Seattle Riot treats Ultimate as a lifestyle
The Seattle Mariners didn’t quite make the pennant race. We’re still waiting for the Seahawks to get into Super Bowl form. The Cougs and Huskies tanked last weekend, and there’s still no basketball team.
But the Sounders are doing well and there’s another Seattle team that nobody seems to be able to beat. They’re called the Seattle Riot.
At Magnuson Park on a slightly-sunny Sunday morning, the members of Seattle Riot get warmed up with the thump of music echoing down the field. It’s an intimidating and exhilarating experience to watch highly-skilled athletes play Ultimate – the competitive game of Frisbee.
Team member Molly McKeon has tossed the disk (Frisbee is a term trademarked by Wham-O) for nine years.
“Played soccer, basketball, track, volleyball, cross country, all growing up. [Ultimate] is the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never wanted to work so hard to get better at a sport. I love it. I can’t get enough of it. The people are incredible. They also wanted to play to the highest standard,” McKeon said.
The standard is more accurately called the “Spirit of the Game.” It’s written into the rules and is a sort of code of conduct. Players rarely dissent. The spirit goes so deep that this sport is self-refereed.
“Everyone calls their own fouls so if I have the disk and pivot to try and throw a backhand and I feel like someone hits my hand before I let go I will yell ‘foul’,” McKeon explained.
Molly says, for the most part, self-refereeing works.
“You’re frustrated when you’re playing any other sport and the ref gets it wrong or people are cheating the system. This eliminates that,” McKeon said. “Your teammates will hold you accountable.”
What’s remarkable about Ultimate is the fierceness with which these women talk about the sport and each other. It’s their life. Molly is a coffee roaster, but that job is a means to the end. Nearly every other hour outside of roasting is dedicated to Ultimate.
“We have a two-hour practice during the week. Then, anywhere between, one and two practices a weekend that are for four hours. At least we are playing eleven hours a week but then we have workouts to do on top of that. There are random people that just want to throw and do another workout. We’re expected to do more than just practice and a workout a week. We should be working out five to six times a week,” McKeon said.
Seattle Riot is on its way to the National Championship in Sarasota, Florida. It’s a tournament they’ve qualified for every year since 2001. Last year, they missed the trophy by one point.
Of course, the team wants to win the National Championship this year, but after spending the day with them you quickly find out that Ultimate is so much more than notching off wins. This is a diverse group of women. They hold diverse jobs from teaching to global health. They are racially diverse and accept all body types.
If you’re political that’s OK, too. Considering the debate in the NFL right now it’s unique that Ultimate is unapologetically political. Do you want to kneel? Go for it.
“A lot of Ultimate players have started doing that during the National Anthem starting last year at Nationals. It makes me think about social problems and I didn’t use to in high school and college. Ultimate is more than just a sport. It’s a lifestyle. This is what they do this is how some people identify and it’s what makes them happiest and it’s how they live their life. People live their life via Spirit of the Game,” McKeon said.
The Ultimate life also requires the commitment of fundraising. McKeon estimates that it costs about $2,000 per player, per year, and every dollar comes from fundraisers and sponsors.
It’s something they gladly do.
“This program has been around for so long that it deserves its recognition. Everyone’s story deserves to be heard. This is my life. These are my best friends. These are the people that I think about all day. These are the ones that I work for. They’re who I think about. They’re the ones that motivate me. They’re the ones that push me. They’re the ones that make me better – as a person as a player,” McKeon said.
The National Championship in Sarasota, Florida begins Thursday and will be live-streamed.