Flashback: September 1990. I was at UMR, brand new to the whole college experience, looking for activities where I could get involved. The resident assistant on my floor, Matt Groves, taught a group of us how to play this sport called ultimate. I’d never heard of it before (nor had any of us, I think) but I really liked it. I wasn’t really very athletic, but ultimate can be played at a variety of athletic and skill levels, so I didn’t feel completely outclassed on the field.
Although Matt only organized that one game, afterward I continued gathering the group together. We’d walk down to Schuman Park, near the residence hall, and play on the small field there. One endzone was marked by a huge oak tree; the other was a swingset. There was a pond on one sideline… and yes, the disc went into the drink far more often than we would’ve liked. I actually have an old photo of one of our games:
You can’t see it in the picture, but I was playing barefoot. I started out that way, and never stopped. Hence, I became “Shoeless Jeff” on the field.
Over my five years of college, I was the guy who was always calling up friends and telling them we were heading out to play. We upgraded to UMR’s athletic fields, which were much better than running into playground equipment (although one time I hit a 55-gallon trash barrel at full speed when I was watching the disc instead of where I was going). UMR didn’t have an official ultimate team, or even an intramural sport, but eventually we had enough “regulars” that we organized some tournament teams and played in Kansas and Indiana.
Once in Colorado, I found a pickup group in Aurora and played there, and a few years later I joined Grass Roots Ultimate in Boulder. I also organized a Longmont pickup group. So many options! In later years I was probably playing ultimate three or four times a week. And through this entire period, from that first day in college to this week in Longmont, I never missed a month. I played at least one day of each month from then until now. Twenty-nine years. 348 months. Straight.
And last night, I played for the last time. After a fabulous afternoon pickup game, I stopped by the Longmont league evening game.
I’d intended to just hang out on the sidelines, talking with friends, but one team was short-handed and needed someone to fill in for missing players. I played that entire game, and then picked up with another team for a few points. It was a beautiful evening, and a lot of fun to play one last time. Then the fields cleared as we headed out.
And that was it. After 348 straight months of ultimate, I’m done. The sport changed my life, although I think more to the point, the people did. There’s something special about ultimate. It’s different than other competitive sports. There’s a deeper, richer connection between players, even when they’re strangers. It’s hard to describe, and it’s something I’ll always treasure.
Thanks for 348 months of memories. Now it’s time for a new adventure.