Competing on the world stage in Ultimate Frisbee: Q&A with Rhea Schempp

We met Rhea Schempp at a meet up at Nomad Bouldering Gym in Sydney and when we found out she was heading to the World Ultimate Club Championships for ULTIMATE FRISBEE, we had to hear more...


So wait, what IS Ultimate Frisbee?

Ultimate is a non-contact team sport, played by thousands the world over, mixing aspects of soccer, basketball, American Football and netball.

When was the very first time you played Ultimate Frisbee and how did it come about?

I was at a big sports camp in Bern in September 2010 (8 years ago!) where I'd actually signed up for squash... but there were too many people so they moved me into Frisbee. At the time, I thought it was going to be so lame; a week of just throwing a disc around! But I realised, very quickly, how wrong I was! Many of the people who were at this sports camp with me, are actually in my team today.

When did you realise you could and wanted to take it more seriously?

When I was in the very first Juniors team in Switzerland, I looked up this woman in the Adult team who was both an excellent player and a heartwarming person. We actually played against her at the Swiss Championships in 2011 and I was so impressed by her - I wanted to be able to play just like her and so I was motivated to train harder.

When the World Junior Championships came around in 2014 in Italy, I was so driven to show everyone how much I have improved and that I deserved a spot on the Swiss U20 Girls National Team. 

I ended up securing a spot...and even became the Co-Captain!

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What does training for this sport look like?

We normally train 3 times a week; 2 times with the Womens team and once with our U24 NexGen Team.

Then, everybody is responsible for their own fitness. I go to the gym between 2-4 times a week, depending on time and recovery.

When I got selected for the World Championships with the Swiss Adult Womens National Team in 2016, I trained 5-6 times a week (gym, team practice, running, sprints, agility etc.) and played tournaments almost every weekend.

The World Championships are obviously such a major tournament and I wanted to show the coaches that it was the right decision to select me to help represent the best of Switzerland.

What is the female representation like in Ultimate Frisbee?

When I started playing Ultimate, there was no Womens division at all at the Swiss Championships! There were only Mens and Mixed teams - but I think that there just weren't enough women in the sport.

After one or two years, we finally had enough women to make our own division. In Switzerland, there is a campaign called 'Ultimate 4Girls' and the aim is to motivate young girls to start playing.

In Great Britain, a group of women started 'The Eurostars Tour' which is where some of the best female players in Europe travel to the US to play against the Womens teams there. The aim is to promote gender equality in Ultimate, to inspire women and girls to play (especially semi-professional) and to celebrate and feature female Ultimate athletes.

So there is definitely improvement. Even still, Womens Ultimate always had and still has to fight against Mens Ultimate. It‘s a thing that many people still laugh about because they think Womens Ultimate has less action than and is not as competitive as Mens Ultimate. Womens Ultimate is also less promoted than Mens Ultimate, in terms of fewer livestream events and advertising opportunities. 


What was the process like to qualify for World Ultimate Club Championship?

The World Ultimate Club Championship is on every 4 years and in 2018, they are on over 14th to 21st July in Ohio, Cincinnati.

This year, my team 'Panthers NexGen' from Bern, Switzerland qualified after winning the Swiss Championships in September 2017. We competed in the Adults Mixed division even though our team members are all under 24 years old! We actually begun playing against Adults teams in 2010 and at the beginning, it was so difficult; we lost almost every game. But 8 years later, we're the Swiss Champions! (How cool is that??)

Because Ultimate is not very well known yet, it is rare to have sponsors so to compete, you have to fund everything yourselves. For us, this was a challenge as many of of the team are still in high school or college. Even though we qualified, it was unclear if we could actually afford to send the team to the US.

Luckily, our crowdfunding project got us 10,000 Swiss Francs (around AUD 14,000)! So it's off to the US, we go :)

Every player works so hard for this team; both in our own time and when we are together. We all want to give each other our best. We're a big family...and we‘re so excited and pumped for Worlds!


Wishing Rhea and her team the best of luck!

Follow Rhea's team, Disc Club Panthers, on Facebook.


Here is a taste of Womens Ultimate: