Ultimate Glory: Frisbee, Obsession, and My Wild Youth By David Gessner

A story of obsession, glory, and the wild early days of Ultimate Frisbee.

David Gessner devoted his twenties to a cultish sport called Ultimate Frisbee. Like his teammates and rivals, he trained for countless hours, sacrificing his body and potential career for a chance at fleeting glory without fortune or fame. His only goal: to win Nationals and go down in Ultimate history as one of the greatest athletes no one has ever heard of.

With humor and raw honesty, Gessner explores what it means to devote one's life to something that many consider ridiculous. Today, Ultimate is played by millions, but in the 1980s, it was an obscure sport with a (mostly) undeserved stoner reputation. Its early heroes were as scrappy as the sport they loved, driven by fierce competition, intense rivalries, epic parties, and the noble ideals of the Spirit of the Game.

Ultimate Glory
is a portrait of the artist as a young ruffian. Gessner shares the field and his seemingly insane obsession with a cast of closely knit, larger-than-life characters. As his sport grows up, so does he, and eventually he gives up chasing flying discs to pursue a career as a writer. But he never forgets his love for this misunderstood sport and the rare sense of purpose he attained as a member of its priesthood. Ultimate Glory: Frisbee, Obsession, and My Wild Youth

This is a great read if you love frisbee. I would rate it 5 stars for a frisbee player, 4 stars for everyone else. There's a lot of stories about frisbee that will not sing for many who are not lovers of disc. But there is also a moving story of a man trying to find his way as a human being as a writer. The prose truly sings in the last 4 chapters, when he experiences a health crisis, loses a testicle to cancer, ends the tumultuous relationship with a frisbee playing woman that has gone up and down for ten years, and gets into a masters program in writing after a cataclysmic interaction with a famous Harvard professor/writer.

Remarkably, the acknowledgements thank everyone but the woman who is portrayed as a saint and a toxic philanderer during their relationship, someone who cheated on the author recklessly and repeatedly. I guess the message is don't have relationships with aspiring writers, and if you, definitely don't cheat on them with a series of European flings. He names and shames, although he also depicts her as the angel who got him through testicular cancer.

What lingers after you read it is the remarkable commitment to a ridiculed sport, and what it taught him about life.

352 Must read for Ultimate Frisbee community. Lots of interesting history of the sport, early characters, development of the uniqueness of the game we love so much. A dose of east coast bias, but book was meant to be more of than an educational piece of a sport, so it traced where the author played. Gessner is an accomplished author/writer (I have some of his other work on my to read list) and writes about his personal journey and how it has been impacted and enhanced by his years of Ultimate, the game, the relationships, the life lessons. 352 Here's one lens on ultimate; there are so many more. Reading this has helped me articulate my own experience with the sport, in part through contrast. For example, Gessner and many of his peers seem to have been able to bring their whole, messy selves to the sport in ways that others haven't. My experience in ultimate has often involved sublimating difference towards a team-level or sport-level narrative, including the assumption of all kinds of shared values.

I do recognize the combination of ambition and self-loathing involved in surviving season after season; appreciate the distinction between winning and wanting to win as meaningful processes; and find much more to mull over in the later chapters on leaving (slash not actually leaving) ultimate than I would have a few years ago when there was no question I would play until my limbs fell off. 352 Terrific book about Ultimate Frisbee in the 70s, 80s and 90s. I played ultimate in college in the late 70s and early 80s and the descriptions of the spirit of the game ring true for me. The descriptions of the wildness of the game and its players at that time also remind me of my time playing. I didn't play after college but some of my teammates did, including one who gets mentioned in the book (Steve Goodwin). It was funny to read about him in the role of a bad cop after having been with him during many of his pranks in his younger years. 352 The author's description of his twenties was very good, and filled with pathos. He mentioned how he was part of an underappreciated sport, and didn't receive any pay. His father was unhappy with his life's choices, particularly since he graduated from an ivy league school. If the book was simply autobiographical, I would have given it 4 or 5 stars. The problem is the author seemingly couldn't seem to decide if this was an autobiography or a history book on Ultimate Frisbee. The history part seems to run a bit too lon. 352

I appreciated receiving the book as a gift from someone who knows my love of ultimate. Ultimate Glory is a tromp through Gessner's formative years as the title suggests. His devotion to the sport and it's role in his life is evident in the rich details of the games and the players that built the legends.

All that said, I didn't particularly enjoy the read. I found his descriptions of the women, both those casually mentioned for their role in ultimate and those who played larger roles in his life, fairly shallow and reductive. I feel like I've encountered this kind of player on the field and not enjoyed the interaction.

In the end, I wasn't amused or surprised by this read. Possibly unfair to say of an account of another's life, but it is in the vein of the wandering young man who finds his way despite years of poor but not terminal choices. He finds his craft both through sport and through art.

Hopefully the start of many more books on ultimate and the role the sport has in the lives of those who choose to chase a plastic circle. 352 It’s a book about Ultimate Frisbee. Enough said. 352 Isn't that the thing you do with dogs? Not so much. Environmental writer and essayist Gessner details the rise of Ultimate, a somewhat modified form of football played with Frisbees, which he stumbled into in the early days of the sport. As much a memoir of Gessner's struggles to become a writer, his philosophical internal struggles with trying to figure out how to live, as a record of competitive battles on the field. Anyone that has played Ultimate will love this fast paced read; those that have not, such as myself, but struggled through their 20s and obsessions of their own, will enjoy it equally. Put it this way: if you enjoyed William Finnegan's Barbarian Days but don't surf, you're going to love this. Gessner's other books include All the Wild that Remains. 352 Having read some of Gessner's excellent natural history writing, I was intrigued by this book. You don't have to be an Ultimate player to enjoy it, although it would help to be or have been passionate about a sporting activity.

The title captures the themes here -- not only the history of Ultimate Frisbee, but Gessner's obsession with playing Ultimate and his struggles through his twenties with his life's direction. There is a fair bit of wild behavior thrown in for good measure. 352 I loved this book! David Gessner captures perfectly the conflicting inner glories and insecurities of 1980s era Ultimate players. We were playing the Greatest Sport of All Time, while being dismissed by colleagues, friends and family for pursuing a passion Gessner rightly compares, in the minds of the public, to Professional Tiddley-winks. [True revelation: My family never diminished the beauty of Ultimate, nor my passion for it, and for that I am ever grateful.]

This book feels like it could have been my autobiography, the book that I, a far less accomplished Ultimate player and a far more unaccomplished and unfulfilled writer than David Gessner, might have written if I'd ever had the dedication, memory and determination of the author.

For that, in fact, I am thankful. I am thankful that someone with the skill and talent of Gersh found it in his soul and his fingertips to share with the world what it was like to actually live within a cult that never ~really~ harmed anyone, although it did derail more than a few life paths, relationships and nascent careers, not to mention minimum wage jobs abandoned for the lure of one more thousand-mile road trip to chase a plastic disc around and commune with a few hundred like-minded lunatics.

That said, the real, undeniable, reward of Ultimate was that the sport gave us all a chance to feel like brothers and sisters in something very secret and very special. In the best of times, if we got that block or caught that goal, or better yet were on that team that won that tournament, we might even feel like gods.

Ultimate Glory is filled with stories not only of desire, obsession and that fleeting, temporary, but oh so satisfying sense of greatness on the field, but also the tales of depravity and self-destruction beyond. Yes, indeed, we had a wild and sometimes reckless sense of fun.

I could go on at length about all of this, but Mr. Gessner covers it comprehensively in the book. I was a West Coast recruit, he was from the East. Our time-in-service was nearly identical, though to the best I my knowledge and memory we never met on the field (certainly not in the fall, due to my own team's struggles in bettering the likes of Tsunami and Iguana). We shared many many teammates however, more than a few of whom remain my lifelong friends.

What this book makes it clear is the undeniable awe the flight of a flying disc ignites. It's a flame that burns within all Ultimate players. And the visceral joy that comes from chasing down a piece of plastic and laying out and clasping it at the last moment is a sensation that can never be equaled.

It is the Ultimate sensation. It is what makes lifers of us all.

The sport is growing at an astonishing rate these days, with pro leagues and TV coverage and salaries and the like....but we were there for the explosion. 352


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