How Ultimate Helped Me Beat Depression

Mental Health, SkyD, ultimate, University

At a time where sport and mental health is very much part of the cultural zeitgeist, Nakul Pande brings us a touching and intimate insight into how Ultimate has affected his own life.

Well, not ‘beat’ exactly. You don’t come back from depression in quite the same way as you do a torn hamstring or a busted knee. Even the best therapist in the world can’t take a broken mind and reconstruct it so it works as good as new. They certainly can’t just tell you to stay off your head for a few weeks or months and avoid any heavy thinking. But I am me again. Perhaps a different, more thoughtful, more emotionally attuned me, but me. And I don’t know if that would have happened without ultimate.

Here’s when I knew I wasn’t going to make it on my own. It was the last day of Burla 2012. We’d finished our last game a few hours before and were having a post-lunch snooze on the beach. I’d been with my best friends, playing my favourite sport, in one of the most beautiful parts of my favourite country on earth for five days. But there was a void where what I had always thought of as me used to be. I was so empty inside I couldn’t even cry.

Here’s when I knew I’d be okay. It was halfway through the Sunday of Open Tour 2. I was in a field in Nottingham that was totally exposed to the elements. Thanks to the constant gusting wind it was raining sideways, so heavily that my two-year-old boots were beginning to fill with water. I was covered head to toe in cold mud, and my ankle was throbbing because an opposition defender fell on it. The match was of no real consequence, and to top it all off I was sleep-deprived thanks to a roommate whose snores registered on the Richter scale (you know who you are). I was unarguably, unambiguously happy.

Happy means something different when you’ve been depressed. It’s not the same as when someone who’s never been ill like that laughs at a joke or dances at a gig. I could still do those things too, in fact like every other depressive to an untrained eye I’d look as if nothing had happened, but I’d still be more or less vacant inside. To be properly happy (or for that matter properly sad, as opposed to depressed) you need some sense of self, some kind of internal reference point against which to measure your emotions, and for a long time I didn’t have one.

Ultimate gave mine back to me. It helped me work out who I was again. I was playing for a new team whose role-based style meant that I could play to my strengths, and although over the course of Open Tour we shot ourselves in the foot more than once (coming bottom of two- and three-way ties on points difference, butterfingers, and a dropped pull on universe point of a virtual top 8 playoff we still haven’t forgiven [NAME REDACTED] for) I felt like I was making a real contribution to us getting into those positions in the first place. It may not sound like much, and in the grand scheme of things it probably wasn’t – it was C Tour after all – but it was the extra foot of rope I needed to pull myself out of the hole I’d been in for over a year. Because that’s how depression works: you fall; you hit the bottom, sometimes very hard; you call for a rope; and slowly, fitfully, you pull yourself up. Sometimes you slip and a month’s upward progress can go in an hour. But because at some point you may not have been aware of you decided you wanted to live and you wanted your mind back, you keep climbing.

My illness took many things from me: my degree, my dignity, my sense of self-worth, and my ability to take pleasure from things I had previously loved doing. The only thing that remained constant throughout was sport, which for me, apart from the few weeks of the cricket season that weren’t disrupted by the weather, meant ultimate. There were days where playing and practicing, and the obligatory beer afterwards, was the only time I got out of the house or said more than a cursory ‘hello’ to another human being. There were whole weeks were the only positive words I heard were from my teammates, most of whom had no idea I was ever ill and were simply doing what teammates do. The encouragement often didn’t really register through the static and self-flagellation that was what passed for my thought pattern at the time. But now that I’m healthy, or as healthy as I’m ever likely to be, I’d like to say thank you to all of them, and to everyone at my old university team who put up with me turning up to practices and socials and parties even after I’d left. The reaction of the committee when I told them why I was leaving was genuine, it was spontaneous, and even in the deeply messed-up state I was in at the time it was deeply touching.

I’ve played a number of team sports since I was eleven years old. Had I carried on playing rugby when I came to university I probably would have denied my illness to myself for even longer than I did, and by the time I hit rock bottom it might have been too late – my university’s men’s rugby team have a bad reputation even among others of that often boorish breed. Had cricket, which following the very public struggles of England stalwart Marcus Trescothick (if ever a sportsman were worthy of a knighthood it is he) does an excellent job at the professional level of fighting against the mental illness omertá that sadly still largely prevails in the lower reaches of the amateur game, been my only outlet, the winters would have been even longer and even emptier. By the time summer came around again it might have been too late.

Football? Forget it. The guys I play eight-a-side with on Sunday are good company, but as a support network they’re worse than useless. It took the tragic and utterly avoidable deaths of Robert Enke and Gary Speed before football even began talking about depression, although it hasn’t done too badly since thanks to the likes of Clarke Carlisle and Stan Collymore. Note to all North American readers: I’m British, adjust terminology accordingly.

Not that the padded and helmeted oval-ball version is immune: as you might expect from a collision and concussion heavy sport, brain injuries are worryingly prevalent, which can’t do much for anyone’s mental state. The sport was rocked by Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide in 2012, but when the New York Daily News ran a story a week later examining the link between what he did, what his body had been through and what he might have been thinking, the NFL declined to comment.

I was lucky that when I lost my way I had a few years worth of ultimate connections to call on, some of whom I count among the best friends I’ve ever had.  Simply by being around and being themselves they helped me hang on to myself and rebuild. It’s not over yet for me. It might never be fully over. As we’ve sadly seen this week with Jonathan Trott, even if you think you have a handle on it those coping mechanisms are not necessarily permanent. But I have a fighting chance – all because I thought in the first week of university, ‘Ultimate frisbee? Hey, why not!’

And here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. In fact the numbers alone mean that I’m not. Let’s just take the UK and USA. As of 2012 UK Ultimate had around 3,000 registered members, and there will be uncounted thousands more who play recreationally on a regular or semi-regular basis. Across the Atlantic, the number of officially registered players climbs to around 35,000 (as of 2011), and total US numbers have been estimated by as being as high as 4.8 million by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Given that according to official figures in both countries one in every four people – you read that right: one in four -suffer from some form of mental illness at some point in any given year, it’s pretty likely that someone reading this article knows all too well what I’m talking about. We owe it to them, and to everyone else who plays this amazing sport, to have this conversation. The game saved my sanity – and if we start talking and listening, it might save someone’s life.

Thank you, ultimate.

This piece was published in conjunction with Skyd Magazine, the US’s source for all things ultimate.

Thanks to Nakul for sharing this piece with us. Please like, comment and share! JCK @ tSG

Ranelagh at EUCR-S

An Irish Eye, Bordeaux, Crazy Dogs, CUSB, EUCR-S, European Ultimate, Flying Angels Bern, Freespeed, Ireland, Irish Ultimate, Panthers, Ranelagh, Tchac, ultimate, xEUCF

Mark Earley returns with An Irish Eye looking back at Ranelagh’s performance at EUCR-S.

Two weeks ago Ranelagh travelled from Dublin to Bern in Switzerland for EUCR-S hoping to have a crack at a region renowned for its strength. It was only the second time an Irish team had attempted qualification for EUCF and was to prove more difficult than the last attempt (when a Dublin Ultimate team full of pick ups finished 1 spot away from qualifying in 2010 in Nantes). The team was nearly at full strength, but also had a lot of new young players as well the established core.

Day one saw Ranelagh (9) face Italian champions CUSB (3) in the first game of the day. It started well for the Dublin team as they took the lead having started on D and stayed ahead until midway through the first half. Bologna fought back with a couple of breaks of their own and lead for a while until another Ranelagh surge saw them take half 8-7. In the third quarter of the game a combination of increased defensive pressure and some Ranelagh miscues saw Bologna jump out to a 3 point lead which they held onto to see out the game 14-10.

The second game was against Crazy Dogs (6), a team from Stans who have been turning heads both this season and last. It was a tight game, ebbing one way and flowing the other with neither team ever further than 2 points ahead. At 10-10 Ranelagh scored a break to take the lead 11-10 when lightning struck, literally. (Not on our field but not too far either). The 3 second thunder clap rule was adhered to and all play was stopped by the TD. There remained 10 minutes on the game clock. Everyone went to the nearby stadium for lunch and all games were postponed until further notice. About 90mins later the teams warmed up and played the last 10 minutes. Again it was a very closely fought affair although the nature of the game was different. Both teams were a little more anxious, a little more physical and happier to take long shots that the weather had prevented earlier on. Ranelagh went 14-12 up in a game to 15 but Crazy Dogs came back to score 3 on the trot and win 15-14. A tough loss for the Irish team that saw them go into a more difficult crossover.

Ranelagh’s last game of the day was against Parisians Iznogood and it was approached much like the other two – a full warm up and knowing that a win was needed to stay alive in the competition. Unfortunately the start was unusually flat and Iznogood took full advantage. Despite a time out and some renewed energy, the 4 point gap proved too much for Ranelagh. The shortened game ended 11-6, a scoreline that reflected a strangely off performance by the team in black. While Iznogood progressed to a quarter-final against Freespeed, Ranelagh were left to lick their wounds and play out the next day in a bottom 3 pool with Solebang and Panthers.

Sunday morning and the rain was back again, but without the thunder and lightning of the previous day. A depleted Solebang squad (10 players) were up first and both teams started well with fast offense being the order of the day. Much like the opening pool games the teams were pretty evenly matched and until 10-10 it looked like anyone’s game. In that all important final quarter the Ranelagh D took charge and with it the Solebang legs began to tire. The game ended 15-11 to the Dubliners, both teams looking forward to future match ups with two full squads.
Ranelagh’s last game was against the less famous of the Bern teams, the Panthers. A strong start from the Irish resulted in a 4-0 lead but the Panthers regrouped and threw some unusual zone looks that got them back in the game. Another dogfight was brewing and both teams exchanged the lead as the game came to the final stretch. However, it was to be Ranelagh who ended up victorious, closing the game out 15-11 after a long hard battle to finish as seeded, in 9th place. A disappointing but interesting visit to the European qualifiers scene for a team that felt it didn’t perform quite as well as it could have.

Elsewhere, there were a few teams that stood out for me. FAB looked very strong (until the final), with a practically faultless & precise offence. Tchac were exciting to watch –  a young and athletic French team with power and pace to run with most teams. Freespeed didn’t look as good as previous years, with some odd mistakes, especially in big games but they dug deep and took 3rd so won’t be too worried. CUSB were the surprise – a team loaded with talent and youth with well thought out systems, a very strong running game and receivers to compliment the throwers’ range of throws.

The tournament itself was very well run and excellent value too. Two breakfasts, two lunches and a hot dinner all included in the fees as well as decent fields. The TDs faced a tricky situation and dealt with it quickly and openly. While the weather was a pain in the ass, the experience was one that Ranelagh will bank and learn from. The style of play, the pace of the games and the new systems made for a change from the UK Tour and something that might be useful going into next season with places at WUCC and EUCF soon up for grabs.
Finally, does it not strike anyone else as odd that qualification for a tournament taking place in 4 weeks time takes place so late on the season? If we had qualified – flights, accommodation and all other costs would have proved difficult for a large portion of our roster. Surely these competitions could be moved to earlier in the summer? Also, it seems a shame that not all countries can be represented at xEUCF. It is, of course, the pinnacle of club Ultimate for Europe and ideal for the best teams to be there so our elite can grow to challenge the elite clubs worldwide, but for clubs gearing up for WUCC it seems a shame for them to be unable to attend xEUCF (or in old money the much more open EUCC). Growth has to happen at the two ends of all spectrums.

Both images courtesy of Flying Angels Bern.

Sadly no Ranelagh in Bordeaux but some Irish players will be there for UK teams! More news, views and opinions to come … DP @ tSG.

University Women’s Outdoor Nationals

Nationals, nottingham, Outdoors, Previews, ultimate, University, Womens
Thank to Sarah Harrison for sending us this  brief preview for University Women’s Outdoor Nationals taking place this weekend in Nottingham alongside the Open and Alumni divisions. 

This weekend sees the return of the Women’s Outdoor Nationals, where ladies from all over the country will be battling it out for the coveted gold medal. An astonishing 27 teams will be heading down to Nottingham, the biggest women’s university tournament the UK has ever seen. In this preview, I will look at who I consider the major threats for the women’s national title, and predict (hopefully accurately) who will be top dog at Grove Farm.
It is notoriously hard to predict Women’s Ultimate, especially at University level. Even after four years of University Ultimate, I still find it incredibly canada goose Chilliwack Bomber difficult to predict which teams will perform well and make it to the final. Every year, teams go through several transition phases. Some teams have to cope with losing the majority of their experienced players, whereas others are forever building a strong squad. However, the influence of good coaching as well as picking up GB Juniors can have a huge effect on the Women’s game.  Some teams may be strong on paper, but get them outside in 20mph winds and it’s a completely different story. Here are some things you should be looking out for canada goose Citadel Parka this weekend.
Combined teams
Never underestimate the power of a combo team. Although some may have never trained together before, the combination of a decent team and some strong additional players could prove lethal. Here are the teams that will be merging this weekend:
Heriot-Watt/St Andrews
Oxford/Oxford Brookes
Sheffield/Sheffield Hallam
All teams have promise to do well. Having said that, some teams will have been able to train together, which could be the tipping point in their success. With the Oxford/Brookes and Sheffield/Hallam teams coming from the same cities, their potentially existing team bonding may be able overthrow some of the stronger teams. However, it is hard to ignore Dundee’s dominance over the past year. The women’s squad were incredibly strong indoors and will be looking to continue their reign outdoors with the additional strength of Glasgow. Look out for them, as well as Portsmouth/Southampton. Southampton reached the final last year and they will still be fighting for the top spot, while Portsmouth performed well at Div I Mixed Indoors and will add some strong players to that squad.
The Midlands
With the likes of Birmingham, Nottingham, and Warwick – not forgetting teams like Oxford, Loughborough and Cambridge -the Midlands is seen as a notoriously strong region. All of these girls are good friends and play each other on a regular basis. After incredibly strong finishes at Mixed and Women’s Indoor Nationals, the Midlands teams will be tough to beat. My prediction: Nottingham and Birmingham will be the most successful.

Never leave out this team. With players like Megan Hurst, Kim Isaac and Lucy Wiggins; Sussex have huge potential to defend their title. The work done by Felix and Megan in training will surely be seen on the field. In my opinion no defence is safe here, but can they make it three years on the trot against a rejuvenated Edinburgh?
Over the last 12 months, Edinburgh have been in the top 8 in every division, winning Mixed Outdoor Nationals a few weeks ago as well as finishing in the top 4 at Women’s Indoor Nationals. Edinburgh have slowly been building a super team, which looks to be incredibly strong outdoors. After playing against them and watching them a few weeks ago, I think that they have the depth and the skills to win the tournament. Only a well drilled, experienced team will be able to stop them.
Having said that, there are plenty of experienced players who will be representing their University this weekend. Beware of the lower seeded teams: they will have small experienced cores that will be looking to improve their seeding and develop their team for future years
My prediction? It’s going to be close at the top. There’s going to be tears and tantrums. There’s also going to be some brilliant Ultimate this weekend. I will be writing a review after the tournament, but for now, here is my top 4.
1. Edinburgh.
2. Sussex.
3. Birmingham.
4. Nottingham.
Good luck to everyone this weekend. See you there.
If you want an in depth analysis go check out Harry Mason’s preview Make sure to follow the action on twitter with the #ukuon hashtag. Whilst you’re there follow us at and like us on fb

UCC Ultimate – from Cork to Nottingham, via Maynooth

BUCS, Division 1, Irish Ultimate, Nationals, Open, Outdoors, Previews, Trinity, UCC, ultimate, University

Mark Earley brings us the story of University College Cork’s year so far in their journey to Nottingham. Cork will be attending UK University Nationals next week with aims to avenge a painful finals loss at the hands of the Sussex Mohawks last year. 

In Ireland the tournament that decides which university teams are the national champions is called Intervarsities and it takes place relatively late in the calendar year (April). Given the size of Irish Ultimate the Mixed and Women’s Intervarsities are smaller affairs with the Open division tournament canada goose Canada Goose mænd being the centerpiece of the university season. That said, the Cork outfit, UCC Ultimate currently hold both the Women’s and Mixed events and were looking to win their third title of the season last weekend. There is no qualification process for Open Intervarsities and all colleges are encouraged to bring as many players and teams as they can muster. Since the first Intervarsities took place the number of teams in attendance has ebbed and flowed, peaking at 16 in 2009, a number almost equalled this year.

Open Intervarsities took place last weekend in Maynooth, a town just outside Dublin in wet and very windy conditions. Fifteen teams took part with a pick up canada goose Chateau Parka team helping to round out the schedule. Going into the tournament it was hard to look past one of three teams as potential winners – UCC from Cork who had won the tournament 3 years in a row, and the two strongest Dublin-based college teams, UCD and Trinity. Three other teams, DCU – the college team from where WJUC took place last August – UL, from Limerick and NUI Maynooth, the home team, were expected to battle it out for the remaining semi-final spot.

UCC Ultimate Logo

After an upset free Saturday, it was Maynooth who caused the big shock of the tournament by winning their quarter-final on universe point against DCU. This was quite a break through for the team and their first time making it through to the semi-finals. (Later in the day they would add the Spirit Award to their top 4 finish). Cork, Trinity and UCD all joined them, as expected. The pick of the semis was a battle between long-term rivals UCD and Trinity. Both teams had looked strong up until meeting and went in to the game confident but it ended up being a match that will be remembered for the upwind downwind conditions as opposed to for the Ultimate. At first, neither side managed to do much more than play for territory but it was Trinity who imposed themselves getting a brace of upwind goals to build a 4 point lead that they kept until half. UCD fought back in the second half but the gap was too much and Trinity progressed.

Elsewhere UCC took care of a young and determined NUI Maynooth with little fuss, advancing into the final, making it a rematch of the previous year. UCC captain John ‘Doc’ Doherty put their performance against what he called ‘the tournament surprise package’ down to their considerable advantage in terms of experience. ‘A lot of us playing so well in this game was down to the fact that we were much more experienced than Maynooth in the windy conditions, and they had a lot of up-and-coming players who probably hadn’t played that much in such conditions before’.

Trinity’s Hugo Fitzpatrick with a big bid in the final

The final took place on a slightly more sheltered field and Cork came out on D to start. They turned Trinity in the first point and after a dropped pull in the second were very soon 2-0 up. This became 3-0 after more tight defence and the Corkonian team were in a position they are familiar with – bossing the pace of a game having taken an early lead. Trinity captain Finnian Flood explained that having gone three points up early ‘UCC played with a lot of hunger and composure. Suffocating our O with their strong defense and hitting the open man on their offence whether it was an under cut or a deep strike’. This was echoed by his counterpart Doherty who was pleased with their performance; ‘The offence was patient, the D was tight. We played like we knew we could in the first half to get the lead. I think in the second half we could have been a little more patient, because the wind picked up a lot, and we tried to force it a bit’. Trinity came back into the game with Sam Mehigan, Brian Boyle and Sean O’Mahony helping to add a measure of respectability to the scoreline but realistically it was all over as a competitive game by half-time. Standout performances came from a number of Cork players including veteran Donal Murray and captain John Doherty, It’s worth noting that UCC had lost twice to Trinity earlier in the season so to win the final 13-6 to win their 4th title in as many years will have given them great pleasure.

Trinity’s David Ferguson throws around the mark of UCC captain John Doherty 

Given how late the Intervarsities tournament takes place, qualification for UK Uni Outdoor Open Nationals takes place via a University League held in February. UCC will be representing Ireland in Nottingham next week and are looking forward to it. We spoke to their captain Doherty about the trip and he had the following to say: ‘It is always hard to tell what we will come up against in the UK. I saw some of the defending champions Sussex at Siege of Limerick, and they looked even stronger than last year. So we have them as the team to beat standard-wise in order to be good enough to win it. We are missing a good few big players from last years team – last year’s captain Donal O’Donohoe, Mark Fanning and the star player all weekend Kevin Rice, but we have five new first year students this year who we think are capable of stepping up when needed’.

Last year the boys from Cork finished runners up after an excellent string of results but couldn’t beat a Mohawks side who were (and arguably still are) in a rich vein of form. That said, Doherty and his team are going over with only one thing in mind: ‘My team mates would be amazed if I said we have any other plan than to go over to Nottingham to win the tournament. It’s been our goal all season to win our own Irish IVs, and to then go to the UK and win UK Nationals’. This comment could be construed by some as arrogant but it would be slight on the Cork mentality to brush it off like that. Focus, determination, hard work and tactical intelligence are the mark of this team. As Flood, the Trinity captain, commented ‘They (UCC) are a very experienced, hungry team with a lot of athleticism and confidence and should do very well in Nottingham. Teams will have to play smart to beat them, but one thing is for sure – at UK Nats they won’t give up anything easy’. 

We wish them the best of luck on their trip, as no doubt do the many Irish players they are representing.

Photos courtesy of Sarah Cummins & Mark Earley.

Mixed Tour 1 2013 – Cardiff

Cardiff, club, Great Britain, mixed tour, Tournament Reports, ultimate, world games

The British outdoor season kicked off again a week ago in Cardiff with the first instalment of the UKU Mixed Tour. David Pryce summarises the weekend’s action.

A grand total of 52 teams descended on the University of Cardiff sports fields including two trialling (now selected) World Games teams, GB U23’s and Ireland’s U23 squad. 
Alongside these national squads the regulars canada goose Calgary Jakke mænd of Bear Cavalry, Thundering Herd and Brighton were mixed in with newer/pick up squads Royal Goaltimate Society (RGS), Magic Toast and Meeples. Further down the seedings we saw the likes of Reading, JR, Guildford, ABH, Steal and many more battle it out for a possible higher seed at the next tour. 
Below is a graphic of how the teams rose or fell from their initial seeds. Of course, I know that the TD’s struggled with the seedings this time round, not made easy by the new teams. Overall most teams stayed within a fair margin of their original seed so the TD did a great job there (and with the rest of tournament, as ever). However their were a few big jumps:
  • Ireland U23 +11
  • Reading +10
  • ABH C +10
  • Steal +10
and falls:
  • Choke Hazard -15
  • GU1 -14
  • St Albans -13
  • Flump -9
Some of these falls are most likely to do with strong players going to new teams or not playing at all but in general I think the returning national players missed over past canada goose Canada Goose dame few years now in the WG, Magic Toast, RGS teams has pushed the standard up once again.

The teams eating up seeds appear to have worked really hard and fought out every game, everyone loves a challenge and being that initial underdog can really work in your favour. 

Highly Notable: 
Black Eagles yet again perform well after a solid season last year.
Brighton are always high in the tour and remain solid at 4th.
Some Team rising from 38th to 29th have really found some flow.

Note of interest:
Bear Cav were missing their main man Dave Tyler and so didn’t top the club team table but I wouldn’t count them as out yet. For teams in the top 10 anything can happen.

National teams: 
GBWG really showed us what they plan to take to Cali with everyone able to pick the disc up and scoring easily with defences lagging behind. Look out for them as one team in Manchester.

Ireland U23 were probably a little under seeded but still came out strong. In a similar manner to their slightly older beach counterparts played a very good mixed game to secure some invaluable playing time together.

GB U23 had a great Saturday but struggled a little on Sunday with team dynamics holding them back at times. Some true moments of great ultimate were mixed in with a few too many turns and mis communications. These guys and gals will definitely be back next tour and will hopefully use the great training they are having to step it up ready for Worlds this summer.
Final positions and how they have moved.