Ultimate made me week in the Knees

When I tell people I play Frisbee they often don’t understand. “Is that a real sport?” “Is that the one on the beach with your dog?” “Is that what those guys do in the park?” I have to spend some time trying to convince them that, yes it actually is a real sport. Yes, we have teams, yes we compete in tournaments, yes there is a national frisbee league. And no, poodles do not play in the National tournament.

I love that Frisbee is a real sport. In any given Frisbee game, I’ll run, jump, catch, turn, and dive. Every Frisbee player knows that feeling of bending at the waist, putting your hands on your knees and breathing hard after a long run, or the high fives from your teammates after an epic layout, or how great it feels to be running around outside with a bunch of your best friends after a long day at work.

Another thing I love about Frisbee is how open we are to new people. Because of its rather upstart status in the world, we Frisbee players have to be welcoming, to ever hope to compete with the likes of cricket, rugby, soccer (or in America: baseball, basketball, hockey, American football), but we are also just generally pretty friendly people (in my experience).

Can anyone see a potential problem in these two wonderful things that I love about Frisbee?

Injuries.

You get a bunch of enthusiastic newbies and you run them full-tilt into this epic sport, and people can get injured. Like any sport, you have the occasional sprained ankle, and pretty rarely something more serious, but anyone who has played long enough has seen their fair share of injuries. Your friend does an epic D, or maybe just a normal cut, and his or her face screws up in pain. Your heart sinks.

I was one of those people. Two weeks before Nationals 2013 in East London, I was at Pirates Rugby Club, playing with the wonderful Ultitude Frisbee club. I had been working really hard to be ready for Nationals, practicing three times a week, running on the off days, and I was super pumped for the tournament. And then, a sudden flash of pain in my left knee. I immediately hobbled off the field, hoping it was a fluke, a phantom injury that would magically disappear with a bit of rubbing and a sip of water. Funnily enough, it did disappear after a bit of rest, so I went back onto the field. Jogging gingerly, I felt fine… until I tried to cut long. Then the pain came back, like a dozen needles simultaneously piercing the tendons under my patella. Not good.

Jogging was fine, but anytime I ran, it hurt. I might have spent a bit too long figuring that out on the field that night, but what did I know. I had last played a serious competitive sport in the 8th grade, before I chose marching band over softball in the 9th grade (I was 13). I hadn’t been doing strength training on the side, or being particularly thoughtful about my stretching, but I had been playing at a more and more intense level and pushing myself harder at every practice.

I went to the doctor expecting to be told to rest and not to play the tournament. But in true tough-it-out South African fashion, he told me to take a ton of ibuprofen, drink (booze it up, no joke), and play through the pain.

“I’ll fix whatever you do to it when you get back.”

Best doctor ever.

Armed with the world’s best medical advice, I went to East London, and played (and drank!) at an awesome tournament.

After the tournament, I flew back to Joburg and hobbled into his office. The things he did to me in that hour I will never forget. I learned that that doctor is famous for punching knees that do not cooperate, and I also learned that when faced with excruciating pain, I laugh like the Joker.

After he finished doing unspeakable things to my knee, he gave me the bad news. No running for six months. I was crushed.

It felt like losing my dog and my best friend all at once. Where would I go on Wednesday nights? How would I stop myself from sitting on the couch eating potato chips (crisps, for you South Africans) every day? I did pushups and sit-ups, but those months passed slowly, and I couldn’t wait to get back on the field.

From a physio therapist, I learned that as a right-handed person, my right leg was stronger than my left, and pivoting on my left while lunging on my right, as in a normal Frisbee game, was a rather uneven leg workout. To recover, I needed to do a series of exercises to strengthen my quads and the other muscles around my knee.

Through my recovery process, I learned that when I increased the intensity of my playing, I should have also increased the intensity of my strength training. I also realized that fitness is not just about running laps and sprinting to build up endurance. To play at the higher levels of this great sport, you need muscle strength, and the best way to build that is through strength training, even though it might seem less fun.1456084_10100370816497564_233772262_n

I’ve included the exercises that my PT gave me in this blog post. If you can figure out the little diagrams, I highly recommend these exercises. Even just focused squats, being absolutely certain to not let your knee go over your toe, can make a big difference to your leg strength, making you faster and less injury-prone. Find someone who knows what they are doing and get them to watch your technique, to make sure you’re doing them right. We need to take better care of our bodies, and teach newbies to do the same. Beer, although recommended by a medical professional, is not a long-term training regimen.

I love Frisbee, and I love my legs. Take care of yourselves, Gauteng.

– Kate Kraft

Ultitude

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