June 16, 2016
The All Star Ultimate Tour Documentary was released on Monday and I had the opportunity to watch live with three members of the tour, Dori Franklin, Lisa Pitcaithley and Megan Cousins. We ended up having some issues getting sound to the TV instead of the laptop and had to pause the live link for a few minutes, which means we missed that much time on the end of the stream. Thus, we have no idea how it ended. When it ended for us though, we were silent. We were processing. Qxhna’s words rang clear and sat with us. She speaks of feeling valued by her teammates and herself, but not necessarily by the larger community. She speaks on the inequity of the professional men’s leagues and questions the solution to said inequity. I’m sure most of the women watching the documentary were nodding their head having felt those feelings and thought those thoughts. Here I was, sitting in a room with 3 of the women featured in the documentary; watching them make play after play, in awe of them and inspired by them–and while it was an incredibly empowering experience, we were left dejected.
A clip from an Ultiworld podcast that played near the end of the documentary lingers in my mind. Two men spoke of the tour exceeding their expectations in terms of talent and play, yet ultimately deciding it was hard to tell whether it moved the needle–whether it impacted the sport of women’s Ultimate as the tour sought.
I vehemently disagree with their conclusion. I think about the hour and a half I just watched. I think about the words the women spoke on camera and the sheer joy on their faces and in their voices as they celebrate each point and each player. I think about the World Championships and the livestream coverage. I think about the USWNT that has been assembled and the incredible female athletes that will take the field in London next week. Questions abound….
How will we be perceived?
Will we be entertaining enough?
Will we showcase our athleticism?
Will we convince spectators we are worthy of their time?
Will young players watch?
Will young girls be inspired?
Will we move the needle?
How do we change a deeply engrained societal belief that men are superior athletes, that men are more entertaining and worthy of our time? How do we change a deeply engrained societal belief that women are inferior athletes, that women are not as entertaining, and that women are not as worthy of our time?
While we are lucky to be apart of such a progressive community in terms of our seemingly universal commitment to gender equity, I can’t help but think about the video clips and highlight reels that flood my social media feeds daily. Videos that feature male athletes competing in a semi-professional men’s ultimate leagues. They get shares and likes and comments from male and female fans, young and old, veterans to the sport and just passerbys. They’ve reached SportsCenter’s Top 10, along with nine other clips of men playing sports (well, 98% of the time per a USC study on women in sports media). They widen the gap. They are here to stay. Young players are being introduced to this version of the sport via social media; a male dominated version of the sport with referees and corporate sponsorships. This version of the sport sidelines women. This version of the sport is here to stay.
I haven’t been able to justify personal support for teams or leagues, though I have friends playing and watching. Abstaining from clicking on videos or watching games isn’t a solution, and like Qxhna says in the documentary, I’m not sure what is. I like to believe the training myself and my teammates have put in is a small solution; training to be the best in the world and to showcase our skill, athleticism and spirit as a unit. What does gender equity look like when more playing opportunities exist for men? Can you achieve equity without achieving equality?
If you didn’t get a chance to watch the documentary live, I urge you to watch when it becomes available on-demand. Watch with your teammates or watch with the opposite-gender, and start a conversation afterwards. Talk about inequity and institutionalized sexism in our sport. Watch the USWNT take on the best in the World next week. Watch the All Star Tour take on the best in the US this summer.
Thanks Qxhna and the All-Stars.
June 9, 2016
By the summer after my sophomore year of high school, I was hooked on ultimate, but I could count on my fingers the number of female players under 18 that I knew personally. Two and a half years later, I was a freshman at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA: a small school struggling to get a women’s team together. My sense of the scope and potential of women’s ultimate was limited by the size of my playing community, and the lack of media available for the sport at the time.
I don’t remember how I heard about the Junior Worlds’ teams, but I applied, tried out, and got the unbelievable opportunity to play in Finland in August 2004 with close to twenty female athletes around my age. It was the first time I realized that there were a lot of other young women out there like me: in a committed relationship with this obscure sport. It was just two weeks, but it shaped the trajectory of the next decade of my life like no other previous experience had. It didn’t hurt that my teammates were incredible people as well, or that they frequently made me laugh until I cried. By the end of the trip, I found myself envisioning a future where these same young women and I would spend our club seasons together battling all comers on the field in Sarasota.
Of course, it was back to reality pretty quickly. We spread back out across the country. We chose different colleges for logical reasons. We made new friends. We stayed in touch, and then less so as the years passed – understandably. Still, in my heart, it was: once a teammate, always a teammate (same goes to Scandal!) And I felt that way every time I saw my u20 girls at tournaments over the years – brief but joyous reunions on the sidelines. Jokes about moving to each other’s cities. Sighs. I eventually came to terms with the idea that I might never really play with any of them again.
As you might expect, I am beyond grateful to be playing for the U.S. of A. this summer in London – grateful to be selected, and grateful to be able to represent my club teammates on Scandal, my city of DC, the youth program in Arlington that formed me which has grown magnificently, the insanely talented group of club players that challenged me at tryouts, and a country of incredible ultimate players and supporters. I’m also grateful to be given the opportunity to play with a few old teammates again: Rohre Titcomb, Leila Tunnell, and Georgia Bosscher. All three were in Finland with me in 2004, and all three made me a better person and player in the two short weeks I spent with them.
It’s twelve years later, and I have a new set of teammates to connect with inside of a finite timeline: three spring training weekends together and a week of games in London. It’s intimidating, but the familiar faces help. Of course, the Team USA women are inspiring players in every sense of the word, and everyone has been extremely welcoming. We only have around a week now to prepare, to try and bring home the gold, and I know it will all be over in flash. We’ll disperse to our separate lives and teams, working for independent goals. Still – once a teammate, always a teammate: not a bad deal.
June 6, 2016
I live in the town of Amherst, Massachusetts about two hours (100 miles) west of Boston, where I play the regular season with Boston Brute Squad. For the past 3 seasons, I have been living and working on vegetable farms in Western Mass during the week and on the weekends trying to balance farm chores and traveling to Boston for practice, or around the country for tournaments. It’s been a grind. Trying to train for and compete in the club series on top of farming full-time has been tough. Tough on my body, tough socially, and really tough financially. However, beyond all of those challenges, one of the largest obstacles I have had to overcome in the past few years has been the mental challenge of training in isolation of my team and teammates. I miss a lot of practice weekends and can’t go to weekly workouts. 100 miles might as well be 1,000 miles when your team is constantly getting together–hanging and working out, learning about each other and developing chemistry–and you can’t be there.
In this way, playing for team USA doesn’t feel all that different from playing with Brute Squad, except instead of having teammates 100 miles away, I now have teammates spread out over 3,000 miles. Brutal.
Now, don’t get me wrong, competing has been well worth the struggle. We all make sacrifices to play this sport, and I certainly wouldn’t have made it through the past 3 seasons and still be playing if I didn’t love this game and my teammates. However, I have had to learn how to really dig deep and push myself without the physical, emotional, and verbal presence and support of my teammates.
There is a very special bond that is created between athletes sharing a particularly grueling workout. When you and your compatriots are really just in it, and suffering through a brutal track workout, and you’re pushing and supporting and challenging each other and cheering each other on, a unique and magical thing happens. You find yourself running a little faster and for a little longer. You can suddenly do a few more pushups. An extra minute of plank. You work harder knowing that you have friends working alongside you. So, what do you do to get your own ass in gear when you live 100 (or 3,000) miles from your team? You get creative.
Luckily, it turns out that the small agricultural community I live in also happens to be a mecca for youth and college ultimate, and there is no shortage of hard working Frisbee players in Amherst. Also, fortunately for me, I chose to work on probably the only vegetable farm in the world that can field a full game of 7 vs 7 (with subs!) of regionally competitive high school, college and club players. My boss plays in the Grand Master’s Division. Both of his kids played at Amherst High School. I coach one of them. We have a farm summer league team. We hire a part-time weeder crew consisting primarily of some of the top high school players in the state, or even the country. Clearly, I have a strong community of similarly-oriented jock-farmers. Whenever possible, I try to rope in the Amherst High School kids I coach into going to the track with me, or I’ll run a workout for the UMass men’s team. When I can’t organize that, I’ll convince Farmer Dan to run a sprint workout with me on the sideline of his son’s game, or before summer league. My partner, Jake, and our dog, Frankie, have done countless workouts with me ranging from hill repeats, to long runs, to stadiums, to core workouts on our living room floor. I have an incredibly vibrant and supportive network of friends and co-workers who are psyched to step in and train with me for an hour or two, here and there. I am overwhelmingly grateful for that support.
But, there is still something lost in training apart from your team. When you are working out with your teammates and see them sweating next to you and hear their labored breathing as you round the 300 meter line, you have a clear sense of what and who you are training for. Sometimes it’s hard to get a clear picture in your mind of the purpose, the reason for all of your training and suffering, if you’re not gritting it out with the people who you are going to step onto the field with. And sometimes, without your teammates to rally you, it’s really hard to get up for a workout, or to go 100% once you’re there. So, I visualize.
I imagine Surge two steps in front of me, busting her ass on our 200 repeats, and I speed up to catch her. I visualize myself trying to defend Maddog’s handler cuts as I backpedal and shuffle through agility drills, and I get a little lower and move my feet a little quicker. I picture Sarah Anciaux making deadlifts look easy, and I do a few more pushups. I see Amber racing up stadium stairs in front of me, and I fight through the burn to power up behind her. Sometimes I can almost hear their footsteps in the grass or on the track, or hear their breathing. These images make me want to work harder, run faster, jump higher, and I feel more connected and driven. When I visualize my teammates next to me, suffering with me, it becomes clear to me what I am working so hard for–to be a part of this incredible team of powerful, talented women–and I remember why it is all worth it.
May 26, 2016
“How come they won’t throw to me?”
“Rohre, keep working hard and cutting to the open side. When you’re open, clap your hands together and call for the disc.”
It was 1996. I couldn’t throw a forehand, nor could I truthfully identify where the open side was.
I remember finishing that day at Spring Reign laying out into mud puddles with my teammates on the Disc Jockeys. We came, dripping, shivering, laughing, muddy, stinky, back to my parents’ minivan.
My first Spring Reign was the first Spring Reign. 19 years later, I’m back.
After a 4 hour WUSA practice in the rain, we took time to connect with local youth players and record video for our fundraiser for GUM (Girls Ultimate Movement). I chatted with Anna Tinker of BAM ultimate, a 17-year old recovering from ACL surgery. Shortly thereafter, I celebrated being #aclrecovered in our showcase scrimmage against Team Canada. I think I had just as much fun as I did back in ’96 when I was discovering this sport I love.
This time around, our Spring Reign weekend involved a similar amount of rain and mud and a few more successful forehands. To cap it off, my teammates and I trundled back to my car, muddy and giggling, while my parents looked on, thankful they weren’t in charge of our cleanup anymore.
May 5, 2016
An amazing highlight reel by NKolakovic from our game against Team Canada at Spring Reign.
May 3, 2016
Full game footage from our game against Team Canada at Spring Reign.
April 6, 2016
April 2nd we stepped on the field for the first time as the 2016 USA Women’s National Ultimate Frisbee team. The moment felt big. I was excited and nervous. I had been told that the hard work was just beginning. This post is about challenges, expectations, friendships, and looking forward.
After being selected for the team there was about a 1-month wait period before our first practice. We emailed about how it might be challenging because we had never been in the same place before. We had Google hangouts with our squads. We exchanged bad jokes and talked about our favorite throws, cuts, and defensive match ups. Even with all this preparation it was realistic to believe we would look bad in our first scrimmage. Despite this realism, I had hoped that we would step on the field and magically we would be amazing. That fantasyland of instant amazingness was very far from the truth and was shattered pretty quickly. We looked terrible. It felt terrible at times too.
In many ways, this past weekend was some of the most frustrating ultimate I have played in a while. I was intimidated by my own teammates, lacked confidence, and over thought the game. It was hard to be successful on offense when everyone I was playing with was new to me and in a new system. It was hard to be successful on defense when there were no easy match ups. I felt the pressure of the opportunity and instead of embracing that I found myself hiding, afraid to make mistakes. I had expected the team to come together slowly, but did not think about how that would impact my personal abilities to play. I left wishing I could have learned faster and given more. The next practice I am determined to play big, make mistakes, and have as much fun as possible playing a sport I love with amazing women!
Despite these obstacles, we grew a lot as a team. We started playing a system, got to know each other as people and players, laughed a lot, made mistakes, laughed some more, wore patriotic socks, and built a foundation for our season to grow from. I had a lot of fun getting to know my new teammates on and off the field. After reflecting on this weekend, I’m glad that this first weekend was hard. I’m glad that I struggled. I’m glad we have so much left to prove and to give to each other. I’m excited to get back on the field with my teammates to work, learn, laugh, and eat donuts. I’m sure the second training weekend will bring its own challenges and obstacles. This time I will be more equipped to deal with them and we will continue to learn and grow and laugh together.
Also, I learned how to make perfect rice (thanks Leila) and had a lively discussion about how the Pottermore sorting hat must be broken.