You and I just met.
I’m a 29-year-old dude from Winnipeg. You’re 19, from Toronto, but might as well have been 40-something, from Tulsa . Last time this happened, you were 25 and from Australia. Today, we’re seated beside each other on a plane. We could just as easily have been waiting in line at the post office, or standing together at a bus stop, straining to spot our ride home.
You jumped up and smiled politely when I got to our row and motioned apologetically, across you, at the window seat. I’ve already made a boring joke about “the leg room on these things”, and you’ve silently dreaded the inevitable moment when I’ll bring up the weather. You feign interest when I explain that I work in the insurance industry and am on my way to a conference. You tell me that you’re on a break from school (you mentioned earlier what you’re studying, but I immediately forgot), and that you’re going to visit your grandmother.
We connect sincerely for a moment when I let slip that I’m going to miss my five-month-old son while I’m away (you have a nephew right around the same age), but within a couple of minutes it’s dead silent again. They haven’t even given the safety instructions yet. You’re cursing yourself for forgetting your headphones. This flight’s going to last an eternity.
Just when you think I might leave you alone, I butt in with a question: what happened to your hand? You mumble that it’s a sports injury, as you unconsciously tuck your splinted finger out of sight. Basketball, I speculate, or maybe an unusual soccer injury. No, “Ultimate Frisbee…”, you trail off, praying that I won’t demand to know what that is.
I pause. “You play Ultimate?”
All of a sudden, the awkwardness vanishes and it’s as if we’ve known each other forever. We compare notes on the teams we’ve played for and the tournaments we’ve been to, trade war stories about double-game-point thrillers, and marvel in retrospect at the best plays and players we can remember seeing in person. We haven’t just found common ground – we’ve uncovered each other’s secret identities.
The secret identity that Ultimate players share is a funny thing: on the one hand, it enables us to relate so easily to others who share it, when we might otherwise be completely unable to find something meaningful to talk about. On the other hand, abrupt transitions between identities can make us feel like strangers in our “real” lives.
Ultimate has always been lauded for its inclusiveness and diversity. Its players are bartenders, lawyers, doctors, mechanics, middle-managers, salesmen, teachers, students, and the funemployed. For all of us, so many Saturdays and Sundays are spent immersed in the tournament world: grinding through four games in a day, running until our joints beg for mercy, pacing sidelines, barking commands, and inhaling bagels like they’re going out of style. Come Monday, we’re jolted back to reality: the office; the shop; the classroom; the couch (maybe the funemployed have it right).
“How was your weekend?” someone will ask. “It was pretty good,” we’ll offer.
“Get up to anything?”
We have some rehearsed answer, the same one we always use in these circumstances. But no matter how we relate the events of the last two days, we never talk about them the same way we do with our teammates, with whom we don’t just discuss the weekend, we relive it. At practice this week, we’ll take inventory of the tourney’s highs and lows, wince as we recall that nasty injury we witnessed, and fall over laughing at the teammate who tripped while trying to milk a floating disc. (Saturday night, depending on the tournament, may be the source of even bigger laughs.) But today, Monday, we feel like Clark Kent after rolling in at 2AM from an ass-kicking road trip, having possibly thrown his suit on over his unitard before rushing out the door in the morning. As much as our playing experiences create a bond with our teammates, they can make us feel like outsiders around people who don’t play Ultimate, or “civilians” as they’re sometimes (fittingly) called. On the heels of a tournament, in particular, the most regular of surroundings can leave us bleary-eyed and disoriented. Didn’t we just meet about the budget last week?… I hope I don’t pass out at my desk and start counting stalls in my sleep… Should I bother explaining to my boss that I took a disc in the face, and didn’t get this shiner in a bar fight?
The more intense the tournament, the more pronounced this experience. Like most players from north of the 49th parallel, my season culminated a couple of weeks ago at the Canadian Ultimate Championships in Victoria, British Columbia. As a member of Winnipeg General Strike, I had the good fortune of playing in the Open final on Sunday, in which we dropped a 14-16 gut-wrencher to Furious George in front of 1,000+ spectators. When I returned to the office, those few co-workers who know something of my frisbee endeavors casually asked how the tournament went; others asked how my vacation was. I don’t remember exactly how I answered. Politely, probably. Optimistically, perhaps. In partial truths, definitely. Call it a secret identity, or an alter ego if you prefer… How else do you explain to someone that they live in only one of two worlds that you inhabit, and that right now you wish you were back in the other?