Sideline Stories: Esther Mei Devadas, Portland Rising

Malaysian – Esther Mei Devadas – Portland Rising #34

It’s difficult to describe the heat back home. While Maine enjoys crisp, middling warmth throughout the summer months, my home country of Malaysia is just a little different. Planted firmly on the equator, and boxed in by better known countries like Thailand and Singapore, it wasn’t at all uncommon to compete in a rust-brown, withered football pitch under 100 degree heat. The kind of heat that burrowed its way effortlessly through cleats, soles, and, on occasion, through skin.  

Yet, it was in this diminutive flame-licked region of Southeast Asia that I owe my Ultimate Frisbee career to – a career which spans over 15 years; catapulting me to stand as a Malaysian representative at the U24 World Championships. 

Today, I find myself on Portland Rising and part of the PUL community; an aspiration that seemed all but impossible a decade ago as I’d sat dejected from having barely scraped through tournaments while also navigating the tumultuous storm that was maintaining my undergraduate degree in psychology and the GPA I’d worked tirelessly to obtain. 

In 2018, when the WU24 had concluded and perhaps, against my better judgment, I decided to enroll in the Asia-Oceania All-Stars. (If there’s one thing we Ultimate players excel at, it’s staggered alliterative phrases!) Players from these regions amassed for a single commonality: connecting, building, and guiding players within these far-flung corners of our planet. Subsequently, I was invited to join Black Widows, a multi-racial and multi-faith elite women’s team that exists with the purpose to champion strength in diversity and promote values such as sisterhood, humility, intensity, intimacy, and trust. And if there’s one person to mention here, it would be Christina Hunter, a fellow Black Widow sister whom I owe a lot of my growth to as a frisbee player. Most uniquely, perhaps, was that both these teams placed their emphasis on showcasing women in top leadership roles, nurturing my aptitude as a coach and as a professional player, and more than that, it was ultimately providing an opportunity for players to simply have a voice. 

Few might know this and fewer still will fully appreciate the dangers of hushed discrimination, but, Malaysia is one of only a handful of countries that still practice government-approved racial segregation. Segregation that permeates every layer of our social institutions including, regrettably, our sports. To come from that and to be part of a community that forges unyielding bonds across cultures and countries today? It’s everything I’d longed for. 

Of the multitude of things that I’ve learned since being in Maine, perhaps the most significant realization is that I’ve learned to better appreciate the pronounced disparities in cultures of the East and of the West. Like anyone else, I have gotten carried away and I have, on occasion, lost sight of what is most important: the empathy we need to have for each other, especially in the context of frisbee or sports in general. Our communal spirit and the willingness to forge strong relationships with deep ties unabashedly, is, I think, keenly embedded in Southeast Asian culture and something I will always be proud of. 

I continue to fine-tune my abilities both as a mentor and as a player, assuming various leadership positions in frisbee teams and, in small but meaningful ways, nurture my community back home and today, in Maine. Because of this, I no longer represent just myself. Instead my aspirations are centered on my community as well as my fellow peers who will champion Malaysia in the World Ultimate Championships this year. 

For the many reasons one engages in sports, I play Ultimate Frisbee for the fierce, yet, beautiful competition. I play it for the friendships rooted deeply in trust and nourished by the passing on of this unique skill set to those that walk closely behind us. I play it because without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today and I look forward to doing this with Portland Rising, for all the experiences I’ve had before, and more!

MSC wishes Esther and Portland Rising an exciting season ahead!