Cooking 3,900 meals for 1,300 Ultimate athletes. Clothing optional


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I am thoroughly and utterly exhausted. Outta gas. Kaput. Every bone in my body aches. Cuts, bruises and burns cover my hands and wrists. Put a fork in me. I’m done. That’s what cooking 3,900 meals to 1,300 Ultimate Frisbee players in 27 hours will do to you. That’s what cooking 30,000 meals to 10,000 athletes spanning 18 consecutive 1st weekends in June will do to your body. Wake me up next week.

The last time I can recall this type of exertion induced immotility of total debilitation was in January of 1989, upon descending from Mt. Kilimanjaro after a successful summit of Uhuru Peak. My travelling partner Daniel Gwartz (former Ultimate Frisbee Zoyds teammate) and I walked into the Moshi Hotel for a post-climb celebratory beer only to be woken hours later by the bartender, who graciously let us sleep for who knows how long, having simultaneously fallen asleep at some point during libation number two. When the cooking marathon in Fergus was mercifully over I returned to Toronto on Sunday afternoon, sat down at my computer to look through five days of missed e-mails, only to wake up two hours later sprawled out across my 11-year old’s bed. Many of the players felt the same way.

Participating teams at the Gender Blender 2013 (Photo: Swingers Ultimate)

The town of Fergus, Ontario currently lists its population at 19,241. The first weekend of June 2013 saw 1,300 Ultimate Frisbee players roll into town for the 17th annual and final Gender Blender Tournament, effectively causing a seven per cent occupancy rate increase to a quiet little town. The “GB” has been organized and flawlessly executed each year since 2008 by Blue McClellan of The Ultimate Experience. Though the event is only being recognized as having first been played in 1997, there were in fact two unofficial Gender Blenders previously played in 1995 and 1996.

Every year since 1995 I have prepped, cooked for and fed upwards of 800 Ultimate Frisbee players. The 2013 tournament, announced as having been the last, was by far the largest Ontario zodiac gathering of the most spirited athletes on the planet. Fergus is a quaint and upscale hamlet in Wellington County on the picturesque Grand River, just upstream from the Elora Gorge. The GB tournament alters the town’s ‘smallville,’ Cooperstown-like landscape and could best be described as Burning Man meets the World Cup. It’s a carnival, circus, music festival and high-level sporting competition all rolled into one. If you’ve never seen top-tier Ultimate Frisbee in action then you’ve deprived yourself of witnessing the speed, agility, grace, power, impossible athleticism and most of all, spirit, that defines the sport. In fact, you can watch some of the best Ultimate players in action this coming summer at the WFDF Under 23 World Ultimate Championships 2013.

Once upon a time I played Ultimate Frisbee. While I was certainly no All-Star, I could find my way around a flick, backhand, hammer, force, poach and even a sizzling bacon. Unfortunately, one week before that first event back in ’95, I tore my ACL, effectively ending my Ultimate playing days. I cooked that first Gender Blender for 125 on crutches. The Zoyds were a pretty good team. We were even better at having fun and thanks to the passion and personality of our captain Patrick van der Valk, together we helped to develop and foster the concept of the spirit of the game. Patrick is currently the Chairperson of the Spirit of the Game Subcommittee of the World Flying Disc Federation.

Google “spirit of the game” and note that seven of the first ten entries are related to Ultimate. There are no referees in the amateur game. Players govern themselves. Points are awarded for good sportsmanship. The competition does not suffer as a result. Watch good teams play and you’ll get it. Then there’s Fergus. For one weekend only, the fields, campsites and general vicinity of the Wellington County Sportsplex turn into an Alice in Wonderland set, complete with team-erected structures (marked by totems and idols with erections), an apparatus built here for swinging and there for sliding. Clothing is optional, as is sleep, impromptu concerts and skits pop-up through the night and bragging rights go to best costumes, encampment engineering and winner of the party.

Ultimate Frisbee; clothing optional (Photo: stephkimmerle/Instagram)

Meanwhile, there I am cooking away, 12 hours a day for five straight in the Fergus Community Centre kitchen. I’m told there was a roar of applause for my catering team in the main tent on Saturday night. We were oblivious, passed out and trying to get 5 hours of shut-eye in preparation of cooking something like 2500 pancakes and an equal number of sausages on Sunday morning. I thank the Ultimate community for their generosity and kindness of spirit. It has always been a pleasure to feed you.

Cooking for 1,300 is as physically demanding an endeavour as you will ever take on. I am proud to call myself a warrior and a survivor. I’m not as young as I used to be and while I am still too tired to appreciate the accomplishment, I know I done good.

RIP GB (Photo: Mike Gregus)

The long road to 2013 saw many hands take part in the 18 year success of the Gender Blender. The organizers; Dan, Mark, Giles, Karen, Dilhan and Blue. The cooks; Michael (me), Eric, Lauren, Jeffrey, Eric, Kelly, Sabrina, Diana, Annick, Monica, Fred, Vera, Christine, Eva, Lucy, Pamela, Chris and Josie. The staff; Johnny, George, John, David, Tracey, Luisa, Andrea, Nicole, James, Susi, Matthew, Clinton, Mike, Susanna, Astrid, Caitlin, Drew and Nick. Thank you for your dedication, work ethic and perseverance.

Here was the final Gender Blender dinner menu, in all its glory:

Tofu, Squash, Sweet Potato Ratatouille,  miso, ginger, honey, chile glaze

Chinese Chicken Soup, pork wontons, bok choy, scallion

Chicken and Beef Enchiladas, pulled chicken and beef chuck, mild chile, enchilada sauce

Steamed Corn on the Cob, warm garlic butter

Legumes Salad, green beans, snap peas, chick peas, candy beets, fennel, lemon-orange vinaigrette Padano parmesan

Penne Pasta, tomato, garlic sauce, herbs and Italian sausage ragu

Caesar Salad, croutons, Caesar dressing

Good to go!

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