Last week, I played my first game of ultimate in years. Fifteen to be exact. Since playing in Vancouver in 2008. My friend Fin and I are Zoom training for the chance to play in Florida in exactly one week. Last week’s game preparation for a weekend of running more than either of us have run in years. He on a new hip. Me on reanimated hamstrings and calves.
“No sprinting,” our trainer Brent instructs after two months of strength building plyometrics.
“And no bursts,” Fin adds during the training session we share a couple times a week. I’ve repeated the mantra to myself—no sudden movements. Instead, I will stride, reach and lean versus anything more explosive. There will be no leaping for errant throws on this occasion.
To this end, I arrive at the fields early to engage in a plyometric warm-up not familiar to me after the years of jogging around the fields to prepare for a game. On this night, we’re playing at Danehy Field in Cambridge, a multi-use set of fields built on top of a dump. I park in a lot below the lit field, pull my van up next to another, the two vehicles creating a safe space for me to engage in downward dog without the judgement of teammates and opponents alike. Yes, downward dog my new best friend, the pose I resisted at first, and now feels like rest in comparison to some of the other moves Brent’s been leading us in. Plank, mountain climber and advanced push-ups all the bane of getting myself ready to play again.
“Do you want to handle?” Jackie asks me.
Smiling, I say, “No, I’ll start down-field.”
“Really!?!” she responds.
“He’ll be calling plays by the end of the night,” comes from Jim, a player who tells me later that he’s likely logged over two thousand games in his impressive career. “I used to keep a journal with a variety of stats, but now mostly just log the games.”
To my surprise, I’ve got butterflies when we line-up to receive the first pull. Nervous the way I used to be prior to the finals of long tournament, and yet tonight we’re playing a relaxed game at the end of BUDA’s fall Masters season. Jackie calls a line, and I’m slated to catch the pull. CATCH THE PULL!
“Let’s go Steve, Jackie, Jim, and on the other side Robert, Josh, Matty.” A four person play like the hundreds we depended on during DoG’s run. My brain has to think about it for a second, has to remember if I call a side, or if Jackie will just appear, ready. I have to think, which can’t be good.
“Every time you think, you hurt the team,” I remember John Axon telling me, of his father’s coaching during little league baseball.
To my surprise and benefit, the opposing team on this night chooses to play mostly zone defense, which means less running on offense. Instead, I find myself handling every third pass, dishing off left and right as the cup swarms around me.
“You can push over more,” Jackie instructs after one point. “So we get more out of my swing to you.”
She’s right, but I’m going on fifteen-year old instinct to give her something at stall 8 and worry about the next throw after I get the disc. But she’s a throw or two ahead of me. We struggle a bit, but it’s not windy, and various throws come back to me giving our offense some room to work. Overheads, scoobers, high release backhands prove effective against a windless zone.
“Have you been throwing?” Jim had asked before we began.
“A lot,” my proud response. I’ve been practicing catching passes low, below the knee, the sage instruction from one of the captains of Dead Ringers, the team I will be playing with in Florida.
“Do you have cleats?” Jim’s follow-up.
“Yes, I came prepared.” Again, proud, ready.
“They sell other kinds,” he says, eyeing my Copas.
During the course of the night my feelings range from nervous to emotional, and back anxious again near the end of the game.
We need to win. I think to myself as some point in the second half, my competitive spirit not far from the surface.
“Down by two,” I offer. A mantra we lived by all those years ago, regardless of the score. But this team is now looking at me wondering if I’ve lost the ability to count, to which I add, “we got ’em right where we want ‘em.”
Maybe I’ve lived my entire life like I’m down by two, as opposed to comfortably ahead, or simply comfortable with whatever the score. This my truth. Mary and I live in the city, willing participants of its achievement culture. Together we rush around to various events and appointments too often oblivious to the comfort of just being.
“Lights go out at 10,” one of the team announces as the end of the game nears. This reminds me of the years and years of night practices when teammates lost keys and wallets in the sudden drape of darkness. A panic comes over me and I franticly look for my keys and phone before heading off the field where we’ve vanquished our opponent.
“Playoffs next week,” someone says.
Playoffs!?! I didn’t earn playoffs but feel appreciative in the moment, riding on the shoulders of Jim and Jackie’s lifelong passion for the game.
The goal tonight? Play and not get injured. The goal in two weeks when I lace them up for a weekend of six games will be the same. Play in as many games as possible. Save something for the finals, should we be fortunate enough to make it that far. Remember the years and years of practice and play all geared towards being the best, but know thy current self. Not up or down by two, but simply happy to be in the game.