I’ve never really been one for organized sport. When I was in high school, both the basketball and football coaches dropped a word in my ear that I was welcome to try out for the team — being over six feet and two hundred pounds as a freshman tends to produce these comments, even if there is no actual athletic talent in evidence. I turned them down, as my interests lay elsewhere.
At university, I was not badgered to join any sports teams (Virginia Tech may not consistently win championship games, but their teams are at least legit enough to have standards). However, I was invited to join a group of engineering students who played ultimate Frisbee out on the drillfield twice a week. This seemed like it was about my speed, and I actually really enjoyed a good game of ultimate. The sport is non-contact, generally good-spirited, and I figured my fellow engineers would not dramatically outclass me in the physical skill department.
(Note: Frisbee is a brand name. Although the game is colloquially called “ultimate Frisbee,” it is formally and frequently just called “ultimate” in order to avoid trademark issues.)
This was so much fun that I kept it up for a few years. Attendance ebbed and flowed as people came and left the university and filled or emptied their schedules according to academic necessities. Sometimes we’d get enough people to run two simultaneous games. Other times, we’d have so few we’d end up just tossing the disc around a circle and maybe practicing some simple drills. It was no-commitment low-impact fun, which is what I loved about it.
After two or three semesters, I was probably the most consistent attendee of these biweekly games. People started to assume that I was a leader, and also that I was good, both of which were false. But I gradually started to realize…neither of these were as false as I thought they were.
Let’s be clear: I wasn’t good. But I was the best I had ever been, and I had graduated from “picked last” to “solid choice.” I wasn’t the linchpin of the team, but I was an asset. And I genuinely enjoyed playing. I was getting better at something I enjoyed doing without feeling like I was working at it. This was amazing!
After I graduated and moved to North Carolina, I started looking for a group to play Ultimate Frisbee with. I found a group that played near NC State on Saturday mornings, so I got my gear and headed out.
To make a long story short, this was a serious group. The core group played nearly every day. They wore cleats and athletic shorts (I usually played in sandals and cargo shorts). Most Saturdays, I was one of the worst players on the team. There were usually a couple of other people like me who were more casual players, and to their credit this group was extremely tolerant and accepting of us despite our (lack of) ability.
I was willing to try, though. I bought some cleats (which hurt my feet terribly, considering that I almost never wear shoes) and some athletic shorts. I’d come every Saturday morning bearing bottles of Gatorade, since if I didn’t hydrate I’d have a splitting headache the rest of the day. I worked hard to be a better player.
The problem was, Saturdays are precious. Playing ultimate all morning and then being wiped out much of the afternoon really curtailed my involvement in other things that mattered more to me. I wasn’t able to come every Saturday, so while this group was playing 4 – 5 times I week I wasn’t able to consistently come once.
I felt like I couldn’t continue, so I chose to close out that chapter of my life. I still enjoy a good game of ultimate, but I have contented myself with being mediocre at it.
I did find another outlet for my disc-throwing interest, but that story will have to wait.