Fitness: Ultimate Frisbee Takes Off
By BONNIE TSUI, The New York Times, April 30, 2009
When Susan Batchelder first played Ultimate Frisbee, 11 years ago, it was with the ultimate hippies.
“It was in Omaha, where I grew up,” said Ms. Batchelder, a 29-year-old fourth-grade teacher who lives in Oakland, Calif. As a senior in high school, she started dropping into a pickup Ultimate game that went on Wednesday nights in town.
“This was Ultimate Frisbee the way it was played in 1975: all men, all of whom had been playing together for the last 20 years, wearing funny outfits,” Ms. Batchelder recalled. She was often one of only two women on the field. “Clancy, he wore his athletic tube socks pulled up to his knees and these short shorts. Another guy, he played in a onesie with rolled-up boxer shorts. They were the funnest, nicest guys around.”
It wasn’t until Ms. Batchelder got to Middlebury College in Vermont that she realized that Ultimate, as players today call it, could be a real sport. She joined the women’s team and learned how to throw a forehand — the quick-flick sidearm throw that is crucial to any advanced game.
Today, Ms. Batchelder is a member of Zeitgeist, one of the top competitive women’s Ultimate teams in the Bay Area. Most players she knows don’t subscribe to the old-school “Burning Man” aesthetic anymore — skirts, colorful costumes, funky clothes. Instead, they’re Patagonia-sponsored athletes, wearing sweat-wicking uniforms, who do plyometrics and strength training. And they’re well equipped with a repertory of throws that include flicks, hammers, scoobers and high-release backhands.
In the last 10 years, Ultimate Frisbee has become one of the world’s fastest-growing sports. It is played in more than 42 countries. Ultimate’s success at the college level, attracting traditional athletes from other sports like soccer and football to compete on its teams, is largely what has elevated the game to this stage.
And the rise of women in Ultimate is another crucial part of the sport’s growth. Watching these women play, one can see the athleticism that has attracted them: gorgeous arcing throws, full-extension dives, insane vertical leaps, and discs pinched out of the sky with the barest of fingertips. “I play pickup most every week, even in the winter,” said Fi Cheng, 33, who works for a solar backpack company in New York. She helps run a spring and fall league in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and is treasurer of Westchester Ultimate Disc, the biggest Ultimate organization in the metropolitan area. “I’ve noticed a lot more women playing than when I started. There are women in their late 20s or early 30s who have been playing for 10 years now.”( Read More )