Yes it was a sports award, no it wasn’t badminton, and no it wasn’t for playing.
I won the #1 Fan for the Xiamen Ultimate Frisbee Bailu Team! I can almost hear some of you laughing but let me ‘splain how awesome it is.
We had the year end party recently. I should say that last year, at this same party, I had few friends. I had arrived in Xiamen only a few months before, and besides my co-workers and a few others, I didn’t know many people. Yet, it was the MOST FUN party of my entire year in Xiamen and I consider it the start of my social life.
The team is made up of a very diverse group of people: foreigners, Chinese, college kids, recent grads, and “old” folks like myself. (Right now the oldest player is in his mid 40’s, the youngest 13.) We all live in different parts of Xiamen, all have different kinds of jobs, and different social circles, yet we come together every week to play and to hang out.
So, fast forward to this year. Since it was the year end party, the coach likes to give out awards. It was a traditions he started only last year but will continue annually from now on.
They had ten awards, and the captain, co-captain and coach took turns introducing each prize. While the coach and captain are foreigners, most of the players are Chinese and everything was done speaking Chinese. Each award was begun with a vague “the next category is for the Most Improved. This player has changed a lot and….” They purposely didn’t say “he” or “she” or give away any specific detail so all of us were kept guessing during the introductions. Then, when the name was announced at the end, we would all nod in agreement and clap, finally understanding who was winning the award.
That worked for the other awards like “Most Committed,” “Best Leader” and “MVP – male and female” because several people could fit into each category as the team is all dedicated, leaders etc. But when the Outstanding Fan category was nominated everyone knew who it would be. There really was no contest. As the Captain, Will, said in the introduction, Xiamen Bailu doesn’t have a lot of fans but there is one dedicated one who comes each week, and constantly promotes Ultimate in class, on Facebook and blogs. As he was speaking, people kept turning to me and smiling.
Will said my name and I got up in front of all of them, took pictures with the coach, captain and vice-captain and gave a short speech in Chinese.
“I’m not a fan of frisbee,” I said. “But I’m a fan of you. I come because of you.”
And it’s true! See, once a week (sometimes twice) I go to Ultimate practice in my team jersey, throw a frisbee around for a few minutes, then sit down and watch. I’ve been doing it every week for a year. And I never miss a tournament. I tried playing, a long, long time ago, but I really hurt myself (tore my calf muscle and couldn’t walk proper for months) and I haven’t had any desire to play since then.
And I know it’s weird. It’s downright nerdy. If I had no friends or a boring life maybe it would make more sense. But I have plenty of friends and lots of stuff to do, yet I always make time for frisbee. During practice I am often by myself on the sidelines, watching everyone else play. I am not only the #1 fan, but the #1 most behaved fan because I purposely don’t bother them (I don’t want to be a distraction), so I am quiet.
I don’t know strategy or game play nor pretend to (I’m a fan, not a poser) so I don’t know if they are in proper formation and can’t give advice. But I do actually sit an watch them. I don’t sit and play on my phone and wait for them to finish. I like watching them. I’ve been watching carefully, and for so long now, that I really see their skills increasing and their on-fields personalities grow and work together as a team. While I don’t know the strategy behind what they are doing, I now see the team moving in a methodical way they didn’t a year ago. And I’ve seen some players that kinda ran around unsure now run (faster) with more confidence. While Bailu might not be the top team in China, they are the top-hearted team, giving it all during practice, even when the temperature is over 100 or when they’ve been at it for hours with no break.
But, of course, the fun stuff comes in all the time we spend off the field. We’ve gone camping, eaten countless dinners and had more than a few late nights together. I’ve seen team members get married, have babies, get together and break up. It’s that cliche about a team being a family, and in our case it’s true. When members are sick, or having problems, the team is always there for them and willing to help them out, in any way they can. (Especially the co-captain Waiwai, who is somehow knows the exact way to fix most problems, or if she can’t, the exact words to say to make you feel better about it.)
But if we are a family, I’m the crazy aunt that’s not blood related and everyone wonders how I got an invite to the Christmas table. I’m not a member of the team. I don’t high five during a game with my teammates, or know the dirty exhaustion of post-tournament. I don’t even show up on time, usually arriving a few hours after they begin practices. (I like to watch the games, not the drills.) And with my low level fluency a lot of what they say in Chinese goes right over my head. Basically I’m the perennial outsider. (Story of my life, eh?)
So that’s why this award is so meaningful to me. Because they didn’t have to give me one. I mean, they only had 10 awards for the whole team and there are players who deserve one way more than I do. But, the fact that they did means they care about me. That they consider me a member of the team, despite my strange status, and somehow, I matter to them. It’s important to hear that sometimes.
(This is a cross post with my other blog: Badminton Becky)