A Dead Horse

by | September 3, 2013, 9:25am 54

Brandon Wu - UltiPhotos.com

This may be beating a dead horse but the horse won’t care so I’m going to do it anyways because it isn’t my fault the horse died in the first place.

Today, I am depressed. Sitting in this corner coffee shop staring at my unfinished young adult novel whose flittering fragile life and completion hinges upon only my desire. Like many, I would love to be paid to write books, poems, prose or maybe even dinner menus, anything where my creativity could be given the gift of freedom and appreciation. But I am not, not even close. Sure I can self publish children’s books, sure I can write articles pro bono, maybe a funny Facebook post, but soon the cost of living in the technology bubble of San Francisco will call me back to an actual paying job to meet these absurd rent costs. Or I will have to move in with the likes of Martin who has feasted upon the swollen teats of mother Google for almost a decade now.

Humph. I stare out the the window at stacked houses yet all I can see is the piled up hours I’ve spent spinning the 26 letters of the alphabet that often end up as misspelled words and I am forced to see that my passion does not equal pay. It’s quite sad to think that I will “never make it as a writer,” that I will never sign a bazillion dollar book deal or have Oprah tell me my book inspired her to feed all the children and cheetahs in Africa (I almost replaced the previous “and” with “to the” but figured PETA would get upset because of the lack of nutritional value in starving African children). More importantly it means I may never get to buy a beautiful Tesla Model S and join the growing swarms of electric cars that have procreated like bunnies in the past few months.

And so I sit here in a heap. Eeyore would be impressed at my ability to wallow in my own thistle bush of self-loathing thought. Just as the last bit of cranberry scone goes down my hatch I realize the parallels of being an unpaid writer and being an ultimate frisbee player and I remembered going through this exact same battle about 5 years ago. This is how it went.

It was battle. On one side stood the idea of playing football: arena, Canadian, maybe NFL. I had worked hard on every event in the combine, getting my 40 time below 4.4, making my broad jump longer than 11 feet and my vertical above 36”. The Oakland Raiders’ terribly skilled draft picks led me to believe that superior athleticism was good enough to get a spot on a team. I am by no means claiming I would have been successful but I was definitely ready physically to at least give it an honest shot. The only problem was that my mind hesitated, for on the other side of the battle stood ultimate, the sport I had been enjoying playing at a high level.

To the common man this battle is probably laughable, not even a battle at all. Football is a well-respected billion dollar powerhouse business that celebrates some of the world’s biggest and strongest humans. The fame, the money, the cars, and the playboy models are all just part of the tapestry that make up America’s most-watched sport and gives its players a majestic mantle of respect along with a constant adoration of prominent ESPN anchors.

On the other side was ultimate, the lowly hippie pastime born from a pie tin. A sport expected to have a tie dye frisbee floating about a park on a puff of pot smoke and then fetched by well-trained but also high border collies. There is no mantle or even a bracelet of respect that comes with saying you play, only a glance of incredulity and confusion as you complete a grueling hill workout in the chilly fog-filled evenings that are the mainstay of a San Francisco summer. Two things for sure are that ultimate does not pay the bills and the ESPN anchors have a hard time keeping the snark from their snippets about any frisbee highlight.

Team USA Huddles at the 2013 US Open. (Photo by Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos.com)

Of course, I see ultimate in a different light. To me, it embodies what a sport should be: easy to set up, easy to learn, easy to play, hard to master. Required teamwork links together the individual battles that take place across the field, each player responsible for their role while helping to protect a teammate’s weakness. Sprinting, leaping, throwing, catching, field awareness, the list of possible skills that make up a great ultimate player could fill a page easily and that would barely scratch the surface of what makes a great ultimate team. The parallels between this team sport and life are everywhere: the commitment, the constant training, the hardships, the small victories, the grand failures, and the constant pursuit of future goals that will always wait just out of reach. I grew up playing every sport imaginable and I can tell you I have never felt so full of fatigue, so relieved of desire and so utterly blissful as when I complete a difficult ultimate tournament. My first year playing competitively for Colorado University’s Mamabird taught me more about myself than the 20 years that came before. I learned what passion meant, what chasing a dream was all about, how fear and failure can become monsters if we let them and that I can push myself beyond what I thought was possible. And I learned it all from my teammates and coach who soon became good friends which made winning the national championship that first year much sweeter. Simply said, it’s easier for me to say “I love you” to ultimate than it is to my girlfriend.

My coffee has cooled, the window lets in too much light. A pretty girl typing on the couch ignores my playful staring and I continue my self diagnostic. If my heart was rooted in ultimate, why did I even think of playing football? Where was the battle? Money of course.

Fabricated or not, the allure of possessing lots of money is a huge part of our society and unfortunately carries the misconception of being the ONLY thing that depicts how good you are. Back then I believed this myth and absolutely thought my athletic abilities were worthy of vast stacks of moolah or they would count for nothing. I was working at a Best Buy-type store getting paid eight dollars an hour to make up information about computers I knew nothing about and convincing middle-age ladies that my charming smile was a good enough reason to buy the most expensive computer with a BS insurance plan. I was ready to give up ultimate to chase the dream of fast money, ready to leave that job, ready to leave my friends and even ready to leave my girlfriend. Whatever it took. I was blinded by the idea that money could prove my worth and show the world I was a real athlete.

So I did what I always do when a predicament pops up: I read some books. A few on philosophy, a couple on athletes, I stood upon the shoulders of others far wiser than I and dissected the battle. If I went the NFL route I probably would, at best, be a backup to a backup sent to chase the football on kickoffs, playing for some crappy team in some desolate city whose economy is so dismal the fans make football a religion and swear their star player is the Second Coming. I doubted I would be happy, training hard yet hardly ever even getting to step on the field while risking the plethora of injuries associated with playing football and the head problems that now come guaranteed. Of course, the $350,000 league minimum salary was the massive price tag hanging around the broken neck of unhappiness and health risks. With the thought of money still blocking all other thoughts in my head, the battle stood at a stalemate.

Vin Diesel prepares to jump from a car for some unobvious reason.

Then one day I got insight. It wasn’t from MLK, Gandhi, Lincoln, or any of the other great speakers. Nope, instead it was a masterpiece in cinematography that moved me: one of the “Fast and Furious” movies; the specific one escapes me, as they blend together like Vin Diesel’s muscles after about the sixth one. Anyways, I left the theater with two take away messages — first, always drive as fast as you can, and second, pursuing life goals will mean more if done with good friends. It only took a smidgen more soul rummaging to see the best option was to stay with the sport I loved, with the friends I loved, and with the community that accepted me for who I was. I am not sure how the NFL would have handled the concept of my being bi and having an open relationship with my girlfriend but I doubt it would be with same gracious curiosity that the ultimate community has shown me. With my firm decision tucked into my mandatory red apron, I continued dispensing computers with a grin to the tune of eight dollars an hour and vowed to become the best ultimate player I could be.

My coffee gets a refill, the Pandora station switches to Lindsey Stirling and my flirtatious gaze gives up on the cute girl and switches over to the cute guy who has just sat down next to her. He is wearing thick black rimmed glasses and hopefully speaks with a European accent though he doesn’t say a word. That’s fine. He would never live up to my imagination and I am not done thinking. Since I made my decision to choose ultimate, what have I gotten from playing? I think back to the recent escapade of being a part of Team USA at the World Games in Colombia where money wasn’t an issue because all necessities of life were taken care of and all we had to do was concentrate on playing our sport (except for the distracting team bus that randomly emerged and disappeared like a fat green gopher with Alzheimers). It only takes three swigs of coffee to catch a taste of a couple obvious answers.

First and foremost on the list are the people that I get to call teammates. They are my adversaries at practice, my preachers in huddles, my crutches when I stumble and my friends through all of it. They push me physically and stretch me mentally, all I have to do is be susceptible to improvement and make sure I don’t pull a mental hamstring trying to keep up with their engineering jargon. Every ultimate team I have played for has been consistently lush in character and taught me things that school teachers never could or would and the 2013 World Games team was a great example. For the World Games, the ultimate community had to be distilled down into 13 players plus two coaches, a process that by its very nature had to extract tears of disappointment and frustration from many deserving players before eventually leaving a humble brew worthy of representing the USA. Thankful for the opportunity and driven by thoughts of friends who were not so fortunate, we excelled in our pursuit of attacking each moment as it tried to wiggle by. Quite early on it became our team motto that “Love is King” and that we would passionately do King Love’s bidding no matter what kind of facts attempted to breach our moat. (I am personally not endorsing love, results may vary and love should always be handled with care.)

Photo by Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos.com

With this loving portfolio of personalities we built one huge bonfire using naked camaraderie and legitimate compassion to burn off all the egos and selfishness that sometimes burden great teams. Once personal barriers had been broken down, team chemistry grew almost organically. It flourished rapidly to cover up many of the weeds of weaknesses that sprouted up at our practices so that by the time the actual Games started we knew that real trust was spread like a safety net right below should any of us falter and fall. Luckily we didn’t fall and we swung away on a trapeze of tribulations with a gold medal, proving yet again that a co-ed team that showers together will be clean enough to snuggle together and hence play as a team.

Second is the shaping of our sport. All successful sports started with a healthy stew spiced by passion yet garnished with competing vision. Our sport is no different and it is still being simmered in the cast iron pans of infancy, the fires of change swirl about with the top teams and players having a chance to really flavor the final dish. If I play well enough when the general public finally decides to sample ultimate frisbee they could say “What a nice flavor, is that a hint of Beau I taste or is that just burnt garlic.” This shaping I speak of was displayed by  Team USA when we got the rare opportunity to be a chef starting from scratch.

At the World Games, the people of Cali Columbia harbored no preconceived notions about ultimate, or as it was called during the event, Flying Disc. They didn’t know what they were “supposed” to think of Flying Disc or the athletes that played it and we weren’t going to tell them. We weren’t going to tell them because we didn’t speak Spanish very well and we weren’t going to tell them because we wanted to show them firsthand and let them decide. We were working with a blank page. When we took the field together we began to draw out the finesse, camaraderie and athleticism of our sport, shading it with concentration and determination. At first we had to use the eraser a lot and it wasn’t pretty, with smudges and splotches covering the page but soon the strokes relaxed, the pencil began to flow and the people began to see the picture and were intrigued by what it was. Before long we threw away the pencil and moved on to bold and colorful paints and big bristling brushes, dashing and diving we painted the field with great plays, a kindred spirit and a confident grace. According to a news report Flying Disc was the most watched sport at the World Games, and according to my eyes and ears we had painted the picture that represented our sport well. Using our Love we installed a love of the sport in the people who came to watch and those people in turn showed us what open minds and kind hearts can do for the growth of a sport.

Which brings me barreling headlong right smack into my last idea. The age old “what if”. What if fame, change or incredible fortune come crawling, falling, or dragged kicking and screaming into our sport?

Refs or observers, sponsored or grassroots, MLU or AUDL, NexGen or ESPN , the game is growing up before our eyes and we don’t own this game anymore than parents or guardians own their children. If I had to guess, I would say ultimate is in its teenage years. We can be bad parents that demand obedience, threaten punishment, complain about change and bicker about family rules — just remember eventually this game will mature, move on and leave you to be loved by someone else. Or we can be good parents, even if we decide to get a divorce to go separate ways. Good parents that teach ethics by example and show support for all the awkwardly growing, pimple pinching, voice cracking changes our sport will endure as it explores all the possible venues that make growing up great. When we step on the field, no matter the size, no matter the slight rule variances or the brand name of the disc or the amount of refs, we can play with the integrity this great game deserves. You never know which young whippersnapper is sitting in the stands watching and is going to show up on your doorstep one day to take the sport you raised on a first date in a Tesla Model X that he got for a signing bonus. This kid who learned everything from watching you will leave holding your game tight and you will think to yourself was I a good parent? A good mentor? A good role model? A good person? Or will you think, dang, I was a stifling prick with narrow minded indoctrinations who got caught cheating all the time and now this kid who idolized me is taking my game to a frat party called “Hog ties and heffalumps” and I forgot to set a curfew.

A bagel with cream cheese calls my name, my novel is whimpering about how I still haven’t found an editor and the rest of the coffee shop has become devoid of cute people to be smitten with. I am a little less depressed and will give Eeyore his thistles back. Who knows, hopefully one day my passion for writing/creating will swing around to align with a living wage and one of my books can replace the sexy vampire fetish that sucks the literary to a mindless husk. As for Flying Disc, I look forward to being a part of the changes; the 2013 Team USA was proof that ultimate can take the big stage with big money and still remain true to the values of good sportsmanship that this sport should aspire to. And in the meantime, I heard Best Buy is looking for more employees who don’t know anything about what they are selling and my grin has been buried beneath this novel for far too long.

Alright, I am done with this horse, it is ready to be glue.

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54 Responses to “A Dead Horse”

  1. You had me at "the swollen teats of mother Google."

  2. guest says:

    when is the autobiography coming out?

    From the Alaskan bush to Silicon Valley….

  3. CeeTop CeeTop says:

    Dang, Beau. Helluva article.
    Much like ultimate, you have the tools and talent to make your writing dreams come true, your expertise of wordplay from this article alone is evidence enough of such. So don't give up on them dreams! Doing so in ultimate has already paid dividends. You may not be NFL rich, but you ARE the embodiment of our sport, in all its facets (Sorry, Brodie, trick shots are not a "sport"), and I think I can speak for most everyone in saying we're totally cool with the way in which you represent every one of us.
    From one aspiring writer to another, keep your head up and you'll find your path. From one ultimate player to another, keep up the good work representing this great sport we all love so dear.
    From one bro to another, maybe save some hotties (both guys and girls) for the rest of us, eh?
    Peaces.

  4. Zog says:

    A great article. I would definitely buy this in book form.

  5. Ben says:

    Great article, Beau!

  6. jordan says:

    that was a good read.

  7. Mary says:

    Absolutely love it. Nicely done sir, nicely done.

  8. Dave L. says:

    Am I the only one that didn't know Beau was bi-curious?

    • guest says:

      apparently you're the only one who things it's matters enough to post this question

      • Jeff says:

        I didn't read his comment as thinking it mattered — just that it was an interesting new fact he learned. Count me in the same boat. (Although I'm hardly surprised I didn't know, I just play pickup games a lot, don't play more seriously than that nor follow regular commentary to know.)

        • CO Co-ed says:

          I taught him how to play the game, and I didn't know. Never even thought about it, and still have a suspicion he might be pulling a Beau on everybody with that, but I guess its a big deal that the sports biggest name just came out. Only because our sport seems very friendly to lesbian or bi female players but not as much for gay male players. One of the great things about Beau is that he really doesn't care what you think most of the time, he just lives by his own code and lets people think whatever they want. Nice job little bro

      • Dave L. says:

        It seemed to matter enough to Beau to put this as a gigantic non sequitur in the article.

    • anon says:

      he's made out with calle.. but let's be real, who hasn't made out with calle?

  9. M.K. says:

    Is Kayla not enough for you!? Sheesh.

  10. Nate says:

    Fantastic read.

  11. Cheko says:

    This is a great and inspiring article! Thanks for sharing

  12. Mickey says:

    Really nice article, Beau. Thanks for writing it.

  13. John E Corke says:

    Beau, my new ambition in life is to buy you a Tesla.

    #dreambig #startsmall #gohard

  14. Tux says:

    Hi Beau,

    I am an aspiring writer as well as ultimate player, still in college. You signed one of my discs at the Dogfish vs Rainmakers game in San Francisco. First, this is beautifully written and please keep writing! Second, you are an incredible role model for all the aspiring athletes out there, including me. I see it every day from the links shared on Facebook to the Beau Kittredge references on the field. I am just very thankful that the high level ultimate community consists of such excellent and talented characters, on and off the field. So, thank you. And good luck. You're a champ.

    Best wishes,
    Tux

  15. Tom Styles says:

    Beau, This is great. Really enjoyed reading your personal story. I'm sure many of the sentiments you share about ultimate are felt by players of every level of participation. I sometimes get the impression that the some of the things I love about Ultimate fade or are blemished at the highest level of the game. I'm relieved to read that I'm wrong. Keep up the great work, and best of luck on the Tesla acquisition.
    Tom Styles – Blockstack.tv

  16. LittleLauchie says:

    Thanks Beau. Brilliant read, can't wait for the next piece!

  17. Slip83 says:

    The AUDL, MLU, and whatever else comes next are great…but I just hope there is always a place for people like me who just love playing organized and competitive ultimate. I hope they never get rid of the idea of sectionals, regionals, and nationals for any team that wants to form and see what they can do, with no true aspirations of nationals in their mind. I'm scared that in a few years those playing opportunities might start to disappear…

    • Spirit Championships says:

      No need to worry about that – check out the new nationwide fall series at <a href="http://www.freefallseries.com” target=”_blank”>www.freefallseries.com
      Everybody else is focused on the elite players and the elite teams, so we are concerned about the average player, making sure that you always have fun tournaments to go to throughout the season, and have a fun, competitive series to play in the fall with other players and teams that value the Spirit of the game above all else.

  18. Alicia K says:

    Wow! This is the best thing I've read since "No No Kitty" (which cannot be topped- it's a true masterpiece)! Keep it up Beau!

  19. Russell says:

    The world is a great place. Excellent article.

  20. Rent's a lot cheaper out here in Phnom Penh. And we could probably find a place for you on the bench for the Cambodian team, depending on how well you do in the combine.

  21. inmyopinion says:

    awesome

  22. Chip McGee says:

    Beau Kittredge = The reason I started playing ultimate.

    You really did a great job on the writing as well here, your use of varying diction gives us the sense that theres more to this than the words on the page. very much so a use of the iceberg theory. Well done. but anyway, enough about the wordplay.

    I get excited when I think about the things the sport has coming to it in the future. Years from now this game could be huge. Picture someone like Harry Vardon, no one pushed the game of golf forward like Harry Vardon did, and he's still held in such a high regard that no one will ever say that an English golfer is better than him. To sound a little bit arrogant, We (The ultimate community today) are going to one day be the giants whose shoulders are stood upon by generations to come. The Kittredge's and Wiggins', Beatty's and Dobyn's, Nord's, Yes even Brodie's of past and today are building blocks. we are setting up the next generation. What we have to do for them is be strong enough together to let them stand on our shoulders. We have to build that strong foundation and give them something/ someone to look up to and see what's worthwhile in the sport.

    The reason everyone remembers Harry Vardon is because he was a better Gentleman than a Golfer. And man was he damn good at Golf, so what does that say about his character.

    Also, by the food you said you ordered, sounds like you were in a Starbucks…

  23. mervyn says:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kst2yrNJolY

    the first ultimate frisbee video that i watched

  24. jedimax says:

    Thanks for that article, Beau. I like it a lot, because I can identify with some personal information. As an european I've never come to consider NFL as a money option. But I've tried soccer in the youth and was not well accepted in the team because I did not start to smoke at the age of 14. Today I've found my way and love my sports, my partners and my life.

    I just wish, that the soccer teams would buy 1 player less each season and spread that money over all over sport departments (would be and huge grant for us).

    – Jedi

  25. ultimate fan says:

    Cool Article, and very fun to read. My biggest issue is that everything that he knows or thinks he knows about football is conjecture. It's disappointing he didn't try football, not from the sense that he possibly could have made it (and that society may have considered he "made", like he said), but from the perspective, maybe he would have loved it. It also seems like he might have a problem not being the star of any given team, which is unfortunate. Follow what you love, but don't let that love hold you back from trying new things is all I'm saying.

  26. Squeege says:

    Lindsey Sterling makes her way into every goddamn Pandora station.

    Also, good article.

  27. J-9 says:

    Beau – this is a wonderful article. As an older – retired player, I've admired all that I have heard about you within the ultimate world and am grateful to have someone like you represent the sport that was my life for so long. If you need something to cheer you up – watch my daughter Vivian admire your books. I got all 3 from you, and even after a year, they are some of her go-to books. She doesn't know many authors of her books – but she knows you! These belong in every library across the country so other kids can enjoy them as much as she does. Cheers, Janine http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6Y0vYvV0Js

  28. Aldom says:

    I don't speak very well english and as a matter of fact I had to use the google translator to find some words… but let me tell you something Beau, your syntax is lovely & every paragraph captivated my whole attention. Undoubtedly you're a real ultimate player in and out of the field.

  29. Amen Beau. Amen. I wish we had some more love in our team at World Games. Please write an autobiography!

  30. Ryan Sterner says:

    I had my students read this article in conjunction with a unit including the novel Shoeless Joe, a novel that promotes one pursuing passions and dreams regardless of others' perception of those dreams. Thanks for providing the opportunity to help breed ultimate and also being a stellar human being and ambassador for the sport.

  31. Eliot says:

    How can I get my hands on a copy of this novel?

  32. Alan B says:

    Nice article, sounds like you would have made a great "gentleman amateur" in 19th century English sport.

  33. bukowski says:

    This article makes me think of this poem.
    http://www.writerscircle.com/2013/09/writing-pers

  34. garypayton69 says:

    Not only the best player but also the best writer in ultimate. Amazing article Beau, this makes me want to start reading skyd again

  35. Joe Barr says:

    Thanks for this, Beau. You are a great writer. This is a wonderful snapshot of what it means to be an ultimate player and a human being, with all of the triumphs, pitfalls, and complexities. I am also bi and open, so I can appreciate your unapologetic honesty. It is inspiring to see someone doing what they love to do, being honest about who they are, and not backing down just because there might be risk involved. I have been playing ultimate in the Bay Area for a long time. One of the biggest reasons I keep playing is because of the people who play this game, people whom I love. You summed that up perfectly here.Keep up the good work.

  36. David Marin says:

    Great article, I just want to thank you and the whole Team USA for showing such an amazing level of play during the world games, I was a volunteer and I fell in love with the sport of Ultimate.

    Hope to see you guys playing again in the near future :)

  37. @ultimaterob says:

    I would have enjoyed reading this if not for the writing alone but to have such good insight into why you (and ultimately we) play this game made it that much more brilliant. Can't wait to share this with my fans Beau. Well done!

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