A SMALL POND

Written by Jennifer Hoar

Pushing yourself to train and play at the highest level of your sport would be a challenge for most people.

But when you live 15 hours by car from the nearest capital city, the task becomes infinitely harder.

That’s life for Brisbane Breaker Kat Smith, who is part of the Firetails’ Asia-Oceanic Ultimate Championship campaign and a soon-to-be four-time Australian representative, all the while working as a physiotherapist in Townsville, Queensland.

But she’s not one to complain.

“Because it’s such a small community, it’s quite a small pond so in terms of getting competition and training and really making it effective you do have to travel to play high quality teams,” Kat says.

“It can be quite expensive to get out of Townsville in terms of flights and I think some of the Nationals players who came up for Nationals this year would agree that it is expensive to get in and out. That’s one of the main barriers to participation and high level ultimate.

“It’s about a 2 hour flight from Brisbane to Townsville … but I always feel bad complaining because I know some players are from Perth and they face a pretty tough challenge as well.

“One of the best things about Townsville frisbee is that the community is very, very close … there’s a really great vibe here, everyone knows everyone so it’s a really lovely place to play frisbee.”

Not always easy

Kat started playing ultimate at the University of Queensland back in 2012 and has gone on to play at the highest level.

She has represented Australia in both women’s and mixed, winning bronze with the Australian U24 Women’s team in 2018 after falling agonisingly short of a medal in 2015. She snagged silver with the Barramundis in 2016, and will soon play with the Firetails at the AOUC in Shanghai.

Kat was also a part of the Asia-Oceanic All-Stars’ 2018 tour, which kicked off in Cincinnati after the World Club Championships and saw the side play teams in Philadelphia, New York and Washington to name a few.

“It was just an incredible vibe because you live and breathe frisbee and you’re touring with … Japanese, Indian, Malaysian and New Zealand players as well as us Australians,” she remembers.

“It was really a combination of very diverse teams and it was lovely to meet some of them and get to play some of the different styles of ultimate than we get used to.”

While obviously driven, Kat admits playing at such a high level hasn’t always been easy.

Her biggest challenge has been figuring out the place frisbee occupies in her life, and says having friends outside the sport has helped keep her grounded.

“Frisbee can be this all encompassing force and sometimes you’ve got to remember that you actually have a life outside,” Kat says.

“Especially with university that was always a big push and pull – which was more important: physio or frisbee? I think it’s always been a bit of a battle juggling that love of frisbee, that requirement or uni and work, and life.

“I feel like there’s no one strategy for any one person that works well, but I think one of the things that helped me was … really trying to align yourself with people who have similar values to you, like working hard, getting stuff you need to do done, and try to keep a perspective.

“I think it’s very valuable having friends that don’t play frisbee because sometimes you get so pulled into this world that you think that everybody is flying to Sydney or Melbourne every other weekend for a training camp and that’s not actually the case very often!

“So yeah that perspective is always good, I think.”

Boosting women

While striving to perform at our sports’ highest level, Kat is also helping to drive the growth of the sport at Queensland Ultimate’s Regional Development Officer.

She’s especially passionate about getting more women involved.

But with 1 in 2 Australian girls dropping out of organised sport by the age of 15, Kat knows ultimate is not the only sport facing an uphill battle. 

“I think women in sport has always been an issue … it’s just incredibly hard to keep women interested in that level of competitive sport,” she says.

“I think we see it in frisbee quite a bit, especially with the normal ratios or 4:3 gender split, it just, in my mind it just encourages more me than women in sport.”

She says “that’s the beauty of the AUL” in terms of equal participation, and thinks “that’s a really powerful idea”.

“I know up in Townsville here, building confidence in the women up here is always very important,” Kat says.

“Trying to make sure that they feel safe and secure, and they don’t get looked off by the guys and stuff – that’s very important.”

Boosting the profile

There was a lot of excitement around the inaugural AUL season, with the streamed games and live final especially gaining a following among younger, university level players.

But it was also an exciting experience for the players who – despite being some of the finest players our country has ever produced – had their uniform and flight costs paid for the first time.

“You feel like a professional,” Kat says.

“It’s incredibly exciting and I think a lot of people want that, a lot of people want frisbee to be taken seriously and we want people to know what it is.

“The whole process of turning frisbee into an elite league, making frisbee more competitive and really bringing it into the public eye … it’s an opportunity to bring frisbee more into the community.

“I think it’s very powerful and it can have quite an impressive future.”