I play Ultimate. That is to say I live in a world of Gatorade, ibuprofen and injection-molded plastic. A world where you collect injuries the way birdwatchers compile lifelists; where vacation time and buckets of cash are squandered travelling to tournaments with names like Hodown, Gender Blender, Alpenglow and Flower Bowl; where your most important possession is a pair of cleats that don't hurt, and where entire drawerfuls of clothes - no matter how many times they've been washed - vent the sickly-sweet camphor of muscle rub.
I am not alone.
That much was obvious late on a July afternoon a few years back at the University of British Columbia's Thunderbird fields, where myself and roughly 1,800 athletes on 100 teams from 20 countries had gathered to cavort and compete in the week-long World Flying Disc Federation's World Ultimate Club Championships. Tucked into a far corner field, in a fast-paced match-up, perennial Canadian men's champions Furious George, from Vancouver, and Connecticut's Snapple, were putting on a show for a few hundred hard-core Ultimate players. A handful of casual spectators, more likely to have stumbled upon the contest than known about it, watched with a mixture of amazement and confusion. Like many reading these words, they had yet to hear of the fastest growing new team sport on the planet, and needed a few things explained. But translating this rather bizarre milieu isn't always easy.
- What's this? asked a bemused but intrigued woman onlooker.
- Ultimate , replied a sweat-drenched Furious player standing on the sidelines, just as a Snapple body hit the turf nearby with the hollow thud of a side of beef.
- What's Ultimate?
The Snapple player picked himself up, clutching a white, dinner-plate-sized plastic disc, while a defending Furious player hovered over him, waving outstretched arms and counting loudly.
- Um, well... I guess you'd call it Frisbee football.
Unperturbed by the frantic enumerating of the defender, the player with the disc stared downfield intently.
- Then how come the guy who just caught the Frisbee isn't running with it?
The count stood at five.
- Well, he can't. He has to stop and establish a pivot foot. Then he can throw it to someone else.
- So it's really more like basketball.
- Uh, yeah... a bit.
At eight, the player turned and tossed the disc to a teammate who had taken up position behind him, then took off, sprinting toward the goal with his defender in tight pursuit.