Player Profile: Kurt Gibson

Nothing rattles Kurt Gibson.

Not the anticipation of his first ultimate practice as a transfer student at the University of Florida. Not the pressure of a college championship game. Not a down-to-the-wire, down-to-the-last-layout high stakes pull. Not asking a cute girl out; not learning complicated salsa footwork; not having to choose his favorite boy band (Backstreet Boys). World-class athletes block out all distractions—on the field and beyond.

“When you get in the zone, you don’t even think about the game,” he said, quite calmly. “When you’re in a tight game, it gets physical, it gets aggressive. But once you get in that zone, you forget everything around you, and you just start playing.”

Sometimes Gibson does get nervous—when he feels himself tense up waiting on the O line for a pull, he’ll take a moment, say a little prayer to himself, and then he’s good to go. He only really gets anxious when injured or unable to play. He’ll pace the sidelines, feeling an unrelenting urge to help his team, but it’s part of being a true competitor.

Nothing rattles Kurt Gibson. Not even cancer.

The story of how Gibson (#20 for the San Jose Spiders) destroyed stage 3 colon cancer has become an important part of his ultimate canon, along with his litany of athletic accolades. Named Atlantic Coast freshman of the year in 2004, he was an integral part of a dominant University of Florida team that won the college championships in 2006 and was the runner up in 2008. He finished in the top three in college MVP voting twice, and after graduation was arguably one of the best ultimate players in the world.

But in August 2008, doctors diagnosed Gibson with colon cancer at age 22. After surgery removed nearly his entire colon, he underwent an aggressive chemotherapy program. He finished treatment in May 2009, roughly 25 pounds lighter, substantially weaker and strongly determined to return to the ultimate field with exactly the same level of talent and athleticism as he had left it.

“Ultimate was my passion prior to my diagnosis, during it and afterward,” Gibson said, reflecting on his recovery. “Having that goal of getting back on the field and being that player that I once was again would show that I could really beat this. As soon as I ended chemotherapy, it was like, ‘Alright Doc, When can I start lifting weights? When can I start training again?”

Gibson gave himself two months to recover, and get back to the off-the-field preparation routine that had made him a dominant player. He started by trying to gain back the weight he lost, eating a daily, normal amount of calories and hitting the gym. He talks about his post-chemotherapy recovery with the same sort of routine intensity he uses to describe any training program. Personal integrity in physical preparation is important, Gibson said, regardless of circumstance.

“If you are part of a team, you have the onus, the responsibility yourself to make yourself the best player you can be outside of the game and support your team,” Gibson said. “And if you’re not holding yourself accountable for that, you’re letting down your team.”

And Gibson came back in the biggest way possible. He began playing for Austin Doublewide in 2009, and over three years the team morphed into a top contender at club nationals. He and Doublewide peaked in 2012, winning the championship game at nationals, with Kurt claiming tournament MVP honors.

In January 2014, Gibson became the latest big name to join the AUDL, signing with the San Jose Spiders. Professional play wasn’t even on Gibson’s radar until Jim Gerencser, co-president of Early Recognition is Critical (ERIC) approached him at Lei Out. Gerenscer runs a cancer awareness organization that educates youth about cancer symptoms through ultimate Frisbee, and offered to help Gibson, who lives in Denver, play for the Spiders, in exchange for fundraising help.

Throughout the AUDL season, sponsors can sign up to pledge a set amount to ERIC for every goal or assist Gibson makes. He’s only been able to play in one game so far, but is excited for the remaining games.

“We had more than 1,000 fans at the first game, and for a regular season game, it was a phenomenal first experience—certainly more people than we have a club game,” he said. “The whole group of guys on the Spiders are great—I’ve never played with them prior, and I’m excited to play with them throughout the season. It’s a great organization, and Andrew [Zill] is a great owner who’s done a lot to bring awareness to the team and promote it in the Bay Area.”

Nothing rattles Kurt Gibson. Not regional rivals the San Francisco Flamethrowers, nor the defending AUDL champion Toronto Rush.

Well… there might be something.

“Honestly, even if something did, I couldn’t tell you, because then my opponents would know, and they would try to use that to beat me. So let’s just say nothing rattles me.”

For more information on ERIC and to sign up to pledge for each Kurt Gibson goal or assist, visit www.earlyrecognitioniscritical.org. If you want to hear more of Kurt’s story in his own words, check out this video.

- Caitlin Cieslik-Miskimen and Adam Ruffner