How bed bugs, universe point losses and draws for Spirit shaped my first worlds experience.
I don’t consider myself a particularly emotional person. I don’t cry during sad movies – the one exception being Lord of the Rings the Return of the King #forfrodo. When I got stung by a bee on pre-tour and our luggage got infested with bedbugs, no tears welled in my eyes. In year 10 when our family dog died (he was old – it was not a tragedy), I found myself embarrassingly dry-eyed, trying to not look too closely at my then-23-year-old brother who was sobbing. I specifically don’t consider myself an emotional person when it comes to sport.
Which is why I was surprised when, six weeks ago at the World Under-24 Ultimate Championships in Heidelberg, I cried almost every day. Let me try and break down for you the reasons why this tournament was easily the hardest I’ve ever experienced and possibly up there with one of the hardest weeks of my life.
I attend an early captain’s meeting with my co-captain and three coaches before our first two games of the tournament. Our eyes are full of excitement and anticipation. We have two ‘relatively easy’ games – Great Britain and Italy – to kick off the tournament. We must beat these two teams to get into the power-pool. I leave the meeting feeling exhilarated and upbeat.
We arrive at the fields wearing our green and gold jerseys. The sight of my team warming up in full uniform makes my heart want to burst.
We take half against Great Britain 8-6. We’re playing well. A huge sideline of parents and friends of the GB players arrive while we’re trying to maintain focus and glucose levels during the break. We lose to GB 9-15.
The atmosphere amongst the team after that first game wouldn’t have been out of place at Heath Ledger’s funeral. A loss to GB indicates that we’ll probably lose to Japan and Canada, which means that we’ll be out of power-pool. This means that our hopes of living up to last year’s Stingrays, who finished 3rd, are dashed, slashed and bashed into sad, tiny pieces. I’m not sure if the rest of the team knows this but I certainly do.
We attempt to cheer ourselves up by playing stupid games, the stupidest but also the most fun of which is called “what’s in my bum bag”. The attempt fails.
We enter our second game of the day feeling flat. Italy take half 1-8. A valiant effort from our coaches sees us claw back 2 more points. It’s too little too late. Italy win 3-15.
Cry of the day is in the privacy of the shower in my hotel room. My tears mingle in a sickeningly poetic and metaphoric way with the water down the drain, our hopes of a top-6 finish rushing into the sewers with them.
Day 2: We reach the fields and prepare for our game against Japan. We seem to have rallied emotionally and physically overnight. Although we lose 4-15, our spirits are high. We played good frisbee. We had a loud sideline. Suddenly everything seems like it might be ok.
Our head coach approaches me as we’re having lunch next to the fields and asks me how I’m feeling. Cry of the day occurs in an embarrassingly public area, and my team must think I’m channelling Fisher and Losing It. I’m not crying about frisbee this time though. Life is confusing.
Ireland are our second game for the day. They are an unknown quantity, so we do our best to build and lift during our warmup. We listen to High School Musical and Lizzo to pump ourselves up. It works. We come out firing. We take half 8-5.
During the half time break we’re a bit flat. I can’t quite work out why, or how to change it. I feel the pressure and responsibility of being a co-captain of the team more keenly than ever. We come out of half looking shaky. We’re bidding all over the astro-turf and the team is making me so proud, but something is not quite there. We make it to 14-13 in favour of us. We have a game point. We lose it. I get called onto the Universe Point line. My heart is hammering.
There’s an early turn while we’re on offence, and Ireland convert almost immediately. They win on universe. We lost.
It’s our first taste of what it’s like to come so close to winning a game, only to have it snatched from our hands at the very last second.
Cry #2 of the day is on the phone to my sister. She tells me she’s proud of me. I cry even harder.
We only have one game against Canada today. Despite the fact that we lose 4-15 and I get handblocked by a lanky maple lover, it is a sweet day. The whole team goes to an outdoor pool with a big waterslide and lush green grass to sunbake on. We play stupid frisbee games – and I start to get an inkling of the real reasons people come to worlds. To forge emotional bonds over games of piggy in the middle, and to hang out with incredible people in stunning parts of the world. I don’t cry today.
The emotional pressure of the tournament is starting to show. A few of the more senior players on the team and I have a chat and try and bring some feedback to our coaches. They acknowledge our feedback, but understandably ask us to focus on the game at hand – Switzerland. We decide to play in our navy strip for the first time. After all – we’ve never lost in navy.
The sun is blazing down and the astroturf seems to boil our cleats. Switzerland are bringing it to us, but we’re bringing it back just as hard. A layout goal sees us take half on galaxy point, 8-7. I try not to make the same mistake twice – and stay as pepped up as possible at half time. Lizzo comes to our aid once again. In retrospect, listening to her song called “Truth Hurts” may have been a mistake.
It's 11-10 to Australia when the siren goes. Switzerland score the next point to bring it to universe. It’s happening again. I’m called on the line. In the middle of the point, my coach screams at me “LIV!! CUT UNDER!!”. I do my best. The sideline is going crazy, but I don’t even hear them. I turn it on universe. Switzerland score.
Another L on the board for the Stingrays.
We lose to New Zealand 15-9 that afternoon.
Cry of the day is in the corridor at midnight. One of my team mates comes out from a different room to talk on the phone, and sits a few metres down the hall from me. After a few minutes, she’s also crying. We sit there, crying into the night.
We win our first game of the tournament against Belgium. It’s the first time Belgium has ever had an U24 women’s team. We try and make it feel like a victory. We try and take pride in the frisbee we have played. It only half works.
We have New Zealand again in the afternoon. I’m physically more fatigued than I was expecting, and emotionally spent. I make a conscious decision to rally for the warmup. Our portable speaker, The Girth, runs out of battery in the first few minutes. We belt out Disney songs to raise morale. Turns out converting the words from Mulan’s “Be a Man” to “Be a Ray” isn’t that hard. We decide to walk in formation onto the field. I attempt a strut, and the power pose does psychologically positive things for my head.
We’ve played New Zealand twice before – once at New Zealand nationals, and once at this competition. We each have one W next to our names. At New Zealand nats we ate pizza and played games with them. Knowing that they’re lovely people does nothing to quash my desire to crush them into the ground. This is the deciding match, and this game is ours.
New Zealand take half 8-5. One of our coaches throws her hat. Another coach reminds us that we’ve taken half 8-5 before and lost. We get fired up. We come back and its 14-13 to us. We have a chance to score, but don’t. It's universe point again.
This time, I’m not itching to get called on the line. The pressure is too much. My heart can’t take it. I’m not called, and relief floods through me – I can give from the sideline rather than on the field. A last-minute change of plans however sees me swapped on for another player. I steel myself. We’re on offence. We can do this. I can do this.
We turn the disc. The player I’m defending scores the winning goal.
This time I don’t wait for the privacy of the shower or the corridor to cry. I try and force the tears back, as all the New Zealand players come up and hug me. I control myself until their last player gives me a high-five, and then walk away alone. The tears are streaming down my face uncontrollably. I can’t look at anyone on my team. We failed. I failed. Again.
My team manager comes up to me and tells me that the team needs me right now. I want to scream at her to go away, that I don’t care if the team needs me, that I don’t care about anyone right now. I don’t. I make no attempt to hide my crying, but walk back to the team. Frisbee can sometimes feel like the most fun thing in the world, but right now it feels like torture.
The last day of play for those not in the final. We beat Belgium again. We don’t come last. We try and make the most of the small victory.
Its finals day. They present the gold, silver and bronze medals to the winning teams. They then present the spirit medals. We have drawn with New Zealand for spirit in terms of raw results, but as they came 10th in the competition, and we came 11th, they are awarded the medals. We sit hollowly watching as they receive the shiny tokens of glory that we hoped might be ours. I didn’t think it would hurt this much. I didn’t think anything would hurt as badly as losing to them yesterday. But somehow this feels worse.
The New Zealand coach, Eva Weatherall, comes over to me and puts her spirit medal around my neck.
“Take it, you deserve it” she murmurs. I’m almost sobbing, but I shake my head. She tries again. “I didn’t do anything to earn this. Take it, Liv.”
“I can’t Eva.” My voice cracks. I remove the medal from my neck and place it back in her hands. I try for a smile, but achieve only a squinty grimace. “Thank you, though.”
Once again, I can’t look at my team. Tying for spirit scores, and then losing via competition rankings feels like the cherry on top of what has been a huge week of loss and disappointment.
I understand that some people may read this and question not only my emotional stability, but also my priorities. Who cares about frisbee that much? It’s just a game, right? Aren’t there significantly worse things in life than losing a couple of games? You should be thankful you got to play in an international tournament, and you should have just enjoyed the time you had!
To these people I would say – to an extent, you are right. There are people in Syria picking up pieces of rubble from their destroyed homes, girls in Africa having FGM performed upon them and political prisoners in China facing a lifetime of incarceration for standing against the political regime. In comparison to these situations, me losing at Worlds is a definite #firstworldproblem.
And I’m also not saying that I didn’t have any fun while I was there. There were countless moments of joy, laughter and deep friendship that I will never forget.
But I care about frisbee and the Stingrays a lot. Too much, some would say. And caring means that when you lose, it hurts. Every time I stepped onto the field, I was more emotionally invested in the game than in anything else I have ever done. I screamed my head off on the sideline, I cheered wildly after each point, and I jumped, hugged, leaped, cartwheeled and high-fived my whole team like my life depended on it. I cared, and do care, so much about the Stingrays. And that meant that I cared about our results in a way that I never have before. Which is why losing almost every game was so excruciatingly painful.
What do you get out of a tournament if you lose almost every game?
The first thing that comes to mind is that you learn how to lose. Frisbee purportedly helps individuals negotiate real life. After this tournament, I can’t agree with that more. I feel like I have dealt with so much loss and disappointment that I can deal with anything the world throws at me.
One of our players said during the tournament “I feel like going back to real life after this is going to be so easy”. Going through experiences like what we went through makes you more resilient, and readier to take on the challenges of the future.
I also feel stronger as a leader both on the frisbee field and off the frisbee field. I feel more confident in giving advice to junior players, and in leading teams of young people.
Another feeling that I’ve been left with is a sense of ‘unfinished business’. I moved to Melbourne this year to play frisbee more seriously, and getting a taste of the level of competition that is out there has made me want more. I want to go to Worlds again, and I want to win (or at least not lose every game…). Which is why I’m going to train my butt off, like I did during the Stingrays campaign, over the next few months. I’ve seen what level Ultimate can get to in the Under-24 age bracket. Now I want to see what it’s like in the open age bracket.
I think one day, I will look back at my experience in Heidelberg and laugh. “Remember that time we lost on universe 3 times at Worlds, and then also lost Spirit?” Right now though, I’m grateful for the experiences that I’ve had for shaping me as a player and as a person. Because I’m ready to come back to reality, face the challenges in front of me, and come out firing.
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