Ben Wiggins told me something this summer in an email, as a group of 14 of the top young club players and college all-stars took the road on a month long road trip – also known as NexGen. “You have absolutely no idea what you’re doing.” No longer could we be anonymous in the states or anywhere else. While NexGen definitely had those qualities, it pales in comparison to what I experienced at PAUC during Thanksgiving week November 2011.
You go to a place like Medellin, Colombia and think that this will be a fun week. I’ll get to play a game that I have become fairly good at, see an exotic locale and have some fun with new and old faces a like. This and much more happens. An incredible week to say the least.
These are my experiences with PAUC 2011. They don’t reflect anyone else but they maybe very similar to those of my teammates who assembled as Sockeye for this tournament.
I wake up the morning of November 21, 2011 in Medellín’s international airport about a 45 min drive outside of Medellín, high up in the mountains. It’s approximately 8:30 am. I have just taken a red eye flight from my hometown of Houston, TX to Bogotá, Colombia’s largest city and capitol, and then a short flight to Medellín. Stepping off the plane I am totally alone. I have no idea how I am going to find my teammates who are already there and I can barely remember the 3 years of Spanish I’ve had over the last 8 years.
I quickly learn through email with Mauricio Moore that my hired driver has decided not to pick me up. I have two options, 1 hire a taxi 2 or wait for a ride to take me to where 3 of my teammates are running a practice for club players. I decide to wait, thinking that 40 minutes isn’t that long. 40 minutes turns into 2 hours but I am finally welcomed by Roxy, my ride into the city and part of the huge team organizing PAUC.
If you have never been to Medellín, let me tell you this: the city is beautiful and enormous. It is situated in a valley with mountains surrounded on all sides, and the drive in is spectacular. Buildings climb each mountain slope and cover the space everywhere in between. The city is exactly what you expect from something so huge; the entire place is bustling and action packed. There are cars, people, motorbikes and buses of all shapes and sizes everywhere you look. Streets twist and turn while taxi drivers bob and weave, just barely dodging people crossing streets or motorbikes riding between lanes. Lanes, by the way, are really more like guidelines than rules: most people appear to drive by feel. At least it seemed that way to me.
By 11 am I am united with three of my fellow fish. Nate Castine – a former rival when he was at Western Washington and I played with Washington, Reid Koss – another Dirt alum, AND Joe ‘BJ’ Sefton – my partner in crime. I’ve known him my entire ultimate career and have modeled much of my game off of his, not too mention we look a like. For the rest of our time here we plan to tell all of Latin America that we are “gemelos” or twins. These three have been running a sort of quasi-practice for a young club players. Reid and BJ have been working with a broad age range of boys, while Nate has been working with a newly formed women’s club team. Upon arriving I was told I would be helping Nate run his practice.
My experience with coaching is very limited. I’ve done fall practices for my college team and the few NexGen clinics that we put on during our time on the bus. Needless to say, most of the day I follow Nate’s lead and have fun with it. The problems we run into are merely language barriers, and this problem that definitely continues throughout the week.
After practices are cut short around 4:30 due to some menacing thunderstorms (which I learn are “seasonal” and have begun due to global warming) we learn that we have been invited to take place in some scrimmages against teams that will not be competing in PAUC but nonetheless want to go up against the Americans.
Roxy whisks us away to our hostel where we can change and meet up with the rest of the guys who are already in town, Jolian Dahl, Sam Harkness, Mario O’Brien and Sam O’Brien. While most of us would rather eat, relax and hang out the rest of the night, we reluctantly make our way to the turf complex where the scrimmages are going down.
We enter with no warm-up and having just eaten a quick but large sandwich at a local restaurant. The name of the game is king of the hill. You start out coming in pulling in a game to two. If you win you stay on and receive on offense. We quickly become king and race through all 12 opponents in 13 games before retiring at the top. We watch our American sister team, Fury, play on the opposing field, sign some autografías and recover before we are enticed to play again.
We return to our hostel after grabbing some local fast food with our new friend David. We are tired and some of us haven’t slept long but our night is not over. I wonder what the Furries are doing? Unfortunately that’s a story for another time.
The next day, Tuesday, we join much of Fury and some of the other Ultimate Peace coaches to help with a sort of camp/tournament they are running for youth players in Medellín. Fun times are had all around as we interact with these talented kids. After a long day, we are tired but are able to move to our new hostel with the Furries. Fun times are sure to be had as more and more of our teams are begin to arrive.
Wednesday is our last day before the tournament begins and there is a lot to do. Meetings are being had in the morning for the older and more verbose Fish/quasi-Fish, SamO and Rio. Meanwhile the rest of us are led to a field complex where we will be running a tournament for more youth, except this time it will be double the kids, big and small. Again tons of fun. Some of the most memorable moments for me occur when you are surrounded by hundreds of kids, most of whom speak little English. This is the first point where we as Sockeye become aware of our fame/good fortune. Kids are constantly asking for autographs, and while this is a huge ego boost for me it makes me wonder, do these kids have any idea who we are?
PAUC begins the next day and much of the play has been recounted already. I’ll finish up with some general thoughts about my experience as a whole.
1 – International tournaments – they are always fun and generate new ideas/styles of play.
2 – Club players abroad – we are respected as star players even though we may not be in our own country. The best part is that we are looked up to both in terms of spirited play and individual skill. We as club players traveling abroad need to uphold these pillars of the game.
3 – Latin American Ultimate – still developing in terms of skill, but the athleticism and drive are most certainly there. In a few years I can easily seeing some of the teams we faced at PAUC becoming part of the top tier of teams worldwide.
4 – New found stardom – thanks to NexGen and Ultivillage’s ETP series you and anyone who has scored a goal on film are known in remote corners of the world. That means anywhere they play disc and have the Internet. You may not think your play is inspiring people, but truthfully it is. I can attest first hand. I’ve definitely inflated the hypothetical price of “PHIL #6” autographs over the course of the PAUC.
5 – Travel – It is so worth it. Take every advantage we have now because it is not likely to last. People have told me this before and after my trip. I can’t imagine getting another chance like this.