I remember the day I told my parents that I joined my college’s ultimate team, much to their dismay. Having been raised and educated in England, neither of them seemed to comprehend the idea that a sport, especially one so underdeveloped and misunderstood, would benefit me in any possible way.
“This won’t distract from your studies, I hope,” my father grumbled.
“I promise it won’t.” I wondered if he could tell I was lying.
“Well, if this affects your grades it any way, you’ll have to give it up.”
I silently rolled my eyes as I vowed to keep my studies a top priority. “You should come and watch me play, and you’ll see how fun it is!” My father let out a disapproving sigh.
A year later I found myself calling my parents unexpectedly on one of my friend’s cell phones.
“I’ve badly sprained my ankle,” I nervously explained, hoping they wouldn’t be too mad.
My mother cried, “Jennifer Clare, how could you?!”
“I’ll go to the health center at our school when I get back on Monday, and I’ll let you know how it goes.”
A few weeks later, after I spent my days hobbling around in a brace, my parents insisted that I buy a cell phone, in case anything like this ever happened again. Year after year, I would call them unexpectedly with news of a new injury: a concussion, a strained back, a torn quad, tendonitis, an asthma attack. Each time they responded with one single sentence: “Jennifer Clare, how could you?!”
“Jennifer, where are you?” my mother asked, as I tried to hastily cover the speaker on my phone. A loud announcement echoed in the background.
“In an airport…” I slowly mumbled, hoping she wouldn’t hear me.
“Why on earth are you in an airport?” she asked.
“I decided to fly out to College Nationals to see my friends play.”
“I hope that didn’t cost too much,” she said, in a rather disapproving tone.
“Oh no…I found really cheap flights.” I lied again, having spent nearly $400 on a last minute flight to Colorado.
It was one of many conversations I had with my parents about how much money I spent on ultimate. Tournaments, jerseys, plane tickets, hotels, rental cars, league fees, gas, cleats, food… the list seemed endless, and my bank account was habitually low.
“Why do you spend so much money on this?” My dad would always ask.
“Because it’s fun!” More grumbles from him. More eye rolling by me.
No matter how many times I asked, my parents never seemed interested in coming out to watch me play; my older sister had watched many times and even bought me new clothes to change into after one particularly muddy game in Pennsylvania. Finally after years and years of begging, I convinced my parents to fly to Sarasota for Club Nationals in 2010, when I was still playing for Barrio. As my team started our very first warm up, I glanced around, hoping to see two very British folks walking across the fields. Nothing. At the start of the first game, still nothing. At the start of the second game, still nothing. By half time of our second game, I began to worry. What if they never showed up? What if they decided it wasn’t worth their time? As I began contemplating the idea that my parents would never, ever see me play the sport I loved, they came trotting down the sidelines, with smiles on their faces.
“Hello dear! How’s the game going?” my mother asked, kissing me on the cheek, and then looking around at the vast expanse of fields. “There’s quite a lot of people here, aren’t there?”
“Yeah Mum, a few thousand.” As I shyly added, “We’re not doing so well.”
“Ah well, you’ll do better, now won’t you?” she replied, squeezing my arms.
During the next three days, I saw a drastic change in the way my parents thought of this sport. Instead of sulking on the sidelines, trying to make the best of the terribly hot weather, strange rules and heckling, my parents seemed to — dare I say it — enjoy it.
My dad trotted up and down the sideline, clapping his hands and crying hurray when we scored, and gasping ooohhh when we fumbled a catch.
“You see, all you need to do is pass the frisbee FASTER to each other and you’ll score!” he cheerfully coached, thinking he had just outsmarted years and years of carefully calculated strategy and training.
“I think we know that Dad…” I mumbled, with a grin on my face, enjoying the fact he finally seemed excited to discuss ultimate.
My mum decided that we had all run around far too much and went to the grocery store to bake not one, not two, but three giant pans of fruit crumble accompanied with ice cream for the team.
“Your mom made all of this?” one of my teammates cried, shoving more crumble into her mouth. “She’s awesome!”
“Yeah,” I said, smiling. “She is pretty awesome.”
When my parents left Sarasota, they had only seen my team win one game. As I sat in my seat on a plane going in the opposite direction to Arizona, I wished in some small way they had flown to Nationals during a year our team placed much higher. But I came to the conclusion that although it took my parents six years to finally watch me play a game of ultimate, it didn’t matter how we did. They went home absolutely loving it, and that meant more to me than anything else. Now, when I call them on my phone to say hello, they always ask me, “So how’s ultimate going?”