June 30, 2020
By Evan Lepler - "Disc In" Interview Series Archive
Three years ago, Zach Theodore made AUDL history, delivering an unprecedented performance that should define of the rest of his life. On May 7, 2017, he finished the Los Angeles Aviators 23-18 win over Vancouver with three goals, one assist, and one halftime marriage proposal, which his then-girlfriend, Evie, joyously accepted. As far as I know, no other professional ultimate player has ever experienced a gameday quite like that.
Amazingly, he kept his future wife and all of his teammates entirely in the dark about his plans to pop the question, only getting assistance from Aviators Co-Owner James Park, who helped organized a halftime ceremony to thank the team’s statisticians, including Evie. He handed her a disc and flipped it over so she could read the bottom, where he had written, “Evie, will you marry me?” She quickly said yes and accepted the revealed ring, as fans and players all cheered wildly in support of the new engagement.
This bold gesture was even more incredible when you realize that Theodore describes himself as an introvert. Furthermore, being a member of a professional ultimate team and having the platform for this type of magnificent gesture was far from a given for a guy who was initially cut from the Aviators prior to the team’s inaugural 2015 season. He was only offered a spot after-the-fact when it became clear that several of the other players would be unavailable for certain games. Nonetheless, he made his AUDL debut in LA’s second game and proceeded to play in 12 of the team’s final 13 games that season. Five years later, Theodore has competed in 69 out of a possible 74 games, the most of any player in Aviators franchise history.
Over the past four years, Theodore has been one of the breakout stars for a team that has averaged 10 wins a year and advanced to four consecutive postseasons. Individually, he has produced more than 23 goals and 17 blocks per season throughout his five-year career, becoming as steady a primary D-line performer as the West Division has seen in its history. Among players who have only competed in the West, Theodore ranks third all-time with 86 blocks, trailing only Steven Milardovich and Jeff Silverman. Of course, Theodore is also a lefty, and Jay Froude is the only fellow southpaw in AUDL history who has recorded more blocks.
Last week I caught up with Theodore to ask him about being a lefty, finding his way onto the Aviators’ roster, and his best and worst mustache moments, for which he graciously provided several photos of his epic and awful facial hair displays through the years! The conversation, which occurred prior to the AUDL officially cancelling its 2020 season, has been edited slightly for clarity.
Evan Lepler: Firstly, how are you and what has your life been like since the world shifted so dramatically in mid-March?
Zach Theodore: I’m very lucky. It started out great. I’m an introvert, and I have a great excuse to stay home now. Both my wife and I were still able to go to work, and our commute times were so much lower! I went from over an hour each way to under half an hour. There are many Covid-related restrictions at the office, but it’s essentially business as usual. Less working out and frisbee, but home life is basically unchanged.
EL: What have you done to try and stay in shape over the past few months? And if the season started tomorrow, what percentage of the best version of yourself would you estimate you'd be?
ZT: I had a good gym routine pre-Covid—thanks GPP!—and initially I kept up the workouts from home. But I lost motivation and about 10 pounds. I didn’t realize I had that much to lose. I think there were a couple weeks I didn’t work out at all. I started to ramp back up this month and my first sprints were disheartening. I’ve improved, but still pretty far from AUDL level. Top speed maybe 85 percent and endurance is 75 percent? It’s bad.
EL: So this two-week chunk of the "Disc In" series is focusing on lefties, who are obviously a rare and occasionally bizarre-breed. I say bizarre because of all of the folks who, say, throw lefty but write righty, or have some other baffling combination of ambidexterity throughout their lives. Where do you fall on the spectrum in terms of lefty specialization? In other words, can you share whether you're lefty for everything, or how you divvy up your handedness for your life activities, writing, eating, throwing, etc?
ZT: That’s a fun question! My most relevant is a righty backhand. My dad taught me to throw when I was young. I learned the basics of a flick in high school, but it was lefty. When I started playing real ultimate in college, I was informed that I can’t only have a lefty flick and a righty backhand. So I decided to play lefty. I do most things left handed. Exceptions include:
- Reaching for and picking up things
- Spikeball, though I play volleyball lefty. My theory is that I’ve been trained by a bunch of righties giving me high fives
- Computer mouse
- I always hit spacebar with my right thumb
- Soccer. I’m right-footed
- I lead cartwheels with my right hand. I don’t know if that’s normal or not
- Maybe basketball? I’m so bad it’s hard to tell
EL: Presumably, you've been vexed by right-handed scissors since you were a kid... In life, is being lefty an advantage or disadvantage? In ultimate, is being lefty an advantage or disadvantage? Can you share how you've developed tricks or strategies on the field to try and capitalize on your lefty identity?
ZT: Scissors are the worst! I very recently realized it’s because of how right hands naturally apply pressure to bring the blades together, not just a righty ergonomic grip. The only other thing that comes to mind is eating at a packed table. I’m also kinda tall, so my left elbow is even more inconvenient. Fortunately, my wife’s parents are both lefties, so eating with them hasn’t been a problem.
It’s definitely an advantage in sports. If the mark assumes righty or forgets, I’ll have a comfortable step out. This blends with being tall, so my step is usually more comfortable. My favorite throw is an I/O backhand, and my favorite iteration might be hard to explain. “Flick” force, my dump and their defender are even with me on the open side, and I throw an I/O about 45 degrees upfield that my dump can run on to and be in power position. I really like my high release backhand, but that’s more from my height.
EL: Moving away from the lefty conversation, can you quickly share your general narrative about what sports you played growing up, how you discovered ultimate, and when your passion for frisbee really took flight?
ZT: I played soccer for about 10 years. I was a pretty good defender in my rec leagues. I tried club once. I only remember one game, and it did not go well. There was also a year of tee ball. Played first base, obviously. I had a season of cross country in high school. Quickly realized I was terrible and switched to volleyball, where I was also terrible, but at least being tall and lefty was helpful. I got better, but I was mediocre at best. My cross country friends played “ultimate” and I joined in sometimes. We thought we were pretty good, so we signed up for a local tournament. The games were played for time, and we lost to the CSU-Long Beach team 19-3. Jacob Baumer was on the team at the time and called me in on a goal I was definitely out of bounds for. He doesn’t remember that.
I lived four miles from campus, and my high school friend basically dragged me to their pickup games. I was still interested in volleyball, but the times conflicted and I really liked the ultimate community more. It was a really fantastic group of people, and the leadership was inspiring. Beach pickup every Saturday morning was amazing. My core friend group is mostly college teammates, including my wife who also played there. I love the competition, especially getting to match up against some of the best players in the world.
EL: You joined the Aviators for the franchise's inaugural 2015 season and have been with the team ever since... Can you share your recollections about initially learning a team was coming to LA? How confident were you heading into the first Aviators' tryout and what do you remember about that experience?
ZT: Haha, that was exciting, but also made me a little anxious. I really wanted to make this team, but I was not very confident and a little scared that my lack of confidence was deserved. I’d played about five years of club, and I was an okay player on a mediocre team. The tryout had a really fun NFL combine type testing that I scored well in. But the scrimmages and drills were bad. We ran a 2v2 that was absolutely miserable; I was completely useless. I actually didn’t make the roster after the tryout, and at the time I was a little upset because I thought I was better than someone else who did. Luckily for me, a number of rostered guys couldn’t make some games and the team needed a sub. So I played a bunch of games, then was rostered about halfway through the season. Until then, I mostly wore Hunter Corbett’s jersey—thanks Hunter!
EL: Having mostly played defense throughout your career, I'm curious to ask who have been the most difficult players you've had to guard over the past five years?
ZT: Most recently, it’s Travis Dunn. He could beat me deep or under and easily break my mark. He had a highlight video that showed a lot of me while he did something good. Goose [Helton] was pretty similar. Antoine Davis is fun too, he’s so fast. I tried to play D on Matt Rehder a few times. That was humbling. Almost forgot Kurt Gibson played Growlers for a season. Bonus highlight from more than five years ago: Beau Kittredge. He also made me feel small and slow when I was the tallest and in the top five fastest on my team.
EL: So many teammates refer to you as "Mingo." Is there a good story about the origin of that nickname?
ZT: Of course. After a rookie initiation at CSULB, we were all presented a disc and a nickname, but were not told why until the end of the season. Mingo was short for Flamingo because I often stood on one leg. I think I needed something to do without moving, and practicing balance sufficed. I still do this rather frequently. I leaned into it, I have a bunch of flamingo print clothing. My mom brings a cardboard flamingo to all my games, and she has pink rally towels for anyone who comes with to watch. Coincidently, my mother-in-law loves flamingos and she was very excited to learn the story. I think my favorite story is when I was a junior, one of the freshmen asked “Mingo, what’s your nickname?” Photo evidence of standing on one leg included.
EL: I think Megan Tormey declared last year on a broadcast that you had the best mustache in the AUDL, so congratulations on that! To take it a step further, I'm guessing you've had some experimental looks with your 'stache through the years? What's the best (or worst) look you've ever had?
ZT: I’ll proudly wear that badge of honor. Oh, I have so many pictures. College was a fun time. The worst was surely the conquistador type thing. Though I rocked a half clean shaven/half beard for a day. I think the most popular was one a teammate took when I was finally taking a sub at a tournament. I was exhausted and tried to smile. For some reason about six of the women’s team players made it their facebook profile picture for a few days. My wife was part of that, and this was at least two years before we started dating. Or really even talking. And a physical copy was taped to the ceiling in a house a bunch of players lived in.
EL: What was your first reaction to the offseason news about AUDL realignment, particularly with the two Texas teams joining the Aviators in the West?
ZT: First reaction was how are we going to make playoffs now? It was awesome to do the out-of-region Texas trip two years ago. Great team bonding. We had a good squad that year, and got totally crushed by Dallas. The Austin game was tight, and hurts a little to watch. But those are both good teams. After that, I was excited again. Adding some variety to the schedule would be great, and I’m a sucker for a good matchup. Especially if I think my opponent is better than me.
EL: And lastly, who's your favorite lefty, and why?
ZT: First one to come to mind is Daniel Davisson. College teammate and mentor. Really smart guy, unique, and totally comfortable with it. He’d practice his pivot in the kitchen while cooking something, and I thought it was so cool. His throws are great, and his pivot never fails to impress. I tried to get him to tryout for Aviators every year, but he couldn’t make the time commitment. I’m 100 percent sure he would’ve made the team. But he was a ref for us instead.
Honorable mention to Calvin Brown’s dad. We call him Hale. He has a real love of the game and is very generous. He has a strong heckle game as well, which I’m not always a fan of.