For a team that had never been at the heart of an international flying disc tournament before, a team that had been largely unaware of the large and vibrant community of ultimate players and enthusiasts out there, attending WCBU 2015 was the ultimate experience for us. As we rode to JBR from the airport on the 7th of March 2015, we couldn’t help but reflect on what it had taken to make the trip possible. We remain entirely grateful to all the beautiful people of the world who supported our crowdfunding campaign, and who continue to support our efforts to spread the fire of ultimate in Kenya.
They say that the journey is more important than the destination, and being at WCBU was such a journey for us. It was rich in experiences, thought-provoking moments, and vital lessons that we were able to take back home. Despite having only played competitive ultimate for about a year, and despite our lack of experience playing in such high level tournaments, we focused on one thing: to literally be the spirit of ultimate at WCBU. We knew we may not win it all, but we had come to Worlds to chase a piece of glory, gain a reputation as an emerging team, and share our passion as a community.
Our first ever Worlds game was against the Canadians. Despite the mismatch in our level of skill, and the fact that we had yet to develop team chemistry, we managed to take five points from them in a match that ended 5-13 in their favor. This game was also an eye-opener to the level of ultimate we needed to step up to. I recall asking our player-coach Michael “Prof” McGuirk: “Is Brodie Smith playing for team USA?” Back in Kisumu, we had watched Brodie’s YouTube channel and seen him do some insane things with the disc. We had also watched some American league games during ultimate dinners at Michael’s place in Kisumu. We knew that the American “fathers” of ultimate would pound us to pulp during our pool play matchup on the second day of the tournament. And yes, they did exactly that–by beating us 13 points to 4… and without Brodie! “We made them sweat,” recalls Mishael Oswe, “and we did not go down like sheep!”
That evening of the second day in Dubai, we had a team dinner at the JF Street Food at the Dubai Marina. We were pleased with ourselves. “This is what I live for!” I recall an excited Kyle McPheron saying between mouthfuls of his sandwich. I swear his eyes lit up. But looking around the well-decorated food joint, everyone in the team had the same look in their eyes. We had just thawed the Russians in a 12-11 matchup. “Guys! Check out the #KEN hashtag on Twitter!” I remember telling the team as we prepared to watch the replay of our match against the UAE. “We surely have caused a stir in the ultimate community!” For sure, we were starting to build a reputation, and the hash tag #KEN was lighting up on Twitter that evening. “Playing on camera was a first for me,” recounts Allan Lemtudo. “It gives me so much pride to have represented Kenya.” Clement, our cutting doctor and grab-master, aptly nicknamed “hands of glue,” recalled how “every team was fighting hard to win, and that kind of brings out the best of skills in people. It makes you step up. For instance, I vividly remember Allan fire a surgical forehand huck to Duncan, thus delivering the 11th score to our team.” He continued, “I think such moments reveal your game, and maybe that’s why Allan has become such a great handler after WCBU.”
Beating Russia painted a bullseye on our backs, and nobody took us lightly for the rest of the tournament. Unfortunately, the wind picked up strongly over the next few days, which effectively took away our athletic deep game and exposed our relatively inexperienced throwers. As a result, we got beaten in our remaining games against France, Australia, the Philippines, Japan, and Ireland. However, we learned quite a great deal from these games and made friends with many good people on the opposing teams. “Those guys, the Boracay dragons from Philippines, were my favorite team. I admired their speed, aggression and quick passes” says Oswe, who also acknowledges that they had awesome spirit. Dr. John Waitumbi, who was our oldest player, had this to say regards his ultimate experience: “A week of ultimate? Man, that was really something. The teams were so good. I red-bulled myself through it. I got to attend the coach training sessions, which have made me a better player. I am also better at correcting bad ultimate habits in experienced and novice players. I still dream of opening a masters team in Kenya.”
Because we did not have enough ladies in ultimate, we had to go as an Open team. However, there were several very committed and talented women players in Kenya who deserved the same opportunity that the men were getting. Luckily, the global ultimate community contributed enough to fund the WCBU experience for Mercy Mbago, who signed up to play for the Currier Island women’s team. She also got a massive wealth of experience: “I attended the coaching sessions, which greatly improved my play as well as helped me in my work that involves establishing new ultimate teams throughout Western Kenya. I also made lots of new friends. I had never seen ladies lay out before; I was so impressed at Worlds at the level of skill displayed by women in ultimate. I’m still recruiting and training the ladies here in Kenya, so that next time we can field an all women ultimate team, or a well-represented mixed team. WCBU has changed my ultimate perspective, and probably my life too. I’m more confident in this game.”
As stated above, Team Kenya was determined to be the spirit of the tournament. Our spirit was strong with us the entire journey, since the opening ceremony where we sang, danced, took selfies with teams and just couldn’t stop smiling. Thanks to Mike Malloy (Waveborn CEO and our sunglasses sponsor), the spirit was radiated throughout the games: “After every score we make, I want you guys to rush into the field and high-five your teammate. I also want to see smiles on your faces,” I remember Mike Malloy instruct. It’s hard to believe that in our first big international tournament, we almost won the Open division team spirit trophy–USA had 13.09 after 11 games, while we had 13.00 after 10 games. We believe if we played that last game with Qatar, we would have represented the ultimate spirit in the Open division, and probably the whole tournament. Beyond the field, we were the heartbeat in the heart of the party. Steven Chang concocted a dance-floor move that recreated his impossible on-field shoulder movements that helped him get open as a great handler. “I have never seen Oswe dance before,” recounts Allan. Our Minister of Fun, Duncan Tarrant, and his assistant Moses Ochieng, were upbeat all the way. I know we killed it on the dance floor during the two parties organized by BULA. Shouldn’t that count as part of the spirit score too?
In conclusion, we appreciate that WCBU was so well organized, something that we hope to emulate when we organize our own local tournaments. Meeting the ever-smiling president of BULA, Patrick Van der Valk, was awesome, and the Dubai tournament director Patrick Fourcampre-Maye was really friendly and helpful. In the words of Team Kenya’s captain, Josphat Nyataya, “One of the biggest highlights of our experience was the opportunity to meet Volker Bernardi, the president of WFDF, who recognized our efforts to grown ultimate in the country and offered advice on how to propagate this new sport in our country.” The fact that WFDF is now an IOC-approved member makes us dream of going to the Olympics someday.
The strong sense of brotherhood and spirit we experienced at worlds is also something we admired and carried home. Recalling the sight of the opening games, so many countries coming to play together, makes us think about how this sport may be relatively unknown in Kenya–but out there, it has a special following of committed, caring, and communal players, something we hope to continue cultivating in Kenya.