Written by Jennifer Hoar

When Ellie Murray-Yong was approached in 2018 to play a tournament for which her flights and uniform would be covered, she didn’t hesitate.

“I was like ‘yeah, I’m in,” the Perth-based receiver recalls.

“I don’t even care what the tournament is but if you’re going to pay for my flights? Great! Sounds good!”

Her excitement came despite the fact Ellie hadn’t played mixed ultimate competitively since 2013.

She undeniably shone for the Perth Power, with 5 assists, 2 goals and a block in her 5 appearances in the inaugural Australian Ultimate League.

In fact, the 10-year veteran of the sport labelled the competition the “best experience” she has ever had playing mixed ultimate.

Why, then, after the 2018 AUL, TWICE representing her country, and two World Clubs campaigns, did Ellie Murray-Yong walk away?

“Having a break was a really hard decision,” she says.

“Before this year … I’d never really considered not playing. It just became what I did.

“For the last 10 years I’ve played almost every season and Nationals, Mixed Nationals, overseas tournaments, I played under 23s and then when I played Firetails that was a really long, like a year-long campaign, then I played an overseas tournament with Kaos and then that ran into Nationals and it kind of never really stopped.”

Then, last year, Ellie travelled to Cincinnati, Ohio for the World Club Championships with Kaos. She returned exhausted. Burned out. And it’s a feeling many of our elite can relate to.

“It’s just so much training and so full on, and then it was first kind of time I’d questioned going back,” Ellie says.

“I decided that, because I was kind of thinking about it, I should just have some time off.

“I was kind of worried that I would lose touch with them [friends in the ultimate community] a bit. I’ve never really come home from work and not done anything before so I guess I was worried that I would be a bit lost without frisbee.”

But it turned out to be the right call.

Ellie took up yoga and trail running, skipping the 2019 women’s season.

“Now I feel like I really want to go back so I think it was the right decision,” she says.

“It [trail running] filled the time and kept me fit but it wasn’t the same as frisbee.

“I just can’t really replace [ultimate]. I can’t find anything better than it, so I will be going back next

‘It will change your life’

Like many of us, Ellie first began playing ultimate when she started university in Perth in 2009.

She attended orientation day and was looking for a sport or hobby other than netball, when she ran into two older students from her high school – on the ultimate stall.

“They said ‘come along and play – it will change your life’. And I thought that was pretty funny at the time,” Ellie recalls.

“I thought ‘oh yeah, I’ll give it a go’ … but it really did and it’s just been the best experience.

“I’ve met so many people. I just love the sport.”

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Ellie, who has had her fair share of setbacks along the way. She suffered a fractured collarbone while playing a mixed tournament with her university team overseas.

Then, during the selection process to make the Australian Firetails in 2015, Ellie sustained a stress fracture in her hip.

She blames “overloading” and doing “too much training, too quickly”. But the pain and inconvenience of both injuries never deterred her from playing.

Ellie has now represented Australia twice, with the Stingrays in 2013 and the Firetails in 2016, and cites winning the Dream Cup in Japan (Firetails) and playing World Clubs in 2014 (Rogue) and 2018 (Kaos) as some of her career highlights.

But playing in the inaugural AUL in 2018 almost pipped the lot.

“Oh, I loved the AUL!” Ellie laughs.

“I had the best experience and I … I mean, I knew it would be good, I don’t think I expected to have such a good time playing.”

She hadn’t played mixed competitively since 2013, and enjoyed the contribution she could make in women’s.

“But then …a after I played the AUL, I kind of questioned that whole thing, because I felt on the AUL team I had as big a role as I would have on a women’s team and I’ve never, never felt that before in mixed ultimate,” Ellie says.

“I think our team … we just had really respectful teammates, everyone was a team player, looked out for each other, respected each other, just played really well together.

“It was just the most incredible feeling to go on a field and play as though, almost like you’re speaking the same language. Like you have connections with people that you’ve never played with before but you just, because you’ve been playing this sport separately, you come together and you just kind of know. Yeah it’s really incredible. I’ve never had that before at a tournament.”

She thanked the organisers of the AUL for investing their time and efforts to create a product the ultimate community could be proud of.

“I don’t think I can sing my praises highly enough for the AUL. It’s just a really great initiative and it’s full of people who are working really, really hard behind the scenes for a greater goal of gender equality and promoting our sport in the best light that it can be seen in,” Ellie says.

“I have so much admiration for them.

“They’ve really lifted the … profile of the sport, and have just kind of given it this really kind of professional gloss, that is a testament to their hard efforts so great work by them.”

She urges younger players to seek out role models in their local leagues.

“I love playing high level ultimate but I also love playing league and I think the goal is to always enjoy going to training and … playing,” Ellie says.

“Because if you don’t enjoy playing … if you don’t have the passion to play and to train, and enjoy playing and training, then there’s no point playing high level.”

And for anyone wanting to play in the AUL one day?

“Give it your best shot, because it is so worth it.”