Hitomi’s Story

From Bordertown: Translations of Migrant Experience.

Story by Hitomi Okabe
Translated by Hitomi Okabe and Christian Griffiths

The most exciting thing to me since I arrived in Melbourne last November has been joining a local Ultimate Frisbee team.

Ultimate is a team sport, and it had been my hobby in Japan for many years. I heard about a regular pickup game near my house in Brunswick, so I was keen to check it out. Most of the players were beginner level, but since my own playing is close to professional level, some of the more experienced ones suggested that I try joining an Australian club team. I wasn’t that confident in my skills, but I wanted to learn the Australian playing style, and I also wanted the chance to communicate with local people, so I emailed the coach. The coach told me that I was too late to join the team – they had already chosen their line-up for the season – but that I was welcome to come to their practice session.

After witnessing my skills in the first session, the coach decided that maybe it wasn’t too late after all, and she invited me to join them for the national tournament in April. The tournament was going to be in NSW, and I was concerned about the cost, but my desire to face the challenge was much stronger, so I said yes.

We met for practice twice a week, and I also kept up my pickup games. I was playing Ultimate as many as four times a week – it was heaven! At the beginning of April, we travelled to Wollongong – going to the national tournament was an exciting and unforgettable experience (except for the twelve-hour bus journey).

The weather in Wollongong was sunny and calm – perfect for Ultimate! I was more nervous than excited to begin, but when the first game started my nerves quickly evaporated, and I began to enjoy myself. The tournament required us to play seven games over the two days, and by the last game of day one, fatigue had taken its toll on most of us. It was no surprise when my marker (an opponent player) tripped near me and rolled against my ankle. At the time, it didn’t seem serious, so I let it go – but the next day at warm up, I found that I couldn’t run without pain. Looking at my ankle, I noticed it was swollen. I taped it up to see it if it would make a difference, but I still couldn’t run, so I was benched for the first two games of the day.

I had spent a lot of time preparing for this – it was my first national tournament, and it would probably be my last one in Australia. If I pulled out now I would always regret it, so I decided to go all in: I would play in the last game of the tournament – even if it meant breaking my ankle.

I began bravely, but the conditions were tough. The wind was back up now, and it meant that play took longer than usual – in a short game, strategy and speed are important, but in a longer game stamina is what’s needed. I couldn’t run as fast as normal, so I missed quite a few catches – but I didn’t feel any pain in my ankle, and I was so determined and so focused that I lost track of the score for the entire last hour of the game. It was only afterwards that I learned we had won the game by a large margin.

There had been over thirty teams in the tournament, and our win placed us only eleventh in the field – not bad, but it was much more of an honour to have competed with my teammates and coach.

After I got back to Melbourne, I went to the hospital to get my ankle scanned. The doctor told me I had torn a ligament, and that I would need to avoid playing Frisbee for ten weeks. If he had said one week, then maybe – but ten is too long. I strap my ankle and try to take care, but I am still playing my pickup games two days a week. It’s worth the risk.