My Ultimate journey
By Devin Norman
My first introduction to ultimate was at a church camp in Hout Bay when I spent the afternoon with a girl just throwing a disc. I went away for the weekend with a friend from my residence, Smuts Hall and a girl from our sister residence Fuller Hall. We were given free time one afternoon and I spent it chatting and throwing a disc with the girl from Fuller. Later that day we played a very informal game with approximately 20 people. I thought it was quite fun and required a fair amount of skill for throwing, catching and running which was definitely something that interested me. I was pretty keen on this girl from Fuller and she said she played ultimate with the UCT team and that I should try and come to one of the practices. Sure enough I found myself one afternoon walking down to the Woolsack fields and seeing a bunch of people throwing discs but no girl from Fuller. I decided to give it a try anyway and I’m glad I did.
I played my first tournament a few weeks later which was MCI (mother city invitational). I played for the UCT second team and I think we were called “The cookie monsters”. We were a mixed bunch of individuals with different skill levels. It seemed like the main focus for the team was having fun. I guess this was a good thing given the fact that playing in Cape Town can sometimes be unbelievably hard given the wind. Sometimes throwing a short 5m pass can end up 10m behind you if you catch the wind which can be incredibly embarrassing. I used to walk past the Green Mile, the main fields at UCT, and would see people playing in the wind and I would think they’re crazy to play in such conditions. Little did I know only a few months later I’d find myself being one of those crazy people. The wind was a big factor when playing in Cape Town especially when it was blowing from one end zone to the other. This meant teams would alternate playing up and down wind points which meant a single up wind point could win you the game. This was often the case when playing league games on the Woolsack fields. I clearly remember some pulls going about 30m, hitting the ground and then rolling back to the starting end zone. The opposition would then pick up the disc and make a single pass to score.
Besides coming to grips with the wind and learning to throw high with the wind and throw low into the wind I had to learn how to throw a forehand. My forehand started out with me learning to hold onto my elbow with my other hand behind my back. In essence forcing me to use a lot of wrist in the throw. This was definitely key in making sure the disc had enough spin, something very important in the wind. For a long time I could only throw a forehand about 10m with somewhat confidence. Anything further than that would result in a coin. I slowly started to become more confident with my throws and distinctly remember even attempting a scoober in a game. I had caught the disc about 2m away from the opposition end zone and had a teammate run into the end zone which I wanted to pass to. However there was a defender in my way. At the time the only logical throw I had in order to get the disc to my teammate was a scoober. I barely put much thought into the throw and just went for it and it somehow worked. My teammates were beyond surprised because I’d never thrown a scoober before and the fact that we scored made it even better.
Once I started becoming confident with my throws and positioning on the field I started to enjoy playing ultimate but one thing I found very weird, especially coming from playing rugby, was the spirit of the game. I was so used to shaking hands and just walking off the field after a rugby game. I found the whole concept of high-fiving and then gathering in a circle to chat about our feelings very weird. It took me a while for it to feel normal.
In my 4th year at UCT I ended up playing for the Flying Tigers which is UCT’s 1st team. “Bouncy bouncy bouncy… the wonderful thing about Tigers…” was definitely my favourite cheer. This was when I started taking ultimate quite seriously and started attending practices on Saturday mornings which even involved fitness. I’d dropped rugby and was only playing ultimate and basketball now. I felt the hard work and amazing training put in by the coaches definitely elevated my game. One of my favourite moments was playing in Rocktober at WITS in 2014 where I scored the first point in the final against the infamous Donkey’s. They obviously still went on to win but that first cheer of us scoring was an enthralling experience.
After leaving UCT I took a bit of a gap year and travelled South America for 4 months and then worked at a summer camp for 3 months in Wisconsin, USA. I took a disc with me on my trip through South America and would bring it out randomly to throw on the beach but nothing quite as close to Ultimate. I then worked as a general camp counsellor at an all boys sports summer camp. There was one particular kid who was very good and we used to throw together regularly. We were in the woods so it would be quite fun throwing the disk between the trees.
After finishing my travels I moved back home to stay with my parents and started working. My parents stay in Greenside which is close to Pirates Sports Club, the home of Ultitude. So it was obvious for me to play for them. I remember joining when we had 2 teams going to Rocktober in 2015 (I think). I played for the 1st team and we ended up coming in 4th (again I think because I remember a photo of our team looking like Gangstas showing 4 fingers). I played for Ultitude regularly and started to make some great Friends at the club.
I was becoming very active and involved in Ultitude. I played league games on Monday nights at WITS, practiced on Wednesday’s, pickup at WITS on Fridays and pickup again on Saturday. I was there almost every week without fail. I was even there in the dead of winter when my hands felt like they were going to fall off and I spent all my time tucking them under my arms to keep them warm. I think the commitment to the team as well as being someone younger meant that I got pushed into a leadership role in the club. I started off by becoming the treasurer of the club. The role wasn’t too difficult and really only involved keeping track of who had made payments to the club. After a year as treasurer I then became chairman of the club for 2 years. This was a more important role and the main responsibility was to make sure we had a team going to tournaments. Other responsibilities included training and running practices, managing expectations of players, making sure players had accreditation, arranging teams for league games and doing all the admin. It’s quite a bit of responsibility to handle given the fact that it’s done out of love for the club and passion for the sport with no real palpable reward. I was happy to do it given the people that were helping me and the others that were in the club.
I had a bit of a hiatus from ultimate in 2016 when I fractured my foot. It happened while I was playing a 5-a-side soccer league game. I got a stress fracture in my left foot which put me out of action for about 5 to 6 months. I also ended up getting a blood clot in my calf which meant I had to go on blood thinners for a while. I obviously couldn’t continue playing ultimate and ended up trying to go to the gym to keep active. I would still pitch up at pickups and games to sit on the side and watch and occasionally throw with someone who wasn’t playing. I definitely learnt to become less competitive and more chilled while spending all that time on the sideline. I healed up and started playing very slowly and eventually felt confident enough to play in a Nationals tournament. I ended up going to Europe just before the tournament and spending 3 weeks travelling. I didn’t do any ultimate related exercise and when I got back I ended up fracturing the same foot about 3 points into our first game. It was a pretty heartbreaking experience to know I had to go through the same thing again. I was back in a moon boot and crutches for another 5 months spending even more time on the sideline.
I eventually recovered from my second fracture and was told by the doctor that if it happened again I would need surgery and the outcome would not be very promising. The thought of it happening a third time really scared me and I really took my time building my confidence back up to a point where I could play competitively. It was tough learning to control myself and hold back from giving my best. It was something I needed to learn in order to protect my body. One thing I did when coming back to play was to wear trail running shoes. They don’t have as much grip as cleats which means I’ll rather slip and fall than dig in and twist. Still to this day I only wear trail running shoes.
My confidence is finally back to a point where I no longer constantly worry about my foot and I can play the game I want. There is still the thought in the back of my mind to be careful and I’ll often back off in situations I may have previously gone for when I was younger. I now just play to have fun and enjoy the sport and the people. I look forward to weekends away at tournaments, long throws into the endzone at pickups, drinks after a good run around, catching up with friends while throwing a disc and everything in between that makes Ultimate such an amazing sport.