Written by: Annie Shriver, Student at Vassar College and member of the Vassar Boxing Nuns Ultimate Frisbee Team.
This article was written by a guest writer. The opinions expressed in the post belong to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Ultimate Project.
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve cried in the past year. In fact, I know the exact number: three. It’s a number I know because I hate crying. I have for as long as I can remember. When I was little, my mom talked with me about the stereotypes I would face as a girl, and I decided to defy as many as I could. Pink was a “girl color,” so I refused to own anything pink. Girls were bad at sports, so I played football at recess. Girls wore skirts and dresses, so I wore sweatpants and t-shirts. Girls were fragile and emotional, so I did not cry. And, on the rare occasion when I couldn’t hold back the tears, I would lock myself in the bathroom and cry silently so that no one saw. Bravery meant breaking down stereotypes. Bravery meant holding back my emotions. I didn’t want to seem “weak.” I wanted to be brave.
But the last time I cried was different. It was after we lost to the Seattle girls’ team in semis at YCCs (Youth Club Championships – ultimate frisbee’s version of youth nationals). As we left the Spirit Circle, the tears started falling. Of course it hurt to lose, but it was more than that. It was the exhaustion of the past three days, the pain of a rolled ankle, the weight of hours of practice and throwing and work outs that hadn’t been quite enough, and most of all, the sudden realization that I only had one more game with the team that had, in the short months between tryouts in June and YCCs in August, become family. I felt empty. I sat in front of my teammates and coaches and parents and anyone who walked by, and I cried.
I cried, and for the first time in as long as I can remember, I didn’t try to stop crying. I felt no need to hide tears that came from love, dedication, and passion. Sitting on that sideline, I learned what it felt like to leave it all on the field. I learned that being strong doesn’t mean never breaking down, that being brave means being vulnerable, that there is no shame in relying on my teammates and coaches to support me, just as I will support them. I walked off that sideline a more resilient player and person because I knew that I could leave a game feeling drained and defeated and that my teammates and coaches would be there to help me process these feelings, regain my focus, move on, and play fearlessly in the next game. I learned to play with confidence that came from the deepest trust – trust in my teammates and in myself – and not from the number of points we scored or games we won.
This summer, I learned how to play with courage. I learned how to throw my entire self into a team or a game or a moment, knowing that I will be vulnerable, knowing that things won't always go my way, but trusting, always in the love of my team and in the knowledge that the great moments will be so much better because of how painful the worst moments were. It’s one of the most important things I’ve ever learned, and I never would have learned it without ultimate frisbee. Were it not for the love and support of my teammates and coaches, I could not have embraced the vulnerability that comes with bravery. I am a different person because of this summer, and every day, it hits me how grateful I am for this community – not just for the coaches and teammates who have changed my life, but also for the amazing young women whom I have the opportunity to play against and for the coaches who teach and empower these young women. And although I have the strongest relationships with the youth and college communities, I’m also grateful for the ultimate community as a whole. I’m grateful for the male players and coaches who stand up for female athletes. I’m grateful for the female players and coaches who speak out and support each other, who are the best role models I could imagine, and whose commitment to promoting gender equity and the development of girls’ ultimate make me feel valued as an athlete. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this community, an opportunity which inspires me to be the best version of myself.
But being grateful doesn’t mean being complacent. Sexism – on and off the field – is a reality, and it can be exhausting to do the work of an athlete while also bearing the weight of being a female athlete. I am terrified of making mistakes on the field because I feel responsible for representing female ultimate players, and with every drop, every overthrow, every unsuccessful defensive effort, I feel as if I’ve let down the women’s ultimate community as a whole. After spending so many years trying to prove wrong the stereotypes about girls and women, it’s difficult to shut out these stereotypes so that I can focus on making plays. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed. I forget how much I love ultimate, and it is at these times that I remember this summer. I remember what it felt like to focus on being an athlete without thinking about being a female athlete. I remember the gratitude I have for this sport and the athletes who play it, and I use this gratitude as a reminder of why it is so important to promote and celebrate the girls and women of ultimate.
Because of what I learned this summer, I will be confident. I will be powerful. I will be strong. I will play with full commitment, and I will use the pain that comes from coming up short as motivation instead of discouragement. I will work to ensure that other girls have the same opportunities I had. I will give back to this community which has given so much to me.
And above all, I will be brave.
Annie Shriver, Student at Vassar College and member of the Vassar Boxing Nuns Ultimate Frisbee Team.
Annie is a prospective English and something else (probably Cognitive Science) double major. She started playing ultimate in the spring of her senior year of high school, and it took her about ten minutes to fall in love with it. She has played a variety of sports in her life, but none of them compare to the Spirit, kindness, and joy of ultimate. In the past year and a half, she has had the privilege of playing at Newton North High School, at Vassar, and with two BUDA YCC teams – BUDA Mixed in the summer of 2015 and BUDA in the summer of 2016. In addition to playing (and watching) ultimate, Annie enjoys reading, writing, puns, and cool socks.