We had the honor of interviewing a few players participating in The Color of Ultimate: ATL all-star showcase game this weekend. They shared captivating stories on how they got their start in ultimate and the impact they hope the Color of Ultimate showcase will have on the community.
Sun Choi, Atlanta Chain Lightning & Atlanta Hustle
Anraya Palmer, Atlanta Ozone & Atlanta Soul
Byron Liu, San Francisco Revolver & San Francisco Flamethrowers
1) Describe how you first started playing ultimate. What made you stay with the sport?
Choi: My first ever experience with playing ultimate was throwing in my high school parking lot with a friend. I remember it pretty vividly. It was the summer before I graduated high school and I was out throwing with a friend after school. The sun was setting, cars were strewn across the parking lot and I was in jeans. We were throwing with a worn-out blue Wham-O Heavyweights disc that I took from gym class that day. I swear we threw for hours. Dodging and hitting cars, laughing, running around and enjoying our start to the summer. This was one of the few moments I can recall that I was so wildly content. And that’s when I knew I was gonna play this sport. All because of a piece of plastic, a parking lot, and a friend to throw with. Went to Marietta pick and found out about KSU ultimate and the rest is really history.
I stuck with Ultimate because of the people. My first ever tournament was Shawn Adams with some KSU guys that I had probably known for about a month. I didn’t know how to play, but the team I played with was super nice and just open to getting me involved. The guys that I went with were hilarious and they taught me so much about the game. I liked how serious they took it, but were also very light-hearted about the whole thing. Thanks to those guys, it was an overall great experience that really solidified my love of the game.
Palmer: I first starting playing ultimate my senior year of high school. I had just finished playing basketball and was too burnt out with school to think about playing a super competitive season of soccer. A friend who had been trying to convince me to play ultimate told me it was very low commitment and super fun. I wasn’t convinced this was the sport for me yet because I was playing on an open team. If I dropped the disc, I wasn’t thrown to again. It wasn’t until I was able to play on a women’s team at an all-women’s tournament that I started to really enjoy the game. I rediscovered the sport in my sophomore year of college at UGA. My college team quickly became my second family and from then on, I knew ultimate was the sport for me. Being able to still be active and compete at a sport, plus doing it with my friends, nothing is better than that.
Liu: I started playing in college at Emory University. I joined because my older brother had started playing the year before at Middlebury College and we had played a bit when he came back for the summer. I actually didn’t play that much my freshmen fall because I was also spending time with a dance crew, but after attending my first tournament (Classic City Classic in Athens) I was hooked. It was there I found out how truly strange ultimate players are and how much that is encouraged.
2) Has race affected your experience playing ultimate? If yes, how so?
Choi: My first ever nationals that I went to see was in 2010. Masahiro Matsuno (team Japan) was playing with Furious George that year and the dude was a BEAST. He got MVP at CLUB NATIONALS! Watching that dude cut and work people on the field was amazing. It was seriously an inspiration to see an Asian dude tear it up on the field like that. I’ve always dreamed of having perfect timing like him.
Palmer: I think one thing most people don’t understand is that race can affect you without anyone being “racist”. Whenever I, as a POC, am entering a space where I am the minority, I am aware of my race. Every time I travel to a tournament, stay at a hotel and step on the field, I am aware of my race. I try not to think about it as much when I’m playing, but it is hard not to notice that I don’t see too many people that look like me. In the almost 10 years that I’ve been playing, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had a black teammate. And while I’ve never experienced any negative interactions with any of my teammates, I am still always constantly aware of my surroundings and who I’m hanging out with.
Liu: Right into the tough questions! One specific moment comes to mind. After winning the 2017 AUDL Championship with the SF Flamethrowers I had two Asian Canadian kids (the game was in Toronto) come up to me. They had come to watch me play because I was one of the few players that looked like them that they had ever heard of. That was the moment I truly realized that I didn’t have the privilege of being just a player, that how I carried myself shaped an outsize portion of how others envisioned themselves in our sport. While I strive to be a good example for others, it made me wish our world felt more accessible to those looking for a way in.
3) What steps should be taken to promote diversity in the sport?
Choi: That’s a pretty hard question and I think greater minds are working on that. I think the AFDC and Hustle have done such an outstanding job of promoting the sport through Boys and Girls Clubs, volunteering at local Atlanta Schools and putting on showcase games like this one have been building towards getting more people involved in playing Ultimate.
Palmer: I think there needs to be more visibility for POC in our game. Teams like Downtown Brown and all-POC games like this one are huge. They raise awareness about the lack of diversity in ultimate, as well as create a space for POCs that they may never get to experience again. Game footage and highlights being readily available online and all-over social media is great too. Being able to see more players that look like you is so important, you can’t be what you can’t see. Also getting more and more people that are willing to speak up about the lack of diversity in ultimate. The GE movement got people to talk more about womxn in ultimate. It’s time we start talking about diversity.
Liu: I don’t feel anywhere near qualified to answer this question. But since I’m here, I think something we can always do better is living our values. A wise person once told me, it’s easy to know the right thing to do and hard to do it. That’s why I’m so impressed by the Color of Ultimate showcase game. This entire event sprang from folks choosing to act based on their values. By creating a visible celebration of diversity and inclusion they are saying, more powerfully than any words could, that there are socioeconomic and racial inequities that we need to face. Not only that, but they also made it easy for us (the players and the community) to engage — through registration, sponsorships, a live stream, and all the behind the scenes work that all require — knowing that things like this need to be perfect to get the recognition they deserve.
4) What are your goals in the next five years of your ultimate career?
Choi: “not here for a long time, just here for a good time” That’s what I think of when I read this question. I’m not too sure what my Ultimate 5-year plan is, but I know that I enjoy playing at this level and want to compete here for as long as possible. I guess my biggest goals are to enjoy the sport, improve my game, and sky Matt Smith one time.
Palmer: I want to still be competing at the highest level. Continue to grow as a player and a leader. Be a top defender! I want Ozone to be consistently in the top 4 at Nationals. Continue speaking up for POC and increasing diversity in ultimate.
Liu: I honestly haven’t thought that much about it.
–Interviews were conducted by Gerleen Dineros
Thank you to all of our sponsors supporting this event, but especially the Atlanta Soul, the Atlanta Hustle, Spin Ultimate and ARIA Discs for helping contribute to our mission of increasing the racial and socioeconomic diversity in ultimate.