By the time he’d finished high school, Rob McLeod had become adept at a wide variety of sports.
“Hockey, soccer, rugby, baseball, track and field,” says the 29-year-old Calgarian, “you name it, I played it.”
When he arrived at the University of Alberta to study engineering a decade ago, then, McLeod was stunned to discover there was one sport he’d never heard of.
“I saw a bunch of guys throwing around a disc,” he says, careful to note that Frisbee, the moniker those pie-shaped contraptions are best known by, is a trademarked brand name. “I went out and bought my first disc right after that.”
Although like most kids, he’d played with a Frisbee before, this was the first time McLeod had seen it used for something other than as child’s play or to exercise a dog.
“There was skill and athleticism involved,” he says. “I could see it was a real challenge.”
McLeod signed up for Ultimate, the team sport of the diehard disc adherents. He also started throwing his new disc in a field near his aunt and uncle’s home nearly every evening, working on his technique and strength.
He got good, really good: last month, McLeod set a new Quadruped World Record at the Houston Quadruped in Texas, when he threw his disc more than 92 metres — almost the length of a football field — right to the jaws of his teammate Davy Whippet, who hails from the eponymous canine breed famed for clocking speeds of up to 60 km/h.
McLeod and Davy, the first Canadian team ever to win the Xtreme Distance World Championships in Tennessee last September, also hold the World Record in the Skyhoundz Men’s Classic Plastic division, with a throw of 84 metres.
Not only that, McLeod was recently recognized as a Guinness World Record holder for, as he says with a chuckle, “most cans hit in a minute.” McLeod hit 28 cans from a distance of five metres.
“They flew me to China to try and break the record,” he says, noting he didn’t achieve the feat on the Guinness-sponsored show with a viewership of 50 million.
“It was live TV, I was nervous and didn’t have the right discs,” he says. “I did it when I got home and videotaped it for proof.”
Though he may be one of the world’s best, McLeod is far from alone in his love for a sport that has been growing in leaps and bounds the past couple of decades.
Ultimate, the team disc sport created in the 1960s by a group of Ivy League students, has been hailed by many as the sport of the future. The non-contact passing game now boasts close to 50,000 players across Canada, with leagues in more than 44 cities; the U.S. counts more than four million passionate players of the game.
Today, you can find international championships as far afield as Italy and Japan, not to mention grassroots competitions all across Canada. Disc golf, in which individual players throw a disc at a target on a golf-style course, is now played in more than 40 countries around the world.
McLeod plays both Ultimate and disc golf, along with being among the elite players whose skills are worthy of world competitions.
The Quadruped — with its trademarked slogan “Abusing Gravity on a Regular Basis” — is a competition in which humans and their dog teammates compete in such events as disc distance throwing and freestyle.
When he’s not practicing, travelling around the continent competing or holding throwing clinics (http://www.ultimaterob.com), McLeod spends his days working for World Health. He also works out in the World Health gym five days a week: “I do a lot of power sets, making sure I have strong legs and core, as well as flexibility.”
No matter what he’s up to, though, McLeod also makes sure to give a plug to the sport he describes as much about spirituality as it is physicality. “When you throw a disc, it slides, it’s not a slave to gravity,” he says. “It’s just an incredible thing to watch.”
While his sport still has a long way to go as far as public awareness and corporate sponsorship are concerned, McLeod says he’s grateful for the little things.
“I received 100 free discs for breaking the world record,” he says with a chuckle. “I go to dog parks and give some away and keep the others for Davy. He bites through a lot of discs.”