© Jolie J. Lang for UltiPhotos
On March 11, USA Ultimate officially announced the athletes who would represent the United States at the 2020 WFDF World Ultimate and Guts Championships (WUGC) later this summer in the Netherlands. Just days later, it became clear that the games would not be happening as planned. COVID-19 was taking our world by storm, and Ultimate right along with it. The World Flying Disc Federation announced that they would be postponing or cancelling all world championships for at least the next six months.
While the games may be postponed, we’re not ready to close the book on the 2020 U.S. National Team — and neither is the Ultimate community. “For many of these athletes, representing the United States in international competition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and one of sports’ most prestigious honors,” says USA Ultimate’s Andy Lee. “Despite the unfortunate circumstances resulting in the cancellation or postponement of WFDF events in 2020, it’s important to recognize the accomplishment of being selected to the U.S. National Team and acknowledge the significant commitment athletes have made in pursuing their dream. While we can’t guarantee playing in a world championship tournament, we hope to replicate as much of the U.S. National Team experience as possible, which includes having a uniform and apparel.”
After trying out in 2016, Five Ultimate co-founder Qxhna Titcomb was thrilled to make the womxn’s team for 2020 — and devastated when she heard the news about the WUGC postponement. “I woke up to a text from my sister [USNT coach Rohre Titcomb] of an emoji with a broken heart. Once I opened Twitter and saw an article from Ultiworld, I understood what the emoji meant. I hadn't gotten out of bed yet and was stunned. My partner Ben wrapped me in a hug and didn't need to say anything — he knew that it was a complete shock. I was frustrated and angry. Something I had worked for so many years for was no longer going to happen.”
Like the rest of the world, Titcomb and other USNT players have gone into isolation in an effort to help stop the spread of the virus. During this time, Titcomb has struggled with conflicting feelings of sadness, frustration, and guilt. “So many other people have been much more impacted by COVID and this pandemic,” she says. “Not playing ultimate is just not that big of a deal. When I think about all of the first responders and health care workers that are counting on society to stay socially distanced, it just feels like playing is not worth it right now — it's not worth the potential extra stress on the healthcare system at all. And I'm also realizing that it's OK to feel both of those emotions — frustration and guilt. They are conflicting, inform each other, and are both valid emotions.”
Despite the events of the last few weeks, the womxn's team has been setting up virtual meetings, checking in with coaches, and splitting up into groups to brainstorm ways to create connections with each other and the wider community. “We all talked about how we just wanted to build connections with each other in these really difficult times,” Titcomb says of a recent call. “We acknowledged that before connecting with the wider community, we would want to start by getting to know each other better first, understanding our own values, and building our own team identity. We thought that connecting with the wider community after doing that could be possible.”
The USNT players are being encouraged to proudly wear their uniforms, despite the fact that they may not be able to play together. “It’s unique in the sense that this gear may never be worn on the field of play, which is disappointing of course, but also is a collector’s item in a way,” Lee says of this year’s USNT collection. “It carries with it a special significance and marks a distinct time in our nation’s history. And it’s hopefully something our U.S. National Team athletes can wear proudly and say ‘I represented the United States.’ That’s something that can never be taken away from them.”
New this year, players and fans can purchase special Pride-themed USNT gear. “Equity, diversity and inclusion are foundational guiding principles of our sport, community and organization, which includes efforts to support LGBTQ+ initiatives and programming,” Lee says. “We have a history of partnering with Five Ultimate in support of those issues. Creating a ‘pride’ edition of a U.S. National Team jersey, which can hold dual significance, can help raise awareness of, and funding for those efforts.”
Check out the 2020 U.S. National Team collection at FiveUltimate.com. On sale through May 15.