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Entries in ultimate frisbee (1)


My Ultimate Day

By Stephen Wallenfels

My son, a strapping 24-year-old, has been asking me to try a game (maybe it’s a sport) that didn’t exist when I was his age. He, along with a lot more people than I thought, is an avid fan of Ultimate Frisbee. I tossed the disk around when I was in college and was pretty good back in the day. Now that I am long of tooth and gray of hair, I may not be able to throw as far, or jump as high—but I figured, what the heck, I can at least try. Maybe even show them youngsters a thing or two.

It’s important to understand that I agreed to try “Ultimate” as they call it, knowing absolutely that I would get injured. There was no doubt in my mind. Even though I play competitive racquet sports six days a week, I knew this would be different, that I would be using muscles that didn’t want to be used. I just didn’t know how different it would be, and how much those muscles didn’t want to be used. As I walked out the door, sneakers in hand, my wife shouted from the kitchen, “Don’t get hurt.” Then she looked at me as if I were a long-necked Turkey on Thanksgiving day.

As we headed for the car, my son said, “Don’t worry, dad. You’ll do fine.” Then he added: “Do you have cleats?”

Cleats? You wear cleats for this game?”

He smiled. 

“Don’t worry, dad. You’ll do just fine.”

When we pulled up to the field, my jaw dropped. There were 30 people at least, running, throwing, jumping, diving in 90-degree eastern Washington sunshine. Their lean bodies glistened with sweat and oozed youthful energy. I scanned the area looking for someone like me: 53, an iffy back, a sketchy knee. My heart sank. I was the eldest by at least 25 years. 

My son, reading my furtive look, said, “Stop worrying, Dad. You’ll do just fine.” 

I watched the players darting around on their cleats. Then I laced up my slick-bottomed, zero-traction, grass-stained lawn-mowing sneakers. 

For a warm-up, we broke up into four-person groups and did “skills and drills.” That involved intricate throwing-running-catching patterns using inside flicks, outside flicks, backhand and forehand flicks, overhands and hammers. 

It was like they were speaking Portuguese. “What’s a flick?” I asked. 

The drills were so complicated and exhausting I thought we were trying out for the Harlem Globetrotters’ Frisbee Team. An hour later, the warm-up mercifully ended. I crawled to the sideline, thinking a defibrillator might come in handy. 

Then the real playing started. 

Teams were assigned and we trotted out to our respective ends of the field, five vs. five. Our captain, a female disk thrower who probably wasn’t even born when I graduated from college, patiently explained the rules to me. I wanted to ask her why she kept speaking in Portuguese. Then the group discussed offensive and defensive strategies, force left, force right, who’s marking who, which way the wind was blowing. Meanwhile, I sized up our opponents at the opposite end of the field. They were all twenty-somethings with 3% body fat who run like gazelles and jump like Velociraptors. Our captain hucked the disk so far it looked like a dot on the horizon. 

Let the game begin! 

Three minutes into it, I made a diving catch mere inches from the opponent end zone. That’s the good part. The bad part is I landed squarely on my right shoulder. The sound was similar to an elephant stepping on peanut shells. 

After that, our opponents’ offensive strategy was simple: whoever is covered by the old guy, you fake short, then go long. He’ll never catch you. It worked like a charm every time. When they figured out that I couldn’t raise my right arm, they kept circling to my right like wolves around a crippled caribou.

Mercifully someone blew a whistle and the game was over. Players congratulated me for a job well done. “This is your first time?” they asked. “You were amazing. You did great!” Then they looked at me with genuine concern and asked, “How come your right arm is hanging like that?” I told them I was just tired from so much fun. In reality, my knees throbbed. My back was killing me. I was craving a couch in a dark room, a big bag of ice, and a bottle of Aleve.

Unfortunately, my son played on a different team on a different field. He never saw my one and only catch. But he heard about it from the other players and I could tell it was a big deal to him. As we drove away, he smiled at me warmly. It reminded me of the way I used to smile at him after a PeeWee soccer game. 

“You did great!” he said. 

“Thanks,” I said. “I had fun.” And it was true. I did have fun. I knew that by keeping in shape over the years I was able to run up and down the field and at least resemble an Ultimate Frisbee player. It’s funny—I felt older and younger at the same time.

“So,” he asked a few minutes later. “Do you want to play tomorrow?”