I found myself at Sussex University in October 2000 almost by surprise. Two weeks earlier, whilst I was still undecided about whether I wished to attend university at all, my elder brother forced several questions upon me; “Do you want to live far from home?” – not particularly… “Do you want to live by the sea?” – yeah, I suppose so… “Do you want to join an Ultimate Frisbee club?” – sure, that sounds like fun. The answers I gave that day, sitting in a B&B garden on a family holiday with the clearing lists spread out in front of me, would shape the rest of my life.
So there I stood on Russell’s Clump, frisbees flying all around me in the late summer sun, being given advice on how to throw by a man with a large beard, who over the next decade would become a very close friend of mine (and a fierce competitor in the World Beard and Moustache Championships). I had never seen or played Ultimate before, like most people who join the Mohawks (Sussex’s Ultimate frisbee club), but the club was & continues to be very accepting and encouraging for new players.
Immediately, I was hooked. I bought a frisbee and kept it on my person at all times, I didn’t miss a training session, I became known as ‘the frisbee guy’ by my Philosophy tutor, and at the Regional Championship hosted at Sussex, I got myself a traditional Mohawk haircut. Ultimate completely dominated my time at university – in my final year I became captain, and although (with my brother’s help) I had chosen the right course, it distracted me from Ultimate only enough to earn a 2:2 (known as ‘the captain’s degree’ within the Mohawks).
My first year was a strong year for the team – the 1st team finished 3rd at Indoor and Outdoor Nationals (not quite able to repeat their victory of the previous year) – however, come June, the entire first team graduated, and I was one of only two new recruits to stay with the sport. The next two years saw many friends come and go; without a solid base of strong players, we struggled to attract or hold onto serious athletes.
By this time, Ultimate was my life. I had started playing with the local Brighton club team, competing nationally against around 50 other teams from cities around the UK, and there was no way I could simply leave the Mohawks with their future uncertain, after the club had given me so much. I made it clear at my first job interview that I would need Wednesday afternoons off, so I could attend frisbee practice, and somehow my request managed to stick. I came back to Russell’s Clump every single Wednesday, naturally falling into a coaching role as I saw players, and the club, lacked direction.
In 2005 I took my involvement to new levels, becoming South East Regional Coordinator, setting up a regional league (which would go nationwide the following year), and arranging competitions & events. This chance to compete attracted new freshers who would stick with the team for 3-4 years, and quickly a solid player base begun to emerge again. The club regained the continuity it had missed for the last few years. Players became more involved and more competitive. Ties with the local Brighton club team were strengthened. The team was now a social group as well as a sports club. ‘Frisbee houses’ would pop up all over Brighton as 2nd year Mohawks would all live together and adorn their hallways with frisbees on the walls. In 2006 we were runners-up at Division 2 Nationals, and had just recruited a new player – Richard Harris – who would go on to be one of the best players in the country. I drafted up a week-by-week training program and, as I continued to attend every Wednesday training, I would work on improving it every year. Each year we attracted more and more athletes who would go on the represent Great Britain in a few years time. Despite being a non-playing non-student, I didn’t miss a tournament, and between coaching would film games with a video camera – the start of something that would again change my life.
Before long we had a title under our belt – University Women’s Outdoor National Champions 2007. Many more would follow – Women’s again in 2009, numerous Regional titles, and this year bigger achievements than have ever been seen before in University Ultimate – Sussex are now outdoor champions in all three disciplines – Open, Mixed & Women’s – plus Open Indoor National Champions to boot. We were particularly proud to achieve this in our 25th anniversary year as a club (and one of the longest-running Ultimate clubs in the country), and to also earn the Sussex ‘Club of the Year’ award. This is truely a golden age for the team, and with the depth we currently have and the time we dedicate to developing new players, this could continue for many more years.
Personally, I have continued to film big tournaments, producing DVDs of the highlights & finals which I sell to players after the event – a venture that has been so successful that in 2010 I left my office job to concentrate on filming ultimate & other sports full time (alongside coaching the Sussex (and now Brighton) University teams). In 2009, Ultimate became an officially recognised University sport, meaning Sussex could finally put me on the payroll (having been aware of my contributions for many years, they were very eager to do so). Playing wise, I’ve become a National and European Mixed Champion with Brighton Ultimate, travelled as far as Australia to compete at World Championships, and this year I made the Great British Open squad, looking to hold onto our European Gold this summer in Slovenia.
If you’ve ever been a part of the Mohawks, join us in celebrating the club’s 25th anniversary & recent achievements at a huge reunion on 16-17th July – contact firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re interested in playing ultimate in Brighton, visit www.brightonultimate.co.uk – open to all ages, no experience necessary.
As I return to making preparations for filming & competing at the European Ultimate Championships, it’s undeniable that my life has been entirely shaped by my time at Sussex University… and I wouldn’t have it any other way.