What’s the Big Deal?

By Ivan Johannes

When SAFDA approached me, asking me to write a blog, sharing my experience of playing ultimate with the South African disc community, my immediate response, as always, was “of course I’ll do it”. I then gave it some thought and struggled to understand why and what I should write for a blog post. What’s the big deal? This thought is, understandably, a common occurrence ever since I started adapting to life with what my peers perceive to be a massive handicap.

Just a bit of background, I grew up playing a lot of sport. Mostly tennis and cricket but I was open to anything. Growing up in small-town Mpumalanga, ‘exotic’ sport was not readily available. It was not until much later that I got involved with Ultimate Disc.
When I was 15, just over 7 years ago, I was in a quad bike accident on my childhood farm, in which I fractured multiple vertebrae and shattered my collarbone. After two surgeries and countless hours of physio, the final verdict seems to be a life of:

Answering questions; “Yes, at least I was right-handed before”

Well-meaning, backhanded comments; ”Really impressive…for a guy with”

Oh and…only one arm

Luckily, life goes on. I finished my matric in that year and after working on our farm for a bit, commenced my 4-year university career. In my second year of studying, I transferred to a university in Canberra, Australia. It is here that I was introduced to Ultimate Disc. At first, I only played very casually for the residence that I stayed at. I saw it as a way to stay active and meet some people. I sort of wrote off any kind of hope for improvement in my ability to play the sport when guidelines like “always catch with two hands” got flung around.

It was only in my final year in 2019 that I made the conscious decision to ignore all conventional methods. Most catches are done with one hand anyways. I ended up joining the university club with one of my good mates where we practiced twice a week and went to a few tournaments. In that year, I got so hooked on the sport that it was one of the first things I looked up when I moved to Johannesburg.

Looking back now, it has taken a lot of devotion to reach any level of competence, but I think the biggest challenge in my situation is not a physical one. Sure, one would argue catching a disc is always easier with two hands, but then again, most of the difficult catches are of a sort that you only get one hand to the disc anyways. Aside from that, I’ve found that I don’t drop difficult catches nearly as often as I drop the easy, floaty ones. So no, instead of the physical, I found it difficult to face the mental repercussions of dropping a disc and thinking to myself: “This is because of your disability”. This is a constant struggle, but I’ve learned to use it as a tool to steer myself towards a state of constant improvement, which is where we all want to be.

Playing in South Africa has been nothing but a pleasure. I met so many nice people, which I think is a universal truth for Ultimate Disc. Unfortunately, I’ve been told that the COVID-19 crisis has hindered participation in the sport compared to what it used to be, but nonetheless, my time in South Africa has been amazing.

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