Charlie Blair interviews a new joiner for this year’s Eurostars Tour
The first of my interviews with the new players joining Eurostars this year has been weeks in the making, with Yanni and I exchanging email after email trying to find a window to coordinate. It didn’t surprise me that this would be difficult, knowing how much preparation she must be doing for both Worlds and this summer’s tour. However, while rising for the 7:30am chat on a Wednesday morning made me realise that my own breakfast radio show is an infeasible reality, I was also left blushing in my PJs when Yanni told me she started her day at 5:15am!
Yanni was actually meant to be part of the Eurostars tour last year but sadly had to pull out at the last minute due to injury. To add irony to heartbreak, she recalls that “surgery was on the day my flight was meant to leave for America”. It was a devastating set back for the German national, now based in Bern. Having played for over a decade for both national teams and elite European clubs, Yanni had always dreamed of playing stateside.
“I’m so, so happy I got the chance to do it again because it was a dream come true. I always wanted to go to America and play there but could never do with studies and being self employed, I have no time to take out a few months. This was THE chance to go out there and play some of the best teams in the world.”
The significance of the Eurostars tour is not lost on Yanni at all, who notes the huge impact she has seen it have on both men and women after just its first year.
“I’m hearing lots of things,” she tells me. “Already I know people are excited to watch these games again. It’s always nice to go to tournaments and have people tell me how awesome this is. And the younger players really like to watch these games. On YouTube, you find so many really good men’s games, or US teams vs US teams, but not much of European players competing at this level. It’s great to have people coming up to you and being an idol, but I also hear men talking about it and appreciating women’s ultimate being pushed to grow and develop.”
With the women’s scene in Europe now more competitive than ever, we have been treated to some phenomenal games of late. Last weekend’s Windmill Windup was full of close games with only one or two points often making the difference. However, most significant for Yanni were last year’s beach finals, where Russia took a dramatic win over the USA: “It was the best final. Last year the men also said the women’s finals were better to watch. Even if the guys are more athletic and faster, if a game ends 15-7 it’s not as good as a game ending on universe point.”
So as we chat more about her desperately not wanting to let the Eurostars opportunity slip away, it becomes strikingly clear that Yanni is somebody who is absolutely defiant in the face of adversity and has utter faith in her determination and intelligence to overcome it. Having gone to the doctors with discomfort in her knee last year just before the tour was set to kick off, she learned that her meniscus had torn out of the bone completely and was told, “if you play now, you will never do sports again.” She was also advised to change her sport, now that she has had two major surgeries on the same knee in the last four years.
However, Yanni is an athlete through and through. She competed in high level gymnastics from an early age and was always utterly resistant to any other way of life. When back problems ended her gymnastics career at the tender age of thirteen, her doctor suggested she take up hobbies like music. Yanni jokingly recalls scoffing at even the idea. That was not her calling – it was sport. She’d already told her mum by first grade she would study sports. And from the age of sixteen she knew that frisbee was always more important that anything else.
Yanni has thus fiercely fought her way back to recovery. She says it’s fortunate that, being a sports scientist and personal trainer herself, she knows how to train. But I can appreciate how important (and astute) of her it was to recognise, at a young age, that she needed to empower herself to ensure she could always do the thing she loves. She can now directly use the knowledge and flexibility of her profession to facilitate her own personal goals as an athlete. Moreover, she has essentially rehabilitated herself in defiance of the doctor’s orders to come back from injury in order to participate in this years Eurostars.
“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but now it’s been two months since fully back on the field and it’s feeling good.”
If Yanni’s determination off the field is anything to go by then she will undoubtedly be a huge asset to the Eurostars on the field.
There is a self-assuredness that comes across when I talk to Yanni about her game. And it’s well justified – she knows how much work she puts in. Having come from an individual sport she understands what a solid foundation this is for one’s mental game and has invested in strengthening her teammates on any team she is on.
A typical day would involve her coaching early morning, and mid-morning and afternoon trainings. The flexibility her job offers also allows her to fit in two of her own personal training sessions in a lunchtime and in the evening. Better still, she has cultivated a loving fanbase among her clients who are always willing to be flexible for her if ever she needs to go off to tournaments. So loving in fact, that not only do they sometimes come to watch her play, but some have taken up the sport themselves!
So when it comes to stepping on the field, Yanni knows she’s put in all the work that she possibly could have. She’s also got over a decade’s worth of high level play under her belt having hit the international scene way back in Vancouver 2008 with the German Mixed national team. Since then she has played every major international or European tournament for both club and country to date. This year, she is playing with and coaching the FAB squad heading for Cincinnati in the coming weeks.
She hopes that she will be able to flourish on the Eurostars squad just as much as she did with the German national team who took home the victory at Windmill in 2015. For Yanni, this was a team in which she could really hit her stride. “I could play what I play, and do what I could do best,” she recalls. This tournament showcased her prowess upfield, either as a deep receiver or coming back under to put up the hucks. For years, she has been a dominant force in the air on the European women’s scene and it is clear that Yanni’s confident reads of the disc are a result of her backing herself entirely: “I’m pretty motivated and I know how to fight, I will never give up on anything.”
So what more could you want from a fellow teammate? Oh yeah, maybe someone whose profession is to see that people can push way more than they ever think they can. An aerial boss and the ultimate sideline. Check. You’re gonna struggle to top Yanni’s expert hollering. Watch out ‘Murica.