Sunday, August 21, 2022

Alas More Ultimate Is No Longer A Thing as my Achilles Heel is ... my Achilles Heel

hard to see
the pointy spring
at the bottom
I went out not with a bang but a whimper.  The grandmaster summer league ended up being less of a league and more of a weekly pickup game.  Sometimes, we got 6 on 6 or 7 on 7 with subs, but mostly we played smaller games of 4 on 4.  My achilles barked all summer long, but I managed to stay on the field (the trip/covid/trip interruption helped prolong my season).  My knee brace stabbed me today as a spring had broken loose--a hint?  A metaphor?  Yeah, it is time.  I was able to go out mostly on my terms.  I spent today throwing some passes I never threw before--blind behind the back, backhand upside down, etc and proved decisively that my previous restraint was so right for so long.

 I have played more ultimate frisbee longer than I ever imagined.  I started playing at summer camp long ago.  I enjoyed it so much and was pretty decent at it, so I made sure as I applied to colleges to go someplace where ultimate was played.  It was at a time where the sport was far from universal.  

The pizza box stencil
effort inspired a
mantra that fit that team
and my entire ultimate career
It was an excellent decision as I took the Experimental College ultimate frisbee course offered at Oberlin--classes for minimum credit taught by students, faculty, townspeople.  Thomas vH and the other instructor taught me to throw a normal, modern forehand or flick instead of using my thumb to drive the disk.  I then started playing with Oberlin's team in the spring term and played pretty much every non-winter day for the rest of my time there, going to tournaments all over Ohio and all the way to the hard packed fields of Michigan.  This was just before the time where teams would go south during spring break--something that I regret missing.  

Still muddy from that
Toledo tourney so long ago
One of our many
names at Oberlin

I then went onto play a little bit in grad school, but not much since having one car in a two person household in the pre-internet era made it challenging to find teams and games that were convenient.  If I had to do it all over again, I would have made a greater effort to play in San Diego.  I did scrounge semi-regular games in Vermont.  It took a few years for there to be enough critical mass in Lubbock, but Tony, Luke, Matthew, Joy, and the others got it going vibrantly enough that they were all willing to drive five to eight hours for tourneys around the southwest.  I only joined them for three--Austin, Fort Collins (a costume tourney for which I got my cow costume), and Los Alamos--as I had a young kid and didn't feel right about leaving

Atomic Blast tourney in Los Alamos

my wife and daughter for long weekends.  That last tourney was the only one where I dragged them along--we enjoyed Albuquerque and Sante Fe along the way--and which my daughter paid for in blood, smashing nose on a motel table after bouncing on the bed.  No ultimate during my year in the Pentagon, but moving to Canada has meant playing multiple times per week in pretty much every season for most of the past twenty years--I played more ultimate in the second half of my career than in the first, and it is not close.

I found LPG late
in its history, had a few
fun seasons, and then the
gyrations stopped.  The
most profane jersey
I ever wore.

But I have to stop.  Not because I blew out my knee--I have never hurt my knee playing ultimate (I save that for skiing), and no, I didn't break a collarbone laying out for a disk.  The weakest part of my game--my legs as I am not tall and I am not fast--have betrayed me the past several seasons.  I have lost track of the last time I did not have a season interrupted and most often ended due to a calf injury, an Achilles tear, or a hamstring pull.  I swore last year that I would stop playing if I lost another season to injury.  This winter, I almost made it through the season but pulled my calf at the end.  It was a modest injury so I decided to play one last summer.  I have been making it through playing only once a week, giving my fragile lower legs a chance to recover each week. But I hurt myself again early in the season, so I chose to miss the week before my Berlin trip so that I would have two weeks to recover.  I managed to play through the rest of the summer with careful pre and post-game stretching, but I don't want to have to pay for physio therapy again.  So, I am hanging up my cleats, one way or another.  

 It was a hard decision that I kept revisiting this summer.  On Mondays, it was a no-brainer as my legs, especially one Achilles tendon would bark at me.  By Friday each week, I was
My Lubbock team
gave me this nickname
because they thought
I moved like a crab

thinking: hey, I am fine, I can play in the winter league.  Because this summer league turned into a weekly pickup game of varying quality, I really wanted one more full season of fairly competitive ultimate.  But I know that if I do so, the folks at the physio placed will be shouting "Steve" as if I were Norm walking into the Cheers bar. 

My last jersey was the
sweetest in both
material and art.
I didn't think I would last this long.  I thought I would play until I was 40.  Then I played in my late 30s against and with players who were in their forties and even early 50s, so I set a new goal of 50.  And then I played with and against folks were deep into their 50s, so I set 60 as my goal.  Instead, I will have to be satisfied with playing on and off for forty years.  

I am most fortunate not just to play for as long as I have but also when I did.  I started when ultimate was not so popular so a person with average athletic skills but good throws could get plenty of playing time.  I am not sure how much I would get on the field these days as the college game has so many great athletes.  

Ultimate taught me something that has become a lifetime skill--to know my limitations and those of my teammates and opponents.  I knew I could not jump high, so I focused on my throws and on my willingness to go low--to dive to catch the disk after the jumpers missed and to catch the errant throws before they hit the ground.  And to lay out to block passes as well--while a diving catch is thrilling, laying out to block a pass is even more joy.  

The survivors of the last game
of the my last summer league
When I started, we simply designated people as shorts, mids, and longs with the shorts or handlers playing the role of qb/point guard--getting the disk more on short passes and making short cuts while figuring out ways to move the disk up the field to the mids or to huck it long to the deepest teammates.  Over time, the names changed to handlers and cutters, and strategies/tactics eventually made their way across the country (again, pre-internet) to force throwers to only throw flicks or to throw only in one direction (home or away, depending on where our sideline was and whether there was a wind or other dynamic shaping the preferred part of the field to concentrate one's defense).  I have almost always been a handler rather than a cutter because I had good throws, good hands (I always took pride in not dropping the disk), and usually but not always pretty good judgment of who was open, what kinds of throws they can catch, and the strength and placement of the defense.  Indeed, I had to make up for my average or worse defense with strong offense as I was never the fastest and, as I said before, I had no vertical game.  
I tended to be a hog when it came
to pulling the disk, to start a point. 
This is one of my last.

As I got older, I added various throws to my game, always taking pleasure in curving the disk around my opponents with blady forehands or insight out forehands or curvy backhands.  I was always reluctant to use hammers--an upside throw--as they were harder for the catcher to read and because I tended to think that pass got there slower than other choices.  Still, I could do those, and then Tony's example in Texas encouraged me to develop a high release backhand, which has come in handy ever since.  I took great pride in being able not just to throw the side of the field my marker was trying to force me, but to break the mark and throw a backhand under or over the mark or an inside out forehand to get the disk to the less defensed side of the field.

In the past several years, I realized I could not throw the disk quite as long, but the temptation to huck was still there and I could still send the disk to float in the green space in front of my teammates as they ran long.  So, I am quitting before my arm goes.  

One of my very last scores. 
I tended to be the thrower
rather than the receiver on
scoring plays. But I did enjoy
cutting and catching for the score.

As this post is mostly for me to remember how wonderful the sport has been for me, how much joy it has produced, how many friends it has introduced me to, how much of a cure it was for all kinds of non-lower leg ailments (headaches, backaches, stomach aches, stress, anxiety, loneliness, melancholy, bad job markets, etc), I will come up with the faves of my career.






  • Favorite Tournament: it will have to be a tie between a nameless one early in my ultimate career in Toledo where the field became so muddy, we would just try to cut wherever we saw a patch of remaining grass and the Grandmaster's Tourney in Montreal, where Old Montreal swept the weekend.  The key to that victory: I was the fifth or sixth or seventh best player on the team.  We had a heap of talent, so I only played a small role, but I got to have enough playing time to make it fun for me, to feel as if I made a contribution, and to enjoy hoisting the cup.  Shortly thereafter, enough terrific players aged into this 40+ league that meant the end of my brief time with that team.  
  • Favorite Opponents: Toledo Landsharks and it is not close.  They were a team of working class types that we played again and again when I was at Oberlin.  They were very different from all of the other teams we played against--older but also sillier.  The games were always close, so we had a friendly rivalry for a few years. 
  • Favorite Play: one play will always dominate my memory.  Back in college, our feisty small college team would lose most of the time to Ohio State which had a much, much larger student body to draw on.  In this game, we were tied at 14 and had to win by two.  I scored the penultimate point (yeah, I know what I did there) when I ran across the endzone and then had to dive backwards to catch an errant hammer throw (it was just when that technology had reached Ohio by word of mouth).  It gave us the lead and shocked everyone, so I remember everyone jumping on me to celebrate one of the best and certainly most memorable layouts in my career.  And, yes, we went on to score the next point and win.
  • GA threw me a surprise going away
    extra game, and it was delightful.
    Favorite Team: It is a close call between the Yeobabes and whatever else we called the Oberlin team and General Admission, a team I joined several years into my time in Montreal although I am fond of several others as well (Ultimate Angels is probably in third place).  That team played fall/winter/spring (and maybe even summer) as the larger ultimate community took over the Concordia intramural league.  There was turnover in the team, so I got to play with a lot of fun people who were skilled and silly.  I developed great chemistry with them.  On the other hand, I played almost every single day at Oberlin with a bunch of Obies I would not have met otherwise (I was not in their co-op circles), and we got to have fun times on the way to tourneys and then at the tourneys.  But I have to give the nod to GA as they threw me a going away party that was just so sweet and silly and moving.  
  • Favorite throw: I love a good inside out forehand that leads my teammate to the break side (as almost always the opponents try to force my teams to throw to the other side of the field).  I also enjoy throwing air bounce backhands under the marker.  
  • Favorite fields: UPI!  The ultimate association in Ottawa bought a farm and has kept the resulting 20 or so fields in great shape.  Plus the fields are only 13 minutes from my house.  The Montreal equivalent--Douglas Hospital fields--had way too many holes, including one that caused me to sprain my ankle.  
  • Favorite heckle: So many--ultimate is a fun game for being a friendly smartass and much of my commentary was self-deprecating "hey, why are they putting such a fast player on me, what a waste".  One that sticks out is when I was playing indoors at Carleton (not my favorite field--a very crappy version of field turf), and the opponents changed the way they positioned against me because they saw that I have an effective forehand.  So, as they forced me to throw backhand, I told them that my backhand was older than all of them.  And then I proceeded to reel off a series of very effective backhand throws. 
  • I played a lot of ultimate
    with UA, a largely
    Francophone team.
    Heaps of fun.
    Favorite shirt: Lots of contenders over the years as my teammates have had great imaginations and design skills.  I do have fond memories of the t-shirts Lev F made using pizza boxes as stencils.  Lewd Pelvic Gyrations had, yes, the most raunchy shirt, but the material was not so comfy.  My latest, Happy Feet, has a silly penguin theme.  Ultimate Angels had a nice Charlie's Angels adaptation and was super comfy.  


  • Favorite field furniture: the couch at sectionals in Michigan.  The field was super hard, so one of my teammates took out the couch that was in the back of his truck.

  • Favorite teammate:  My daughter!  We didn't play that much together over the years, but I always took great delight in passing to her and getting passes from her and seeing her score.  She had good hands and good decision-making, but, well, jumped as well as I can.   Second place?  Oh, too many great teammates over the years to pick one.  I stuck around as long as I did precisely because I kept finding myself on teams with fun people who chased my throws and gave me excuses to lay out.  
    She's the one with the disk, of course
  • Favorite injury: probably the time I got hit in the face from a tipped pass while I was on the sideline of the new and very rough west island league in one of my last year's in Montreal.

Ultimate made me at home across the continent.  In some places, the only people I knew were the people in my department and the people on the team.  I am glad that I am firmly ensconced in Ottawa, as I won't have ultimate to serve as a bridge to a new community.  Once again, thanks to all of the teammates for switching to cover the guy who beat me, to running hard for my passes, and for sending me to the ground to chase your throws.  I will always remember the times on the various ultimate fields as among the best times in my life.  I would always say that more ultimate is more ultimate, but now, here at the end, ultimate memories will have to do.  Oh, and perhaps the occasional sub or pickup game.

I will always have my memories and, thanks to my daughter's mad film skilz, I will always have this:





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