Hindsight || Mike Grant
3 UPA titles (02, 03, 05)
4 world champs golds (1998, 2004, 2008, 2012)
1 world games gold (2001)
On August 9, 2008, you’ll be on top of the world. You’ll have just won the biggest ultimate game of your life on home soil in Vancouver. You’ll be surrounded by family, friends and teammates, with a world championship gold medal around your neck. But you’ll feel lost.
On February 19, 2018, after almost 15 years of struggling with drugs and alcohol, you’ll enter uncharted waters. On this day, a new chapter will begin as you make the best decision of your life and check yourself into a treatment centre where your new roommate struggles with meth addiction and has five bullet holes in his chest. You’ll find common ground and become friends.
Let’s roll it back a little. Sports will always take you away from the anxiety of life. Even from an early age, you’ll play all sports—anything you could. During lunchtime and recess and after school, you’ll go out with your friends and play anything—no adults, no refs, just playing, competing and battling.
In a strictly managed high school sports culture, you will become soured on sports. With the structures, the regimented practices and the coaches yelling, there isn’t much fun to be had, and you won’t thrive. Enter ultimate in 1994. You’ll be about 16 or 17 when your buddy Cory Mclean invites you out to play league (Vancouver Ultimate League). There is something super fascinating about the ultimate community. People are nice, it’s fun and it will suit you. You’ll experience a sense of connectedness for the first time but will have no idea why. It’s pretty much the opposite of your experience at the private, Catholic all-boys school. You’ll fall in love with the sport instantly. The community will embrace you, and it will be unlike anything you’ve ever felt before. When you are playing Ultimate, you’ll feel passion and drive. A purpose. And you’ll also be good at it; like, really good.
And you will get a whole lot better. With names like Jeff Cruickshank and Kirk Savage (look ‘em up in the hall of fame) on your league team, you’ll feel right at home. They’ll just want you to run fast and far, and they’ll take care of the rest. I don’t think you’ll throw a single flick that entire first year.
They’ll just want you to run fast and far, and they’ll take care of the rest. I don’t think you’ll throw a single flick that entire first year.
I won’t spend too much time regaling you with your early successes; I don’t want to ruin the surprise. You’ll play one high school tournament: provincial championships. Your throw-together team consisting of a few kids who had played before and a few students from the local all-girls Catholic school will put up a shocking 78 goals for and 6 against, cruising to a tournament victory. That will be your first taste of success in the sport. Follow that with the 1995 Canadian Junior Ultimate Championships, where your team will stomp everyone. It is at that tournament where you’ll have your first “woah, there’s more to this sport than just juniors and league” moment. Watching Furious win that 1995 title in Calgary will change how you approach the sport forever.
But you won’t join Furious George just yet. They’ll want you, but you and your friends will want to make your own team—so you do. The Altar Boyz will consist of mostly your friends and some other young ultimate players from Vancouver. The goal of the team will be clear: “We want to beat Furious, not join them.” And even though that rivalry will be chippy and intense and really fun for you, you’ll never beat them. Not even once in the two years Altar Boyz are around. You’ll fall 6-17 to Furious in the 1997 Canadian Ultimate finals. In the fall of 1997, you’ll have to put your tail between your legs, pick up the phone and call Andrew Lugsdin to ask to be on Furious.
It’s difficult to describe how quickly you’ll succeed. In 1998, Furious in the form of Team Canada will win the World Championships in Minnesota. For the previous two years, you just wanted to beat Furious. Now your eyes will open, and you’ll see that there’s a world of teams out there. You’ll be a big part of the team as it bursts onto the international scene. You’ll beat Team USA, represented by the DOG dynasty, twice in the same tournament without knowing who any of them are.
With this success will come fame. I mean, it’s still ultimate, but within the ultimate world, you’ll become famous. You will keep improving, becoming a top player in the game. Furious will keep winning. After a decade on one of the best teams in the world, the name “MG” will be synonymous with ultimate in Canada. Furious George will be known as a winning program. You’ll represent Canada at the inaugural World Games in 2001 and win gold. You’ll be on the 2004 World Championship-winning team. You will win three UPA titles (‘02, ‘03, ‘05). In 2008, as the core of the team is aging into retirement, that group will make one last run at the World Championships. At some points that summer, it will feel so unlikely. A month before worlds, you’ll get absolutely destroyed by Team USA’s Sockeye. At the end of the day, you’ll turn up on home soil and be a part of one of the greatest Canadian ultimate victories of all time. And then it will all stop.
For 10 years, your life will be ultimate. Everything else will take a backseat: school, relationships, jobs, family. You will begin to feel more lost than ever, and you will know you have to move on. Things will feel good when you are on the field, but outside of that, you will struggle. So just like that, in 2008, you’ll quit cold turkey. You’ll pack up your life and move to Victoria to be trained on managing a family friend’s pub and liquor store business. It will be a new challenge, but you’re going to wind up feeling super imbalanced, alone and shell-shocked—probably a side effect of being 100-percent locked into one thing for 10 years. And when you do stop playing in 2008, you will have NO idea what to do. There will be a huge void in your life, and you will struggle to fill it. It’s the same void that existed before beginning your ultimate journey, and it will be exposed completely. You’ll feel like a deer in headlights, you’ll lose all connection and you’ll slip into the comforts of partying. Numbing. Anything to not experience your depression. You will use drugs and alcohol to mask the problems, but over time, you’ll realize that drugs and alcohol aren’t your problem; they are a solution. You’ll use them to escape from how you really feel. However, your solution will also become a problem, a much bigger problem. I wish I could tell that to you right now, but it will take a while to figure out.
You’ll recognize that you are struggling, and you’ll even try to fight it. Consequences will begin appearing. For three months or so, you’ll stop using drugs and alcohol, thinking that they are the problem, but you will stubbornly do this on your own terms and keep it to yourself, thinking you can power through. However, it will only last for so long because you will experience the depths of depression, so when things inevitably get tough again, you’ll fight it off with your only known solution. You will be lost, scattered and confused. You’ll want to give up. You’ll head toward rock bottom. You will isolate, use on your own, lie to everyone, cause pain to those closest to you and not reach out to anyone. You will think nobody will understand, so you fall deeper into it. All the greatest times of your life in your ultimate career will feel like a distant memory. At this point, you will need to do something different. You will be completely lost.
In 2018, after two years of unsuccessfully meeting with a counselor who has never had a drink, you will find an addiction recovery coach who has been through a similar struggle, and for the first time in your life you will truly listen and speak your truth. You’ll make the best decision of your life and check into a treatment centre in Vancouver. You will have no idea what to expect. You will only know that you need something drastic to enforce a change in your life, and you’ll be willing to do anything.
After two months of living in the treatment centre, you’ll spend two more months living with ten men in a recovery home where you can spend more time connecting with others who have experienced the struggle. There, you’ll find value in simply talking about your struggles, listening to others and connecting with people who understand what it’s like to go through addiction and depression. Even though the way you’re wired might never change, your perspective will definitely shift. That drive and motivation you found on the ultimate field—you’ll start to find it in helping others. That will become part of your purpose. Your work with indigenous youth through ultimate will inspire you daily, and you and your friend Jimmy Roney will start a program called Ultimate Spirit. You will go back to school for addiction counseling. On February 19, 2019, you will receive a one-year sobriety chip and feel prouder of yourself than you ever did before, prouder than you were for any on-field win. At the Victoria Youth Empowerment Society’s Detox House, you will work with teenagers struggling with trauma and addiction. You will love every second of it and will experience purpose. Your motivation to be a strong mentor, to be trusted, will be a driving factor in your new life. Your void will begin to fill.
I never felt comfortable talking about this because I feared being authentic with how I was feeling; really, I never felt comfortable with myself outside of playing ultimate. My time at the treatment center helped me open up. It felt good, but it was and still is very hard. My ongoing recovery work within a 12-step community keeps me grounded. I sponsor others. I find it healing to share honestly without the fear of judgment, but I gain most from helping others. I’m sharing this now because I know this will help someone else, whether they have depression, mental health challenges or addiction. It’s been a hard journey, but I now see it as a gift. Reach out anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The journey continues,