Team India U23’s long and hard road to London

I’ve always enjoyed playing outdoors as far back as I can remember. The first sport I got truly hooked to was football when I was in class five. Other interests, whether I took them on seriously for a while or not, came and went; but my football shoes journeyed alongside me all the way through to high school, and through my BA Degree years.

Wait! Did I say all my BA degree years? My attention was slightly diverted when I was halfway through my degree course, and by what? A plastic disc. Little did I know then, that what we were playing was a watered down version of Ultimate Frisbee. A sport that many people across the country (and the world) were crazy about, for which they travelled across India (and to other countries) to play in tournaments, and, that it was a proper sport with rules, recognised by the International Olympics Committee! Today, Ultimate is played in more than 15 cities across India, by more than 2,000 players!

So, what is Ultimate Frisbee? And why are people so hooked?

Ultimate Frisbee is a highly intense, no-contact sport played with a plastic disc on a 100 metre by 37 metre sized field. At any point in the game, there must be seven members from each team on the field, and it is mandatory that each team have at least three women playing.

Ultimate is built around the idea of fair-play and inclusiveness, and therefore, players on the field are their own referees! Players are encouraged to call their own fouls and play with a positive attitude towards their teammates and their opponents. This, in Ultimate Frisbee is known as the Spirit of the Game.

I came to understand these points a little better as I began playing the game more, and it only fascinated me further. To see all this translate on the field is altogether a different thing! A point is scored when the member of a team receives the disc within the boundaries of what is called the ‘end-zone’, while the opponents try and intercept passes. On a turnover, the disc goes to the other team.

The road to London

The third edition of the World Under-23 (U23) Ultimate Championships is being held from July 12th to 18th in London. This is the first time India will be sending a team of Ultimate players who have been selected purely for their skill, athleticism and ‘Spirit’, regardless of whether they can afford the expenses of travelling to London for the Championships or not. Today, I feel honoured to say that I will be representing India at the Championships.

Team India. Pic: Ketto

The final squad of 20 players (and an additional 4 alternates) was carefully chosen after multiple rounds of tryouts among over 125 players. Now, we have players from Auroville, Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Surat. With players coming from different backgrounds, speaking different languages, the gaps that we have bridged over the last few months as a team, truly makes us feel like a family. We truly are a mixed team, and the journey so far has been amazing.

We are extremely lucky to have Dan Rule as our coach, who has previously coached teams at his home in Australia. He coached the 2012 Australian Mixed team (Silver medalists) and the 2013 Australian U23 Open Team (Bronze medalists). Training under Dan’s guidance has been a humbling experience, and with each training session, we were learning more than we ever thought we would. Here’s what Dan has to say about the selecting the team.

Teams that play together, stay together

Team India at their first training camp at Chennai. Pic: Varsha Yeshwant Kumar

The Under-23 Ultimate team

  • Maitry Acharya, 22, Ahmedabad
  • Maitrey “Mai” Ananthapadmanabhan, 22, Chennai
  • Sushmita Azad, 21, Bangalore
  • Suhani Bhedi, Age 22, Delhi
  • Zahra Kheraluwala, 22, Chennai (Captain)
  • Sabine Mannherz, 22, Chennai and Germany
  • Bhavya Trivedi, 15, Auroville
  • Nimisha “Nimo” Vasava, 22, Ahmedabad
  • Kenny Borsada, 19, Ahmedabad
  • Maksood Chaudhary, 22, Mumbai
  • Sumesh Kannan, 20, Chennai
  • Rama ‘Rahul Chennai’ Krishnan, 20, Chennai
  • Hariharan ‘Jagan’ Kumar, 20, Chennai
  • Praveen ‘Rocket’ Kumar, 21, Chennai
  • Pranav Rajan, 20, Chennai
  • Siva Raman, 20, Chennai
  • Vikram Sethuraman, 21, North Carolina
  • GK Harsha Vardhan, 22, Chennai
  • Kamlesh ‘Kamlu’ Sharma, 16, Surat
  • Ganesan Moorthi

Alternate players

  • Srijan Bhatt, 22, Delhi
  • Meenakshi Kallappa, 20, Bangalore
  • Gurumurthy Anbhazagan, 15, Auroville
  • Muthu Mariyappan, 22, Chennai

In order to train as a team, we have been attending scheduled training camps spread out across the country. A memorable week for me (and for many others on the team) was at the one week camp tucked away at a school in Surat. When around ten of us we travelling from Chennai by train to Surat, we received on the team group, a message from Dan which read: “Here is the structure for each day of your next week. Who’s excited to live and breathe Frisbee?”

The seven days of outdoor and indoor training sessions, spending all our waking and sleeping hours together, having our meals, dancing and celebrating two team birthdays, and watching horror movies, really brought the team together in so many ways. Our next training camp in Bangalore starts on June 13th.

For practice leading up to the World Championships, India U23 participated at Ghuen Tak (an annual National Ultimate Frisbee tournament) at Mumbai. After three days in the sweltering heat of Mumbai, long game points, and six matches later, we found ourselves playing the finals of the tournament against a Delhi team. We lost, and finished second of 18 teams participating at the tournament, but we finished the tournament having learnt so much! The team bond had grown stronger, and we had better chemistry, both on and off field. It was a chance for us to put into practice what we had learnt in our training camps by getting challenged by top Indian club teams.

Team cheer, both on and off the field. Pic: Varsha Yeshwant Kumar

Before the London Tournament, the India U23 team will be competing at the Bangalore Ultimate Open that will be held from June 26th to 28th. Around 24 club teams from across India will be participating in the three-day tournament. If you’re interested, this is your chance to watch our team in action!

This journey for me has been one of many lows and (mostly) highs. During and before the selections, I was working in a small alternative school in Thiruvannamalai, 200 km from Chennai. Most weekends last year involved travelling to either Chennai or Bangalore for practice and tournaments, but the hard work paid off. I will be forever grateful to family back there for allowing me to take time off, so I could train. Everyone on the team has had their own journeys and struggles in order to chase this dream. I feel very lucky to be playing with them. In addition, the support that we are continuing to receive from our families and the wider Ultimate communities, both in India and abroad, has been truly overwhelming.

Help send the U23 team to London

Over 70% of the Indian U23 Mixed Team comes from an under-privileged background. In order to raise funds and find sponsors for the team, there is an online campaign that is being run, to collect money and garner support for the team. To know more about the crowdfunding campaign, and to contribute towards the expenses, click here.

Watch our videos to understand the game and get to know the team better.

You can also follow India U23’s journey from here to London on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

About Maitreyi Ananth 8 Articles
Maitreyi is a student of Communications at Mt.Carmel College and is a summer intern at Citizen Matters

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