Frisbee, Obsession, and My Wild Youth


“The history of Ultimate Frisbee had not yet been written by one who was there, there for the ugly, early, drunken days when men first turned to themselves and one another and asked whether a modified form of football could be played using flying discs, and answered, ‘Yes!,’ or didn’t answer, just started playing it, running and drinking and diving. Gessner has come for the game that made him great. Read it.” —John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead
Ultimate Glory: Frisbee, Obsession and My Wild Youth. Riverhead. 2017.
“An exploration of the questing desires of the young heart, ‘Ultimate Glory’ should be recommended reading for every college student. A 20-something, unsure whether to listen to the yearnings of the soul, might find answers in Gessner’s chase of a flying plastic disc.”
The Washington Post
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“David Gessner spent 20 years of his youth in the game’s thrall, and he revisits them in “Ultimate Glory: Frisbee, Obsession, and My Wild Youth,” a joyous memoir that explains how “a 175-gram plastic disc” tempered his character and fate. Along the way we get marijuana, psychotropic mushrooms, sex, angst, friendships, cultural commentary, testicular cancer and lots of beer. The word Frisbee “is a hard one to take seriously,” Mr. Gessner admits. But his book is substantial, bearing comparison to William Finnegan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning surfing memoir, ‘Barbarian Days’ (2015).
The Wall Street Journal
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Gessner reflects with honesty and humor on his dedication to the sport of Ultimate Frisbee. He describes the sport’s ragtag culture as well as his annual quest for a national championship during his formative 20s in the mid-1980s. Gessner defends Ultimate’s anti-sport ethos but uses traditional sport themes, such as clutch performance, training regimes, and tournament drama. The book could have been tightened to more succinctly describe his musings on the idealistic and conflicting “Spirit of the Game” philosophy and the ambivalent effect of Ultimate on his behavior, relationships, and, most intriguingly, a writing career in desperate need of a jump start. What saves the book is, in Ultimate parlance, Gessner’s ability to “lay out” (to dive while making a catch): he is honest, especially in his observation of how he’s matured since his Frisbee days. He also remains entertainingly unrepentant about a decade spent in the throes of a game that itself was evolving beyond its carefree image. Gessner nicely captures the persistent pursuit of greatness in the face of doubt and failure.

A memoir of obsession, glory, and the wild early days of Ultimate Frisbee

"Think of "Ultimate Glory" as a mock version of William Finnegan's "Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life," even down to the sunfaded oranges and browns of its cover design, where the tone is scrappier, sillier, and even more stoned, though just as reflective as Finnegan." --Baltimore's Real Paper

Before he made a name for himself as a writer, David Gessner devoted his twenties to a cultish sport called Ultimate Frisbee. Like his teammates and rivals, he trained for countless hours, sacrificing his body and potential career for a chance at fleeting glory without fortune or fame. His only goal: to win Nationals and go down in Ultimate history as one of the greatest athletes no one has ever heard of.

With humor and raw honesty Gessner explores what it means to devote one's life to something that many consider ridiculous. Today, Ultimate is played by millions, but in the 1980s, it was an obscure sport with a (mostly) undeserved stoner reputation. Its early heroes were as scrappy as the sport they loved, driven by fierce competition, intense rivalries, epic parties, and the noble ideals of the Spirit of the Game.

Ultimate Glory is a portrait of the artist as a young ruffian. Gessner shares the field and his seemingly insane obsession with a cast of closely knit, larger-than-life characters. As his sport grows up, so does he, and eventually he gives up chasing flying discs to pursue a career as a writer. But he never forgets his love for this misunderstood sport and the rare sense of purpose he attained as a member of its priesthood.

"Even if I watched him play, I wouldn't be able to tell you if David Gessner is any good at Ultimate Frisbee. But the man can write, and this homage to his oddball sport is rich with life's joys, sorrows and universal truths." —Dan Shaughnessy, New York Times bestselling co-author of Francona


“Gessner reflects with honesty and humor on his dedication to the sport of Ultimate Frisbee. . . [He] remains entertainingly unrepentant about a decade spent in the throes of a game that itself was evolving beyond its carefree image. Gessner nicely captures the persistent pursuit of greatness in the face of doubt and failure.” —Publishers Weekly

My Outside magazine profile of Beau Kittredge is now on newstands.

My Harvard team in '79

TK to K!

Some unknown later players

The author of Ultimate Glory involved in a friendly discourse with the director of Flatball.
As featured in Outside magazine.

GLORY DAYS PHOTOS by Stuart Beringer

From Ultimate Glory:

Though Ultimate players still sometimes wore beads and funny hats and grew their hair long, it slowly was becoming clear that there was something else, something decidedly less groovy, going on out on those fields, something that most didn't acknowledge. It may sound oxymoronic, but there was such a thing as "Ultimate ambition.” The people who played the sport wanted not only to win, but to be considered great at what they did, not just in their own eyes but in the eyes of other players. It was the pursuit of fame, really, though a fame closer to the ancient Greeks than People magazine, existing only among the bands of players from around the country who, re-telling stories of great players and great plays, created the oral tradition through which, in those dark days before iPhones, the sport was remembered.


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