For most ultimate players, finances and transportation are challenges to be overcome in order to continue playing the sport they love. For athletes in Newfoundland, however, the challenges take on another level, as their physical distance heavily limits their opportunities.
Yet, Newfoundland athletes don’t let that stop them. For Luke Dyer, 22, and Erin Daly, 29, these limited opportunities make them capitalize on each one. Dyer started playing in high school, through his friends, and quickly got caught up in it.
“I searched for a way to play ultimate after graduation,” Dyer remembers, “It wasn’t easy since, at the time, there was no junior provincial club team or league that would let people under 18 play. So, Newfoundland had to convince players from Nova Scotia to make a joint junior club team to travel to Nationals, which I joined.”
Due to the size of the community, the connections spread quickly. The Newfoundland Ultimate Community is quite close-knit, involving all the usual post-game beers and weekend outings between near-strangers in league teams. However, it takes on a special edge as the limited opportunities for competition inflate the level at the recreational level.
“Playoff day at the end of August becomes a full-on battle where friends become foes and teams make sure no one plans a wedding or other event for that weekend,” Dyer remarks.
“Due to the personal connections between teams the local league level is even more competitive than some national level games I have played.”
“It creates a unique dynamic where top players in the province frequently play with brand new players to the sport,” Daly adds.
But it’s not all playoff game fun between friends and teammates. For players like Dyer and Daly, who aspired to be national-level athletes, there’s more standing in their way than the average Canadian. For one thing, there’s money. Dyer calculated that it costs, on average, $25 per point to play at CUC’s (Canadian Ultimate Championships), or $1500. This is about $300 more than the next highest paying team, those paying for travel out of Quebec. Thankfully, they receive aid from the governing body, Ultimate NL, who reaches out to top athletes like Dyer and Daly to offer funding opportunities. But it’s without work - to receive any more funding from other sources, athletes must apply for grants or be certified as coaches. Daly is a Learner Facilitator for the NCCP Competition Introduction Coaching Course and is awarded compensation for running workshops for new competitive coaches and conducting evaluations for certifying them. She was also awarded, not for the first time, a grant from SportNL's Athletic Excellence Fund Program
Then, there’s also the problem of recognition. “When we’re only playing in CUC plus one other tournament we don’t get very many opportunities to showcase our talent to other high-level players or national team selectors and coaches,” Daly commented, “When we go to a tryout or prospect camp it likely that it is the first time the selector is seeing us play.”
Dyer agrees, arguing that the biggest obstacle to growth Newfoundland athletes face is lack of recognition. Dyer tried out for Team Canada U24 in 2017, and upon being cut, asked for feedback. “The main suggestion was to move to Montreal or Toronto for a summer and play there to be more recognized,” he remembers. “This was really the catalyst that motivated me to train so I could play at a high level. It is one thing to be told you are not fit or experienced enough but an entire other thing to be told it is because where you live.”
For Dyer, it’s his community that inspires him to overcome the unique challenges. “It’s really hard to not be motivated when your whole community is behind you,” Dyer commented. He also draws inspiration from his longtime friend Mark Jackman, who was killed in a car accident in 2015, after finishing his first year of university with Dyer. “To make sure I don’t lose focus on my values I wear Mark’s number, 24,” he says. His death reminds Dyer that life has no guarantees, and to seize each opportunity.
As for Daly, she uses her intrinsic motivation to be better than ever. Newfoundland athletes must work twice as hard to compete with the name recognition from other Canadian players. “When I went to my first Team Canada tryout I realized that there were holes in my game and I came home and worked tirelessly to be better at those things,” Daly says, “I focus on my goals and that’s what got me up at 6:00 am to do sprints and motivates me to train as hard as I could in the gym and on the field. And now I do those things better than almost anyone in Newfoundland.”
Both Dyer and Daly use this underdog mentality to push themselves, wanting to be the best in their domains, setting goals and working endlessly to achieve them. By overcoming the barriers of travel, recognition, expenses, they are both international silver medalists with team Canada.