We’ll be playing in the places the pros play. And we’ll be playing with people who are just learning.”
The route includes 15 state capitals, a few Chicken N Pickle restaurants, lots of tennis centers, a motor home resort in South Carolina, and sometimes multiple states in a day.
Matt said that when he conceived the challenge of playing pickleball in every state in the continental United States, he wondered if it was even possible.
“When I first got started, I thought, ‘Does Bismark, North Dakota, have pickleball?’ Well that question got answered right away.
“Pickleball is everywhere and it’s growing everywhere.”
Yeager and Matt became friends over pickleball in their Florida community. Yeager had been playing for nearly four years, describing himself as a plateaued 3.0 player.
Matt and his wife moved to Florida from the Midwest for recreation that took a surprise turn.
“We moved to a golf course community, because we thought we’d be playing golf, but instead, we’ve been playing pickleball,” Matt said.
Yeager, a working private pilot, said he is used to traveling with his pickleball paddle in his overnight bag.
“No matter where I am, I can walk in and find a game within 15 minutes,” he said.
The trip, scheduled to begin on May 1, 2023, will take the pair from their Southwest Florida home to Mobile, Alabama, for the first stop. The route then marches westward on a southerly route across the United States, then loops up toward Washington state, then eastward, through the Plains and Midwest, to eventually scooting southward along the East Coast and ending in a final match in Sarasota, where they live.
“I’m sure that by the time we get done with this we’ll both be sick of each other and need a vacation,” Matt said.
But for now, as the trip gets closer, there’s just anticipation and lots and lots of planning. Matt is still filling some holes in the calendar and lining up accommodations, sponsors, and what he hopes will be local news interest in their journey as they hopscotch across the country.
“People have been offering to help us,” Matt said. “It has been great.”
Yeager says it’s the people, not the flying, that will be the real adventure for him.
“I’m looking forward to the people I’m going to meet,” he said.