28 Days of Food, Frisbee, and Feminism

28 Days of Food, Frisbee, and Feminism

In February, we organized an event as a part of the nationwide movement called 28 Days of Food, Frisbee, and Feminism in an effort to start the discussion about inequalities in the sport. To start this blog post, I would like to share a personal story about how I came to love Frisbee as a sport, and about the microaggressions I have faced playing team sports.

When I was just shy of eleven years old, a girl on my soccer team called me a lesbian. She meant it as a derogatory comment, and suddenly I understood why I was left without a partner for drills at every practice. I ended up quitting soccer later that year, but when I joined basketball in high school, it was hardly different. The pressure to be a straight girl in that environment eventually became too much for me to handle. I quit basketball because of this dynamic, and joined my high school Ultimate team. Playing on a mixed team was the best thing that had happened to me, because I was no longer scared to be myself. I found male and female athlete role models in my teammates, and I was able to look up to them as people I would become one day.

Playing a sport with men and women without having the expectation to be a cisgender straight girl, the sexist, homophobic microaggressions that were happening around me seemed to disappear. Frisbee was my sanctuary where I could be who I wanted to be; a perfect world where I could escape the expectations of society. Ask any serious Ultimate player why they’ve stuck with the sport so long, and they will probably have similar answers about the accepting and open community, and the freedom to be who you want while still being physically challenged as an athlete. Because frisbee continues to be my sanctuary today, realizing that microaggressions still exist on and off the field, jolted me out of the fantasy that the Ultimate community is a utopia of equality.

Nearly every female athlete has seen the imbalance of value between men’s and women’s sports. A big example of this in Ultimate is the fact that there is a men’s professional league but not a female league. The highest level of Ultimate a female athlete can play in the United States is Club or some form of world competition. This is one of the many topics that we discussed at our 28 Days of Food, Frisbee, and Feminism event. The All Star Ultimate Tour Documentary addresses a lot of the struggles females face as athletes, including this imbalance in opportunity to play higher level Frisbee. It was a chance for the voices of our women’s team to be heard in a safe space. Many of the stories or frustrations shared were very similar to what I experienced once I started to notice microaggressions on the field, and they all stemmed from the societal perception that women’s sports are somehow not as athletic or exciting as men’s sports. The irony of the situation is that Ultimate is one of the few sports that is played mixed gender, but that space which was meant for growth and tolerance between genders has become a catalyst for sexism.

Almost every female Sweet that attended the event has experienced the following scenario: It’s stall 6 or 7, your male teammate looks at you to initiate a dump cut, so you cut straight at your defender, get them on their toes, then dart to the break side, wide open for a dump cut that sets you up for a huge scoring huck. However, your male teammate actively chooses to not throw to you, and instead throws a huck on stall 9 despite the fact that you were wide open and actively calling for the disc. This is a very specific example of something that happens on many competitive mixed teams, high school mixed teams, city league teams, and in pick up games. Despite Ultimate being a community based sport built on mutual respect for opponents and teammates, the disc during a mixed game is often dominated by the male players. We talked about this concern along with other critiques of inequalities in the sport, including intersectionality.

To address all of the expectations of a female athlete, equity, and feminism in the Ultimate community would take longer than a blog post. The takeaway from this event is that this was just chip off the block in terms of addressing these issues on our team and at Whitman. To make change, we need to start talking about and fighting against the standards set in place by society before any of us were alive. The Ultimate community is far from being equal opportunity, and is arguably one of the least accessible sports for lower income families. These issues, along with sexism, transphobia, islamophobia, racism, and others need to be addressed: players need to start taking actions to move Ultimate in the right direction, to where it is an equal opportunity sport for women, people of color, the LGBTQIA community, and everyone on this planet.

Our team has taken action in an effort toward accomplishing this goal, and a huge step was starting this conversation between the Women's and Men’s teams here at Whitman. The attendance at the event was around 2 to 1 women to men. Personally, I felt as if the organizers strived to accommodate the Men's practice schedule and yet everyone on their team did not make it. I was disappointed when the men's captains had to leave for class halfway through the documentary because I think their voices have a large impact on much of the men's team and are prominent voices in our Ultimate community. Our event and the other events happening around the country are great starting points to have these conversations. We hope our event is pushing people on our teams to talk about these issues and help to create safe spaces where everyone's voice is heard.

The issues discussed during this event highlighted the state of Ultimate as a sport based on privilege, however it did not leave us hopeless about the chance to transform Ultimate into an equal opportunity sport. Playing on a mixed team was the best thing that ever happened to my high school, closeted self, and there are many others like myself who have gained confidence and pride in who they are because of this sport. It’s tough to face inequality, and it’s tougher to accept the fact that it exists in a community that you love. However, mixed Ultimate has created a catalyst for this discussion between men and women to improve the sport as a whole and make it available to everyone who wishes to play.

Strength Days

Strength Days

Returning back to the Sweets this year as a sophomore, I've been lucky enough to take on the roll of "Workout Woman". I make up the half of our workout committee that creates our lifting routines each month, and helps instruct the team on how best to use our time in the gym.

Coming back to school from a whirlwind first year at Whitman, I had a silver medal in my room, a summer packed full with doctor's appointments and a chronic injury behind me. I walked onto campus in August with a new energy—more excited to see my teammates after a summer away than I can clearly articulate. Being with my teammates again is a gift. Seeing them around on campus never fails to brighten my day. When I returned to them in August, I channeled that excitement into my new role, deciding to get stronger than ever before, and help my teammates to do the same. 

Building muscle takes time, but as any seasoned athlete can tell you, the integration of strength training in a fitness plan is essential. It increases speed, stability, endurance, balance. When done right, it greatly reduces risk of injury. I knew about building strength from many months of PT, but I wanted to know more. I started doing my research: pouring over fitness websites, talking to other athletes, signing up for a one credit weight lifting class at Whitman. I made the workouts, showed them to my team, and did my best to communicate the importance of strength to them.

The Sweets spend two days in the gym each week. It's up to the individual to decide whether she wants to do a third strength day on her own time, or if she'll take an additional rest day. The more I think about our team, the more I want to tell them that regardless of what they choose to do—regardless of what their body looks like, regardless of what their ability level is, regardless of the blessings and misfortunes that may have touched their lives—each day is a strength day. Even if it doesn't feel like it. 

Playing for the Sweets has given me so much: a community on campus where I belong, a group of women who love and support me, a team full of independent, compassionate, and hard-working athletes. These women push me to demand more of myself, but also urge me to be gentle. To forgive myself and others. To trust in my teammates enough to be vulnerable. These women remind me that sometimes strength looks a lot like weakness. They remind me that real strength has to be earned, but is also shared. The more muscle we build—the more we build each other up, the better off our team. I am so grateful to be a part of a program that values that kind of commitment to our own bodies, and to each other. 

To each of my teammates: thank you. Here's to all that we have accomplished, and all that has yet to come. I'm proud to be a Sweet, and proud of you.

Welcome to the Sweets: it Might be Fate

Welcome to the Sweets: it Might be Fate

When our captains announced the sweets 2017 coaches were going to be Gwen Ambler and Rohre Titcomb, I was speechless. Not only was I going to be coached by two of the best women who have stepped on a frisbee field but I was also going to meet two of my idols in a sport that I play. I cannot adequately express how influential these two women have been in my life. I may have not met them before this past weekend but I have studied their highlight reels. I watched Gwen’s incredible toe the line from WUCC 2014 on repeat. I studied Rohre’s low release squat flick; replaying the YouTube video in slow motion just to grasp how unreal it is (I have attempted it in my room, I can confirm that it is extremely difficult to get that low that fast). These athletes are not just great athletes. They are great female athletes. Most of the highlight reels are dominated by men. Fans are not going to pick the women’s final to go watch because our game is “too slow”. To have these women as role models and idols is amazing, to have them as coaches feels like a dream. Being able to have strong female role models in my life made me the player I am today and the player I hope to become by the end of this season. I guess all I can say is thank you. Thank you to our captains for sending out emails to find us strong female coaches. Thank you to Gwen and Rohre for deciding to coach us. Thank you to my teammates who inspire me every day.

The theme we chose for our first tournament of the season, Santa Barbara Invite, was “First Date.” As far as first impressions go, I’d say we really hit it off. The chemistry was unmistakable (sparks were flying), we learned a lot about one another, and we even ended the date with a promising “Call Me” gesture and a wink from Gwen. 
This weekend the Sweets went on our Second Date with Gwen and Rohre. Both coaches made the trip out to Walla Walla for two days full of Frisbee. After a solid indoor practice, my prayers to the Frisbee Gods were answered and the skies parted long enough for the sun to melt the Walla Walla tundra we’ve been stuck in for months. On Sunday we practiced outside for the first time all season. The excitement of lacing up sorely missed cleats combined with the presence of Gwen and Rohre who were there for us, to coach us, was tangible. It was really happening; I was learning from two of the most amazing ultimate players in the game. Maybe every rep (or Mep!) we ran this weekend wasn’t perfect, but our learning was perfect. As Rohre was explaining a metaphor about how the smoothness of our zone O should be equivalent to the ease of German engineered automobiles, I looked around the faces of everyone in the huddle. We were soaking in every word, listening as hard as we possibly could and getting ready for a season of learning and growing together. So, Gwen and Rohre, here’s to our Third Date. We’ll see you at Stanford Invite!


Post will start when we get back to Walla Walla after Winter Break!