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By: Ming Sun

Players of ultimate, better known as ultimate frisbee, typically have a “main” job as the sport doesn’t pay very well. Still, some athletes strive to make a career out of the sport. AJ Merriman is one of said players. The 23-year-old is considered by many to be one of the best ultimate players in the world, but his pursuit is not an easy one.

A full-time ultimate player is almost constantly traveling to play games and plan for the future. This is a lifestyle that Rowan McDonnell, the captain of the D.C. Breeze, the team that Merriman is also on, knows well. The 34-year-old was one of the first stars in the 11 years history of the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) that pursued ultimate as a full-time profession (The Washington Post). According to McDonnell, his journey had been hard, and he doesn’t want Merriman to “go through that same grind” (The Washington Post). The two athletes have a similar schedule of training and coaching, and even though their salaries are on the rise, neither is without financial hardship. Merriman’s mother, Nancy Merriman, helps her son with expenses like groceries, and teammates on the Breeze share a row home in Washington’s Bloomingdale neighborhood (The Washington Post). “He has learned to live without making a lot of money,” said Nancy (The Washington Post).

According to Nancy, Merriman struggled with mental health issues until he started playing ultimate. He was almost not able to play, because historically, club teams that charge their athletes thousands of dollars were prioritized over AUDL teams, like the team that Merriman is on (The Washington Post). Although these clubs offer scholarships that lower the cost, they are only available for people in the inner circles. Merriman was not in one of these circles when he started, and the high cost nearly kept him out. Wanting to help others that shared his passion for the sport, he prioritized the growth of the professional league instead. “The better the pro leagues are, the more opportunities there are for kids who don’t have the money to pay for club seasons every summer,” he said (The Washington Post).

Merriman also faced the challenge of not fitting in. Ultimate is an upper-class sport played by mostly white people, and Merriman is a person of color from a less wealthy family. It also didn’t help that Merriman plays very physically, and although that is technically legal, it is taboo according to unspoken customs. Merriman has used his career to help break the archetype that had previously kept players out of the sport. These changes will hopefully make opportunities available to more people and make the world a better place.

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