>> from the Ageless Journey, a feature story in the summer issue of Ageless NB
Rob McLeod is a native of Woodstock and currently holds six Guinness World Records. Now in Calgary, Rob has spent the last 10 years pursuing his passion for Frisbee, competing, teaching and growing the sport. Rob currently holds six Guinness World Records, 10 World Championships and the Canadian Distance Record. The road to success wasn’t easy. Rob endured bullying as a child, and when his mother died, he struggled again to find his way. He now speaks to youth across the country in hopes of inspiring others to dream big and dare to be different. This is his story.
I was born in Edmonton, Alberta in 1982. My family moved to Woodstock in 1984 for my father’s work. My sister was born in 1985, so a big part of my childhood was being the older brother. Both of my parents were very athletic – my dad in football and my mom in golf – so it was only natural that I played sports from a young age. I started swimming before I could walk, and I began skating lessons just after I learned how to walk. My parents didn’t have a lot of money, but figure skating and swimming were fairly inexpensive since there wasn’t a lot of equipment involved, unlike other sports like hockey.
As a young boy, I was teased for being a figure skater. I never competed, but other boys would see me at the rink when they were there to play hockey. Many made fun of me. As I got older, I started teaching younger kids how to skate. I loved teaching kids how to glide on the ice, and it became my favourite part of figure skating. The hockey bullies at the time didn’t care about the impact I was having and kept teasing.
I continued to teach and work on my figure skating skills. The bullying spilled over to the school playground one day when a large group of kids taunted me for being a figure skater. I started to cry and ran inside. That fall, I quit figure skating and started playing hockey.
Because I was a hockey player, I automatically became a part of what was considered the “in” crowd. For the next seven years, I played Peewee and Bantam AAA hockey. I was also a part of the high school AA provincial champion Woodstock Warriors in grade 11 & 12.
After high school, I went to the University of Alberta. To stay in shape, I jogged, but I also bought an ultimate disc thinking this could be something else I could do for exercise. I didn’t know much about the sport. This was before social media or online communities existed. It wasn’t easy to learn the different ways to throw a Frisbee, and there wasn’t much information about the various disc sports I could play. I was able to find a basic website that had a pretty simple article teaching how to throw the two most basic throws and used this website as my starting point. It became a form of meditation, an escape from the grueling work and material I was learning in my first-year of engineering. For those first eight months, I threw because I didn’t have anyone else to throw with.
At the end of my school year, I returned home. I was so excited to be back in New Brunswick for the summer because I had missed my family terribly. I was also looking forward to going to Dalhousie University in Halifax, as I had decided that it was too hard being so far away from home.
Two weeks after my return, my mom had a heart attack and died. That was May 17, 2001, just four days after my family had played a round of golf for Mother’s Day. To say that my mother’s death was hard would be an extreme understatement. It was the worst thing that could happen to me. I did not handle it very well, and I quickly closed myself off to the possibility of any relationships for fear of losing someone I cared about. I went into self-protect mode. It was in this space where I turned to Frisbee.
I spent hours practicing throwing and in September 2001, during the first week at Dal, I saw a sign for the university’s Ultimate team. I joined the group. Little did I realize that this first step would be life changing for me. Over the next for years, ultimate Frisbee (and disc golf with an ultimate disc) became the way I began to grieve, process and understand the impact of the loss of my mom.
The first two years at Dalhousie were spent understanding the sport, getting cut from the A team, and developing friendships. I learned to throw far, I learned how to design websites, and edit video, I learned how to teach throwing, as well as manage and coach a team. Most importantly, I learned about myself in the process. Those first years laid the foundation for what I’m doing now.
Ten years ago, I moved to Calgary for three reasons: ultimate Frisbee, a girl and a job. After three months, I no longer had a girl or the job, but I decided to stay for the game. Over the next few years, I would bounce around between jobs and school and traveling all over Western Canada, competing in ultimate tournaments. I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I did know that I was good at Frisbee, and I wanted to play as much of it as possible.
In 2010, a good friend introduced me to disc golf discs. Up to that point, I had only ever played disc golf with ultimate discs, which is a much different and less exciting experience. Golf discs have so many more possibilities related to how they fly. Being introduced to golf discs changed the way I looked at Frisbee and elevated my throwing to a whole new level. In the summer of 2011, I was invited to the World Overall Flying Disc Championships in Colorado by a former world champion. An overall competition is exactly like a heptathlon in track and field, but with seven different disc sports. I met some of the original Frisbee innovators from the 70’s, and many have since become my close friends and mentors.
In August 2011, I set my first World Record, which was also my first record with Davy Whippet. Davy is a six and a half year old Whippet dog, owned by good friends in Edmonton. That started a very wonderful relationship, and since that first event in August 2011, Davy and I have set two Guinness World Records. We have also won four World Championships and two Quadruped titles in dog distance competition. I remember the first time I saw my name on the website with the title World Record beside it. A switch flipped inside me. It was the first time in my life where I felt that anything was possible. However, I knew there was still a lot of learning to be done.
In 2013, I was fired from a good paying job that I didn’t love. On nice days, I would dream of being outside playing disc golf, or throwing and catching my own throw, something called self-caught flight. Being fired was hard on the ego, and was also a financial blow, but that horrible event turned out to be the best thing that happened to me. I had gotten much more involved in Frisbee, and it was only a matter of time before it took over as my full time job. Being fired gave me the push I needed to fully commit to Frisbee and start down the path I am still on today.
Those first few months without steady work were terrifying, though. There were times when all I had left at the end of the day was $5, and I had to choose between buying milk or putting gas in my car. I quickly learned that $5 would take me 50km. I chose gas a lot of times because it allowed me to drive to locations and play Frisbee.
I began speaking about my experiences. I love talking to kids about being unique, and embracing their differences. I encourage them to find out what they love and support others who are doing the same. I travel to schools regularly, speaking to large groups of students, and doing Frisbee demonstrations. I’m also working on a children’s book about how to deal with bullying in fun and helpful ways. The book is called The Davy Rule and will be published in the fall.
It’s been hard working through the emotions that come from losing someone you love but looking back I know these experiences helped create the man I am today. I continually strive to improve myself and inspire those around me through my words and actions. I believe that life is about finding your purpose, finding your passion, and going for it. It’s also about never settling, not giving up, moving forward and sharing what you’ve learned on the journey. My mom was my biggest fan, and my only regret is that she wasn’t able to see me play Frisbee, and see me finally find my purpose.