Six on the Beach 2018: Another Six Things I Learned

This past weekend, I attended my fourth Six on the Beach, or Sixes for short. Sixes is arguably the most well-known Ultimate hat tournament in Korea, and has had a large turnout whenever I’ve been lucky enough to make it. In both 2015 and 2017, I reflected on the six main lessons that those respective Sixes tournaments taught me. This year is no different!

Don’t make me a hat team captain – there will be a typhoon

I was captain for the 2016 tournament, and on the second day of that tournament we were treated to the worst weather that I’ve experienced in my time in Korea. The heavens loosed their liquid contents on the beach from early in the morning, which led to most of the players leaving before their games were done. It was a miserable day.

This year, I was made captain again, and two days before this year’s Sixes was set to start, Korea was hit by another typhoon. Luckily for the attendees of Sixes, there were only small showers during the tournament itself, and play largely went on unaffected by the weather. The fact remains – apparently the forces in charge of inclement weather don’t like me being a hat team captain.

Music on the sideline makes Ultimate even better

This is a fact that I’d known was true for league play for several seasons, as it helps to cut the tension that competitiveness can bring. It was in this Sixes that I truly noticed the difference in a hat tournament setting. For most of our games, there was no music on the sidelines, mostly due to the risk of rain. However, for a couple of our games, we had spectators bring their own portable speaker to watch us. I’m not sure if it is just my own personal background being intertwined with music, but I instantly gained extra energy and happiness, regardless of what was playing. If music be the food of fun, play on!

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Jackson 5. It was an honour to captain you!

Hat tournaments are perfect for forming new bonds, or strengthening old ones

A large part of the appeal of hat tournaments comes from playing with and against players that you otherwise would not in a league or club setting. Whether these are new players looking to get into the sport, players from other regions that you’d never get put on a team with, or long-running teammates that you can finally style on from across the field, this mix-up of the established order is refreshing.

This change can change the way that you had previously perceived or interacted with a player that you didn’t know too well. Looking at them from a new angle could change your view of them completely. Playing with new players to the scene helps give them a way into the community. It wasn’t too long ago (okay, maybe it was) that Kris and I were new to the scene, and the 2015 Sixes was where we first got a taste of the Korean Ultimate scene as a whole.

Communication is key, both on and off of the field

Due in part to this change in the rosters, hat teams tend to be chaotic. There is often very little structure to start off with, with everyone running around trying to get open. The easiest way to fix this is through communication. Talking to the team before the game, designating a simple formation and reinforcing that lead to everyone having a greater understanding of what was going on and enjoying it more as a result.

Communication is also important off of the field. The organisers of Sixes were once again excellent with their communication to players. Before the tournament, there were constant updates about the schedule, format, start and end times, weather, and party theme. This information helped us all plan our weekends, book transportation, and come to the party suitably prepared for the madness.

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Myself and Inge, the most improved player on the Jackson 5. Well earned!

Promoting women’s Ultimate is vitally important to the sport

One of the most remarkable aspects of Ultimate is that it is a sport where both men and women can play on the same team. Despite this, women still have to work harder to be seen as athletes and valuable members of competitive teams than men do. Kris and I are both strong proponents of women’s Ultimate and women in the Ultimate community in general. So when Ollie, one of the organisers of Sixes (and bearer of one of the most majestic beards in Korean Ultimate) suggested that we play an all-women’s point in the game that we were playing, I leapt at the chance.

The reaction from all of the players was heart-warming. Even though each side only had just enough women to play the point, they were all more than happy to participate. The point was one of the most competitive of the entire game, and all of the players had beaming smiles on their faces for the whole point. My team managed to score the point, with every single lady on the line touching the disc.

I could (and will) write entire posts more about promoting women’s Ultimate, but even that small moment clearly meant a great deal to all of the players, highlighting the importance of doing everything possible to bring women’s Ultimate into the spotlight more.

Six on the Beach is a world-class beach hat tournament, worthy of travelling to Korea for

Previously I’ve said that Sixes is a must for any Ultimate player in Korea. After playing this year’s iteration, I expand that to the worldwide Ultimate community. It may be hosted in a small town in Korea, but there is no tournament I’ve yet been to with a bigger heart than Sixes. The community is welcoming. There is the perfect balance of fun and competition (with perfect balance, of course, leaning far towards the fun end). There is always a party. If you want to see what Korean Ultimate is all about, look no further than Six on the Beach.

All images courtesy of Cartographic Productions, except the Jackson 5 team photo.

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2017: The Year of Shifts

2017 was certainly one of the more eventful and significant years of my 27 years on the planet so far. I moved to Seoul, got more into Ultimate, helped spread the cult of board games, and started reading for enjoyment again. Oh yeah, I got married as well. That was a thing that happened. Let’s look back at these major nilestones just before 2017 comes to an end.

The Old Ball and Chain 

I’m a lucky goof who married a beautiful lady.

The first, and most influential, event of the year was my marriage to Kris. Despite my nervousness before the day, which you can read about here, it was the happiest day of my life up until this point. While the old cliche may not be true for everyone, it certainly is for me. I spent a day with my family and South African friends, celebrating the love that I have for the woman I now am lucky enough to call my wife. 2017 got off to a strong start.

Seoulward Bound

Kris and my cousin Catherine posing with Seoul’s motto. Yes, it is a mediocre motto.

The next change brought about by 2017 was our move to Seoul. Our third new city in three years in Korea, we have been interested in moving to Seoul ever since our first year. This year we finally landed up in the largest city in Korea, and it has quickly won our hearts as our favorite city in the country. The sheer scale of Seoul means that there’s always something new to see, somewhere else to explore. Our new apartment is wonderful and it makes a huge difference in our daily lives. Seoul also brings with it a larger foreigner community than our previous towns. This has made it easier to meet up with Ultinate friends. While not good for our bank accounts due to eating out more often, it has left us feeling more at home than ever in Korea.

Disc-loving Gent

Smile!

Ultimate has always been a big part of my life in Korea, but this year I felt like I took my love of the game to the next level. I trained more regularly, took more interest in self-improvement, and generally put more time into my game than I had before. While I have slacked off in the current off-season, enjoying the festive food and sloth a little more than I should, I am proud of how far I’ve come as an Ultimate player in 2017.

Gathering over Games

Kris and a friend playing Terra Mystica, one of our more in-depth games of the year.

When a friend dressed up as me for a casual Halloween costume party, they merely wore their ordinary clothes. Onto their shirt, they pinned a note saying: 

“I love board games  (and my wife’s cat).”

That was all. And it was perfectly accurate. An increasing number of gatherings at our house involve bonding over some board game or another. This is reflected by the fact that I’ve had 77 plays of 29 different board games since April this year. And also by the fact that I am concerned enough about games to record each play. I adore board games. They allow for unique social experiences, and create memories that have stayed with me for years. This year was no different, and I have had a number of special moments thanks to board games this year.

New Stories, New Worlds

Ghüs, my favourite character from my favourite comic, Saga.

Before this year, I had spent very little time reading. Between work, the aforementioned Ultimate, and playing video games (another source of great stories, but not quite the same), I didn’t think to pick up a book much at all. However, during 2017, I longed for the escape that comics brought me throughout university. I slowly began to grow my collection of digital comics, starting by picking up ny old favorite series before spreading to new discoveries. I have also read a small number of novels, a number I hope to improve on in 2018. I had forgotten how enjoyable reading is, but I shan’t forget again any time soon.
2017 may not have been the game-changer year like 2015 was, but it was close. Getting married, playing Ultimate, spreading the good word of board games, and growing in my reading habits were only pieces of what made 2017 special. There were certainly dark times as well, and there will be more ahead. But, as the year fades into the past, it’s more worthwhile to look back on the happiness. Happy New Year, everyone!

Autumn Ultimate Wrap-Up

While the past few weeks haven’t been filled with many posts on here, which is entirely a result of my sloth, they have been filled with, amongst other things, a great deal of Ultimate of all levels, from the casual Halloween Hat, to the last few weekends of ROK-U league and finals play, and finally the Ulsan and K-Cup tournaments at club level. These Ultimate events have certainly kept me busy, and made sure that there were many Mondays where I went to work with aching muscles and a smile on my face. Let’s briefly look back at each of them in turn.

Ulsan Team Tournament

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In mid-October, I was fortunate enough to make the DnD roster for the Ulsan team tournament. I had missed out on the previous tournament, as I simply was not up to scratch for the team, but a combination of working on my skills during ROK-U and other players being injured or unavailable meant that I had the chance to prove myself at a club level again. For two days, teams tested their skills against each other to see who had the best line-up in Korea. DnD was seeded 4th from the results of the previous tournament, so we had a tough pool right out of the gate.

On Saturday, we fought hard against both Baekho and LGW (two teams seeded higher than DnD), but ultimately came up short. We won one game against the lower-seeded Flickachu, so the first day was not entirely doom and gloom. Personally, I felt like I had a highly positive day, particularly on defense. Even though that is typically my strong suit, I felt like I had an especially good day.

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One of my lesser defensive efforts.

The second day was the playoffs. Our team came out strong, defeating Maxima, a visiting Japanese team, before falling to the star-studded UFO. From both a team and a personal standpoint, our performances weren’t quite as stellar as the day before. We left Ulsan satisfied, but with room to grow as a team.

Halloween Hat

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The week following the Ulsan tournament brought Ultimate of a far different nature. For the unaware, a hat tournament involves all players being placed on random teams (controlled for skill level as best as possible). Oh, and everyone is encouraged to play in whatever costume you can manage to pull together for the weekend. Pieces of toast played against Minions. Larry Bird took on a ghost pirate. Thing 1 and Thing 2 confused everyone with their similar costumes when they had to face off against each other.

Halloween Hat was a high-spirited, fun weekend that seemed to be enjoyed by all. While smaller than previous iterations of the tournament, those who attended all looked like they were having a welcome break from the seriousness of ROK-U and the Ulsan team tournament. It didn’t really matter who won. The main goal was to have fun, and it was met many times over.

ROK-U Fall League

Interspersed before, between, and after the two tournaments above was the Fall 2017 season of ROK-U, the largest Ultimate league in Korea. Although for the past few seasons, Kris and I had played for the Wonju Knights (a team Kris created), this year brought change. Since we had moved to Seoul, we were no longer eligible to play for our old team. We were instead placed on Seoul Hammers, a team who had won the league the previous season.

On the team with us were a number of players that we had seen around and befriended in the scene, but hadn’t had the opportunity to play with. Kris and I were both excited for the season, as after the initial practices, our teammates were highly spirited and had the right balance between a drive to succeed and the desire to play for fun and growth.

We started the season strong, finishing at the top of the league standings. We only lost one game during league play up until the weekend before finals. Then, our strongest player had to leave Korea, and that left our team with a major gap to fill, which we struggled to do. We came together in the end, only dropping one more game, but the team dynamic was clearly different, and roles were still uncertain.

Come finals weekend, and we once again struggled to find our rhythm. Our opponents, on the other hand, came out firing. We fell behind early in the first game, and while we did gather ourselves towards the end, we didn’t have enough to overcome the early loss of points. We were knocked out in the first round. We played a couple more games in the consolation bracket, which was more of the same.

Overall, our first season on a Seoul team was a fun one. The team was a great group of people, and both Kris and I learned a lot from the experienced players on the team.

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K-Cup

The final event of the Korean Ultimate calendar for the year was K-Cup – one of the premier club tournaments of the year. I was once again fortunate enough to play for DnD. Like with the Ulsan tournament, some key players on the roster were injured, and our squad was smaller than it usually is, particularly in the male department. This meant that the men would have to step up and play more than they usually would at a club tournament. I was nervous about this, but secretly also excited , as it would give me extra time to hone my skills in a highly competitive environment.

The smaller roster certainly taxed the players on our team. Having to play over five hours of Ultimate on Saturday left many bodies hurting by the end. We had to play LGW, Baekho, and Boom (the three top seeds for the tournament) and Flickachu (seeded below us). The roster was different to that of Ulsan, and we had not had time to practice before the tournament. As a result, our chemistry took a while to get flowing optimally. Our games against the three higher seeds ended with us going down, b meshing together better with every game. This left us in a good position to face off against Flickachu. We ended up taking the hard-fought game. On a personal note, I sadly had to sit out the last half of the game to prevent injury to my calf muscles. I was frustrated by this, but happy with my performance on Saturday overall.

The story of DnD’s K-Cup Sunday was similar to that of our finals performance on Seoul Hammers – our opponents came out firing before we could mesh together, and we couldn’t recover from the early pressure. That dropped us down to the consolation bracket, where we didn’t quite come together again.

I was happy with my own personal performance at K-Cup. My defense was strong again, and I even snuck in a few scores here and there. I also know what I need to work on – mostly fitness – and I have months during the winter to hit the gym and get faster and build my endurance.

Whew! So much Ultimate! I enjoyed every moment that I spent on the field, with all of the teams and people I was lucky enough to do to share it with. I am, however, also looking forward to the off-season. Not having to get up at six in the morning every Saturday to travel to the not-terrible Gumi or sometimes other places will be welcome. As will the extra free time to engage in my other hobbies. Still, at the back of my mind during winter break will be the countdown clock to the start of the new season. I’m sure it will be here before I know it.

Six on the Beach: Six More Things I Learned

When I first attended the inimitable Six on the Beach hat tournament in 2015, I had barely dipped my toe in the world of Korean Ultimate, and had never before played Ultimate on the beach. After that amazing first experience, I wrote up six things I learned from the weekend. Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend the latest iteration of the event, and here are six lessons that I brought with me from Sixes 2017.

Cleaning up seaweed is not as gross as you would expect

When we arrived at Bukbu Beach in Pohang on the Saturday morning, raring to compete, we discovered that a large portion of the beach was covered with seaweed. We would need to clear it up in order to have all of the field space that we needed for the four concurrent games that the tournament required. I thought it would take hours. However, with dozens of players helping out, the entire beach was relatively seaweed-free within an hour, and games were only slightly delayed. It was great to see almost everyone who was at the beach helping out to clean up. We shoveled it into bags with discs, rakes, and our hands if necessary. Wet seaweed is definitely less pleasing to handle, the slimy texture far less desirable than the crisp texture of its dried brethren.

Playing a day of Ultimate on less than 6 hours of sleep might result in afternoon naps

Pohang, the city that hosts Sixes, is 3 hours from Seoul by KTX. Kris and I foolishly stayed up late the night before, and I didn’t sleep on the KTX. This meant that I did not have the sleep that I was accustomed to playing on, and fell prey to a savage nap attack. Thankfully, I fell asleep under the cover of a gazebo, so I avoided waking up to sunburn in addition to the surprising loss of time.

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When selecting a love motel, shopping around can result in a better deal

Normally, when Kris and I visit Pohang, we stay in a place called the Queen Motel. We do this because it is very close to the bar where Pohang parties are always held. The closer that we are to the party, the better. However, on a friend’s recommendation, we tried a different motel nearby, and saved 10 000 won ($10, R100). More money to spend on festivities!

Your wife may get upset when you forget to watch her play Ultimate

Kris and I ended up on different teams this tournament, and our teams happened to be in completely different pools. This meant that we played at different times, and could watch each other’s games. Kris noticed this, and diligently watched most of my games. I, however, was far less on the ball, missing all of her games on the first day. In my defense, some of them were lost to the aforementioned nap. Nevertheless, I may have ended up slightly in the dogbox and made up for it on the Sunday by watching her games where I could.

The mere sight of a plastic guitar can bring back a load of memories

One of my favourite game series ever is Guitar Hero. The simple delight of being able to simulate playing epic tracks in a videogame appealed to both my gaming and musical natures. I spent an inordinate amount of time playing every Guitar Hero game from Guitar Hero 3 to the final Warriors of Rock. I was also pretty good at it, earning the title of top player in South Africa in the final year of the title’s competitive cycle. At the party, I noticed that the bar had a plastic guitar controller leaning against one of the walls, and I was thrown upon a wave of happy memories and desire to revive my love for the genre.

Six on the Beach truly is a must for any Ultimate player in Korea

Every form of Ultimate in Korea has its appeal, from the relaxed competitiveness of ROK-U to the challenge of club play. However, no weekend of Ultimate in Korea can rival Six on the Beach for the sheer joy of playing the game for enjoyment. Results don’t really matter. What matters is that you are having a good time playing the game that you love on a beach surrounded by a large chunk of the Korean ultimate community. Whether you are a fresh arrival to Korea looking to feel out the scene or a seasoned veteran of many years, there is nothing quite like Sixes, and I can’t wait to see what next year’s iteration brings!

 

Honeymoon in Boracay: Five Days of the Fantastical

Holidays do not come often in our school year in Korea, and Kris and I made the most out of the most recent week break that we had over the end of July and beginning of August. Even though we were married in January, we had yet to have our honeymoon, so we made plans to visit Boracay, an island in the Philippines, to belatedly celebrate our nuptials. We could not have asked for a better week.

We chose Boracay for a number of reasons. First of all, a number of our friends have played Ultimate there in the past, and have raved about the island as a great place to get away. Second, the travel time from Korea was relatively short compared to returning home to South Africa. Third, the island is well-known for its beaches and water activities, which were exciting prospects to both of us. Finally, my mother had managed to find us free accommodation. Who says no to free accommodation?

After a five-hour flight, an irritatingly long 10-hour layover in Manila, another hour-long flight, a cab ride, a ferry, and another cab ride, we finally managed to dump our things and touch base in our hotel. The brief time spent in the cabs and ferries gave us a good idea of the general aura of Boracay: chaos. The island seemed cleft in two between stark poverty and lavish lifestyle. This dichotomy is familiar to us, as it is the dynamic of many cities in South Africa. We even commented how similar it felt to Durban, a coastal city from our home country.

Our first standout experience of the tour was scuba diving. Through help from staff at the hotel, we booked an outing with a seemingly reliable outfit, and woke up early on our second morning to squeeze into wetsuits and see what all the fuss was about. Scuba diving exceeded all of our expectations, and opened our eyes in a way I was not expecting at all. The concept of breathing underwater for more than 12.74 seconds was something I could not comprehend. Nevertheless, after a worryingly brief training explanation and an even more brief freakout on my part, I managed to get the hang out it.

We were led among several coral reefs and even got to feed fish. We generally took in the fact that we were several meters under the water and not simply inhaling water and dying. That was my perspective, anyway. Kris no doubt spent less time contemplating the logistics of it all and more time actually seeing the beauty around us. Luckily for me, there was enough time to get over the fact that I was actually breathing underwater and simply experience the wonder of it all. Scuba diving is something that we will certainly seek out again.  Sadly, whilst we were given a CD of photographs taken during our trip, it turned out to be blank, much to our disappointment. The experience will have to live on only in our memories.

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Our next standout event was island hopping. A popular tradition for the many tourists of Boracay, we spent a day on a boat, zipping between different parts of Boracay and the surrounding islands. We drank from a coconut on the beach, we snorkeled (more marveling at breathing under water on my part), and we tossed a disc around at every opportunity.

The highlight of the island hopping was visiting a cliff diving park. We paid a small entry fee and were allowed to jump into the ocean from boards at varying heights. The jumps ranged from three metres all the way up to ten metres from the water. These sound like small numbers. They are far more terrifying when you look down between your feet and see every last centimetre between you and the safety of the waves below. We both tentatively started at the seven-metre jump (because we weren’t aware that the lower heights existed beforehand), plunging into the watery abyss little more than bundles of nerves falling into liquid. While it was terryifying, it was incredibly freeing to simply jump off of something high into water. We both worked our way up to higher platforms, eventually jumping off of the ten-metre jump with terror and triumph mixing together in our stomachs. I enjoyed it so much that I just kept on jumping for over an hour. Kris, still recovering from her knee surgery, elected to watch and make some new friends, and occasionally took a photo or two to capture the moment.

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The nine- and ten-metre cliff jumps

We also made new friends doing something that we love: playing Ultimate. Whilst we were walking down the beach one day, we happened to see some of the Boracay Dragons (a world-famous beach Ultimate team based on the island) playing some casual pickup. We initially sat on the sidelines and watched, marveling at their speed and accuracy, even in horrendously windy conditions. After a while, they noticed Kris and I on the sideline, and asked us if we would like to join. Whilst I was skeptical that Kris may injure herself and I was also a little tired and my eyes were acting up, we decided that the opportunity to play Ultimate on a beach in Boracay was one that we could not pass up. We spent more than an hour in what became a rainstorm playing the sport that we both love. The Boracay players were incredibly warm and friendly, and the spirit in which they played the game was light-hearted and joyous. They clearly loved every minute of running up and down the beach, trying to best the other team. They didn’t play to win. They just played to have fun, and we all had a wonderful time playing together.

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Not pictured: the litres of rain soaking through our clothing.

Our final unforgettable experience from Boracay was mermaid swimming, which is exactly what it sounds like. We put on special swimsuits that wrapped our feet together like a mermaids, took some photos, and proceeded to have a lesson in how to make the most of our altered swimming state. We learned several ways to kick, a couple of tumbles, and even failed at doing handstands. We looked less like the majestic creatures of myth and legend and more like drunken seals flailing around in the water. But damn, was it fun. It was uniquely challenging to modify our swimming styles to best suit the mermaid tails, and we both relished learning something new. Our instructor was so impressed with us that she certified us as level 2 mermaids (out of a possible 5), even though we should by all rights have only been level 1. She was very gracious.

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D’aww. So cute.

Permeating all of these experiences was food of a constantly high quality. Boracay can quite easily be called a tourist trap, and there was no shortage of food that was far from traditional Filipino cuisine. We gorged on delicious burgers which rivaled those of Brooklyn Burger Joint for quality of ingredients. We ate local variations on pizza. Where possible, we tried to experience local cuisine, and all of it was reasonably-priced and delectable.

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A delcious Filipino oxtail stew.

Our experience in Boracay was well worth the wait. We did things that we had never done before. We relaxed and simply recharged after several months of draining teaching. We ate delicious food. We reveled in the warmth and friendliness of the Filipino people. We played Ultimate on the beach with some of the best players in the world. We honestly did not want to leave. Our honeymoon was exactly what we had hoped it would be, and more.

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Sheer majesty

ROK-U Spring 2017 Season Wrap-Up

This past weekend saw the end of another season of the recreational Ultimate in Korea. Spring 2017 was an interesting season for me, as I began to take Ultimate more seriously than I have in the past. I saw great growth in myself and the team I play for, the Wonju Knights, even if the playoffs didn’t quite go as planned. We may not have won the league or even the consolation bracket, but we certainly had a good time and looked damn good doing it.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, my wife Kris has been in recovery from a torn ACL that she unfortunately picked up earlier this year. Despite this, she stoically remained captain of our team for the season. She didn’t miss a weekend, and gave the team encouragement and hearty cheers from the sideline. Her presence was inimitable, and boosted our morale immeasurably. Sadly, she could not add that fire onto the playing field itself. This left a gap in our handlers (essentially the playmakers of Ultimate) which I had to step up and fill. While I had played handler for the past few seasons, I was now required to play it for every point that I was on the field, and I was needed on the field far more than I was in previous seasons. I felt a lot of pressure at first, but the more I played, the more confident I became in my own play. The increased need for my mediocre skill helped me push past my previous skill ceilings. I am by no means anywhere near a good player, but I am on the road to getting there. My skills are no longer the weak point of my game – that is now my fitness, which I will work on in the coming months of downtime.

Beyond my own improvements, I saw great progress from every single person on our team. Newer players began to throw throws that they would not have done last season, and gained a greater understanding of how Ultimate works. Even experienced players on the team threw fewer risky, flashy throws. Off of the field, most of the players on the team were already friends before the season, and we tried our best to include the new players to the team into our fold. After play concluded on Saturday, we held a fines and awards evening to acknowledge everyone’s contribution to the team, and to have a few drinks together. Everyone received an award from the team, reflecting on some aspect of their play, attitude, or pretty much anything. Mine was the following:

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Even though I improved this season, I had a tendency to get a tad grumpy at myself whenever I made a clear error on the field. This may have involved outbursts on the sideline at no-one other than me. Over and above this, my defense style is quite passionate. Hence, the Super Saiyan award.

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Don’t mind me. I just missed an easy catch. I’m fine, I swear.

This weekend may have been a great final bonding moment for the team, but it was not our most successful. We finished league play in the middle of the table, landing a solid seed for the playoffs. However, our team cohesion just wasn’t quite there this weekend. We all missed easy catches (there may have been a couple of Super Saiyan moments from me), our throws went to nowhere more often than any other time this season, and we just weren’t gelling. We didn’t manage to win a single game in the playoffs, losing to teams that we’d beaten during the season. Our heads were a little down after our first loss, but by the end of the day, most people had realized that it was the last chance for this iteration of the Knights to be together, and we just had some fun.

With spring season of 2017 over, all that lies ahead for the next few months is the off-season. There is a club tournament coming up, but I didn’t make the cut for that one. For Kris and I, we have a couple of months to decide whether we will play again in the autumn. Kris may still be too injured to play, and I will need to decide whether I’d rather spend time with her or play Ultimate. Judging my how quickly this year has flown by, we will need to decide before we know it. Until then, we’ll just keep on enjoying our life here in Korea, and seeing what the future holds for us.

 

Torn

Almost two weeks ago, my wife injured herself pursuing her favourite hobby – playing Ultimate. At first, we thought the injury to be minor. As time progressed, it became clear that it was more than just a niggle. As she went to daily physiotherapy sessions and eventual MRI scans, the projections got worse. Yesterday, she had to have surgery to fix the problem – a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). She is in recovery and the surgery seems to have gone well, but it’s been a tough few days for us.

In the middle of a club practice just under two weeks ago, Kris came down hard on her left leg and immediately cried out in pain. She had the presence of mind to stop playing for the rest of the practice. At that point, no-one was exactly sure of the extent of the injury. There had not been the popping sound most commonly heard when an ACL is torn, so the general conjecture was a sprain or something less severe. Our friends recommended to take it easy, and if it didn’t feel any better in the next few days, to go see a doctor.

When it didn’t get any better, Kris did exactly that. The doctor sided with the theory that it was most likely not a tear, but a sprain, and set Kris up with daily appointments at a physiotherapist to work the injured knee and try diminish pain and regain range of motion. After a week, the doctor re-assessed Kris, and found that she was not progressing as would be expected. He scheduled an MRI scan to get a better look at what was going on.

After a tense weekend of waiting for the results, we were floored to be told that it was an ACL tear after all. This type of injury is not uncommon in Ultimate, and can put a player out of commission for more than a year in severe cases. While it is possible to live with the injury without surgery, Kris would never be able to play Ultimate again. This was ruled out instantly, and we elected to have ACL reconstructive surgery. The surgery is said to be very painful and quite expensive, but the alternative was simply not an option.

In the few days between the decision to go through with surgery and the day of the surgery itself, Kris was a hive of fluttering emotional states. When I asked her how she was feeling, she broke down, saying that she felt guilty for wasting so much money. In response, I told her:

“Look. You’re my wife. I will spend any amount of money just to see you smile one more time.”

This is one of those lines that may strike you as trite and obsequious, nothing more than a punt to try help her feel better. As I was saying it, I was worried that I would feel the same way. However, when I had said it and I looked at her, head curled into my shoulder to hide her tears, I knew that it was the honest truth. This is a woman that I have traveled halfway across the world with. A woman that I have sworn to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part. And I honestly would do anything if it meant her happiness.

When the day of the surgery came around, we went together to the hospital. I helped to comfort her in the hours before the surgery, but I cannot imagine the fear that she was feeling. As someone as afraid of needles as she is, as someone that has never had a major surgery before, for her to do so in a foreign country where the doctors were giving her instructions in another language, fills me with admiration and awe. She held back tears when they inserted the IV, something that she believed would be worse for her than the surgery itself. When I had to leave her side to go to work, I held back tears of my own. I knew that the doctors would do everything they could for her, but the fear of complications fogged my experience of the day.

When I had finished my classes for the day, I rushed back to the hospital. I ran to catch the train as it left the station, just to shave precious minutes off the journey. I did take time to stop to pick up chocolate muffins from a bakery near the hospital, though. She had mentioned them before and I thought that it would cheer her up.

When I saw her for the first time after the surgery, my heart was filled with joy and sadness. She was in pain, sleepy, and thirsty, but she wasn’t allowed to sleep or drink water yet. There was a very kind Korean lady in the ward who had stayed with her, made sure that she did not sleep, and kept Kris as comfortable as possible. I sat down by her side and stayed there, distracting her mind from the passage of time and making sure that she stayed awake until the time for rest came. Those minutes were hard for us. We were happy to be together, but what Kris truly wanted was not to be awake, but asleep, away from the pain and discomfort. I shared with her the encouraging messages that friends had sent her. I told her about my mundane day at work. We just looked at each other, held hands, and smiled.

When the time came that she could rest, she smiled broadly, told me to wake her up when she could drink water, and drifted away into a peaceful nap. I sat by her side, marveling at her strength. Shortly afterwards, I woke her, gave her some fresh water and a bit of food, and helped her get to sleep once more.

The road to recovery is long. Kris will be on crutches for a month, and unable to play sport for four months at least. Thankfully, with the help of our friends and the doctors at the hospital, the injury was picked up early so treatment could begin early as well. While I wish that there was more I could do for her, we will walk the road ahead together, as we have done for the past years. The months ahead may be tough, but Kris is tougher!