The Ultimate High Flyer

Wendy Betteridge, 4 July 2013

For the uninitiated, Ultimate is just another name for throwing a Frisbee, except that this is a serious sport and there’s a lot of skill involved.

Miriam Burke is a young woman from Porirua who played soccer at Tawa College until she left when she was 17. She’s friendly and gregarious but realised that the only people she knew well were all the people at her school but not many outside of it.

Since she started playing ‘Frisbee’ about 4-5 years ago, she has got to know – at least by sight if not by name - every Ultimate player in New Zealand who plays in tournaments, such is the community spirit that the sport evokes.

Ultimate focuses on spirit much more than on winning. It is self-refereed which means that if two people put their hands on the disc simultaneously, they have to negotiate who can actually claim to have got there first. They talk about it and if no agreement is reached, the disc goes back to where it was thrown from.

Ultimate is a non-contact sport. It’s a little bit like netball, in that you can’t run when you’re holding the disc, but it’s also a bit like American football because, in order to score, you have to catch the disc behind the base line within the ‘end zone’ (rather like the area behind the posts in rugby).

Ultimate involves lots of running, but if you’re not the fastest runner, you can still enjoy the sport. The secret is to learn to throw. Ultimate can be played outside on large sports fields in which case there are seven people in a team.

On smaller fields there are five on each side and it can also be played indoors when there are four in each team. For example, it is played on the basketball court at Te Rauparaha Arena in Porirua.

A game generally lasts 60 minutes for the indoor games and between 60 and 90 minutes for the outdoor games but finishes when the first team reaches 17 points. There are, however, lots of rules associated with the time keeping.

For Miriam, the sport has brought her four obvious benefits.

  1. She is keeping fit.
  2. She is learning something new – always developing new skills
  3. She is meeting people
  4. She is having fun.

Miriam’s guiding light has always been her Mum. She finds her an awe-inspiring role model. Her mother, Mary More, is the principal at The Law Store in Porirua and she does a tremendous amount for the community.

It only occurred to Miriam a few years ago that this level of community help was not the norm – not everyone helped others as much as her Mum does. So when it was suggested to her that she might be able to get involved with coaching Ultimate, she got in touch with Samuel Marsden College in Whitby. She discovered that that they didn’t know how to play and they didn’t have a coach so she offered to go and help them out.

In addition to this, she also coaches twice a week in primary schools in Wellington and reckons that they can all catch and throw a Frisbee better than she could when she started. And – she also helps to lead a youth group in Tawa. The kids there are also learning how to play Ultimate.

Miriam achieved a BA at Victoria, gaining a major in English literature and a minor in Spanish. She is fluent in Spanish having spent eleven months in Peru. In fact, Miriam does translating for her mother at The Law Store. When she has finished the formal translating, she loves the opportunity to speak in Spanish to her mother’s clients who are really glad of the opportunity to speak freely to a New Zealander in their own language. She loves languages and is about to leave New Zealand to spend two and a half months in France, going to a French Immersion School to learn the literature and language. Before she gets there, however, she’s going to put her toe into Spain, a country she has never visited, even though she speaks the language fluently.

But before she reaches Europe, Miriam is going to Toronto, Canada to compete in the World Ultimate Under-23 Championships which are being held there from 22-28 July. She is part of the New Zealand Under-23 Women’s team and a men’s team from New Zealand is also competing. The Under-23 squad consists of only 17 players which is a relatively small number in the scheme of things. Substitutes can be put in only after a point is scored and can be substituted in and out several times during a game. The team is coached by Sherif Ibrahim who has represented New Zealand and competed in the World Championship in Japan last year. Next year a Club World Championship will take place in Italy and Miriam will be trying out for the team known as Artemis. Artemis is a Wellington club which Miriam was part of when they won the national championships this year (Miriam is top left in this photo).

Miriam has played with eight different Ultimate teams and clubs and because of the spirit within teams, this doesn’t present any problems. Girls are especially sought after in the sport because mixed teams have to contain at least two girls – it can’t be all guys. And Miriam makes sure she puts everything she’s got into every game.

When this Ultimate High Flyer returns to New Zealand, she wants to go to Teacher Training College in Karori. In her spare time she plans to build up an Ultimate community in Porirua involving all the schools. There is already an interschool competition in the Hutt and Miriam would like to organise something similar in Porirua. Whetu Campbell is the junior development coordinator for Ultimate. He has set up a schools’ league, based in the Hutt, and he helps to coach in primary schools. Bekah Neal living in Camborne was also involved in the ‘schools’ programme and coordinated with PE teachers at schools to arrange and hold coaching sessions and organise coaches. It was Bekah who got Miriam involved in coaching and she has been helping Miriam to realise her goal in Porirua.

Meanwhile, although Miriam missed it because she had already left for Toronto, there was an Ultimate Flying Disc Sports Tournament at the ASB Arena in Kilbirnie on 7 July from 9.0-5.0. It was called Indoorpendence because it took place indoors as close to American Independence Day as possible! As with other tournaments, anyone was welcome to wander in and take a look at any time during the day. Anyone wanting to follow this exciting sport can check it out on

In addition to her studies and setting up an interschool competition for Ultimate in Porirua, Miriam has volunteered to help the e-Learning Trust next time they run a Computers in Homes course for Columbian Refugees. She welcomes any and every opportunity to use her Spanish language skills and the refugees will doubtless welcome her help. It’s just as well she can run fast. She’s going to be very busy.


The Ultimate High Flyer

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