In this fourth installment of a 5-part series profiling Winnipeg's contributions to the AUDL's Minnesota Wind Chill (part 3 here), columnist Yacine Bara learns what really makes a towering beast tick.
The first thing I see when I walk into Mathew Ladyman’s home is a photo of David Ladyman.
On the face of it (pun intended), this isn’t such a strange thing. After all, the two are siblings and this might otherwise seem like a nice gesture of brotherly love.
The weird part is that the second through tenth things I notice upon walking into Mathew Ladyman’s home are... also photos of David Ladyman.
On the wall in the front foyer; on the mantle; stuck by magnet to the fridge -- everywhere, photos of David Ladyman in different moods, poses or snapshotted bits of live action.
Mathew Ladyman has invited me to his suburban Winnipeg home to talk shop -- he, the towering Minnesota-Windchill deep strike; me, the grateful columnist who’s living out his childhood dream of writing for the publication you’re now reading.
I’ve followed Mat’s career for some time now, which reads like the textbook Winnipeg-Ultimate success story. I first heard about him when he was a standout with the storied St. John’s Ravenscourt high-school and MOFO junior-club programs in 2013. He went on to be a two-time medalist with Team Canada (gold with the U19 men in 2014, bronze with U24 mixed in 2015), and a perennial primary O-line cutter & captain with Winnipeg’s elite men’s club, General Strike, since. He notched another Team Canada selection in 2018 (U24 men), and has now taken his talents south to Minneapolis as a returning (in 2020) member of the ‘Chill’. Some say he’s one of the best players to never learn to throw a forehand.
Here in Mat’s living room, he looks like he’s in pain. I stand in the front foyer looking in, hands clasped across my midsection in a casual, relaxed stance. It’s from here that I’m surveying the room while he finishes up a ‘super set’ of push-ups and sit-ups in the middle of the floor. (When I knocked at the door a couple of minutes ago, he told/grunted at me to let myself in.)
He finishes his last set and stands up, breathing heavily. He grabs a towel and dabs at his brow while extending his free hand to shake mine. He thanks me for coming to him and motions to the couch. We sit down to begin our scheduled chat.
Almost immediately, I can tell that something’s bothering him. As he talks me through the standard intro bit about his career to date, his eyes frequently dart around the room. He can’t seem to maintain eye contact with me for more than a few seconds at a time. I’m confused and a little concerned.
I follow his eyes with mine to see if I can figure out what he’s looking at, and each time -- I land on a photo of David.
It’s only as of a couple of days ago that I know who David Ladyman is. In my research for this piece, I learned that Mat is one of three children and that David (one year older) had a hand in getting Mat into Ultimate. The two have played on many of the same teams together (and even the same lines -- David handling, Mat cutting) over the years, so when you look at photos of Mat’s playing career, look closely and you’ll often see David nearby.
So why had I never heard of David before? For the same reason you haven’t. By any conceivable measure, Mathew is the more impactful and more successful Ultimate player. That’s because, in David’s case, there’s hardly anything to measure at all.
Over hours spent scouring the public record -- images, tournament recaps, etc -- I began to notice a fascinating pattern: David regularly appears in photos, but almost never on stat sheets. And it’s not that he never takes the field; there are plenty of pictures with him in full game action. But if not for photographic record, the goal, assist, block and turnover columns would have you believe he basically doesn’t exist.
(I’d estimate that I found stats for 25-30 games that David is likely to have played in, and let me put it this way: if a single recorded stat were a calendar day, David’s contribution would be February 29th. In one case, someone had posted a photograph of the raw, crumpled paper stat sheet and I thought I was looking at the rare case of David notching two stats...but it turned out that one of the marks was just a dried drip of coffee.)
I don’t mean to take anything away from the guy -- he’s obviously a good enough player to routinely crack the roster of some high-level teams. And it must be pretty cool to be the big brother to arguably the best player at his position that Winnipeg has ever produced. You know, “taught him everything he knows” and all that. I’m just saying -- at some point, numbers tell a clear story. And in this case, the numbers (mostly zeroes) tell the tale of a steady, easy-does-it virtuoso of the dump-swing.
Mat’s eyes are still darting back and forth, and it’s distracting me to the point that I’ve tuned out of what he’s actually talking about. Focusing back in, I find that David is now the topic of every other sentence.
I think his story started out by talking about his start in Ultimate and David’s role/influence in that, but we’ve now veered off course and Mat seems (for some reason) to be giving me an extra detailed play-by-play of a specific point in a single game of Ultimate. I lock in, trying to follow the play-by-play while also searching for clues of what game we’re talking about, and why.
His story ends with David apparently making a short upline cut into the front corner of the end zone, and Mat flipping the disc to him for a goal. Here in the living room, Mat’s shoulders slump. I’m still confused.
As innocently as I can, I ask Mat to remind me what game we’re talking about, gesturing to my notepad as though my question is so that I can tighten up my notes. He tells me it was from General Strike’s second game of pool play on day 1 of nationals last summer. (Translation: a relatively routine, inconsequential game for a team of Strike’s calibre.) So... I’m still confused.
Without warning, Mat leaps off his chair and hits the deck in the middle of the room, banging out another set of 15ish push-ups and sit-ups. Getting back up to his chair, he scowls and smacks his hands together loudly -- the sort of exaggerated single clap that athletes do when they’re disgusted with a mistake they’ve made. I’m finally starting to see what’s going on here…
The point of Mat’s story was precisely what it seemed to be: that his throw resulted in a goal by David.
And he’s pissed about it.
To make sure I’ve got that right, I ask a couple more questions to keep him talking: that was 2019 nationals, yeah? So like, 6-7 months ago now? Yup and yup. And now Mat’s off and talking again, about how the last time (before this most recent one) that he played a part in David getting a stat was in 2017 -- that time catching a goal on one of David’s throws. And he seems just as troubled by that one.
I can’t bring myself to beat around the bush any longer, even if this is about to get awkward, so I ask him directly: am I correct in understanding that Mathew Ladyman is bothered by his brother David getting onto the stat sheet?
He looks at me like I’ve just asked the most obvious question in the world. Not just bothered, is the answer, but totally devastated. And that’s just about the fact that David would ever find his way onto the stat sheet for any reason. When it happens because of something Mat did -- like drop his guard and accidentally forget to look David off on a scoring throw, or forget to intentionally drop a scoring pass from David -- it haunts him for months (if not years) at a time. He blinks exactly zero times as he tells me this.
I’m dumbfounded, but simultaneously awestruck by his commitment to the cause.
I look around the room again, and I’m suddenly seeing it differently. When I came in, I thought I was looking at a pro athlete’s warm (if a tad excessive) tribute to the older brother who helped him find his way. Now I realize I’m looking at the athlete’s undying internal fire, personified.
To Mathew Ladyman, his brother David’s image -- and maybe even his existence -- is the single strongest motivator toward excellence. It represents focus, discipline, determination -- all the things that your typical pro athlete, almost by definition, needs in order to reach extraterrestrial heights of personal achievement.
I check this understanding with Mat, and he confirms that yes -- for him, David is his daily/hourly/minute-to-minute cue to never cut corners. Because when you cut corners, like allowing yourself to lose focus for even a split second during a game that’s sure to be a lopsided win, the results end up being unacceptable -- as in the case of being responsible for David winding up in the ‘goal’ column.
That’s why I’m seeing so much of David on the walls and mantles here in the house, with an even heavier dose on display in the gym (that I eventually get a tour of) in the basement -- next to the speed bag, taped to the heavy bag, etc. This is Mat’s way of holding himself to the utmost standard of professionalism.
He takes care to clarify one subtle thing: it’s not just that David’s image is a benign proxy for the idea of remaining disciplined at all times. I mean, in some ways it is that, but it also genuinely bothers Mat to see David be successful.
And yes, it’s what you think it is: as brothers so close in age, Mat and David’s childhood was spent competing with each over in any/every way (board games, control of the TV remote, sports -- of course). With David as the older brother, he most often got the upper hand, having a slight edge in age, experience and -- at least until their teenage years -- size. Once Mat hit his growth spurt and started to round into athletic form, he was hellbent on paying back the many years of competitive beatings that David had laid on him along the line.
Not only did Mat proceed to start winning his share (or more) of the everyday brotherly athletic matchups, he also used the energy as fuel to become the offensive focal point of just about any Ultimate team he plays on. The way he sees it, the more that the disc is funneled toward him, the more control he has in ensuring that David never (or at least rarely) gets onto the stat sheet.
And so it is that I spent an afternoon in Mathew Ladyman’s living room, hoping to learn what gives this beast of a competitor the fire to consistently dominate opposing defenses: commanding the cutting lanes, hauling in deep shot after deep shot, striking fear and breaking spirits. And… it seems I’ve done just that.
(Oh, and in the process, I also solved the mystery of David Ladyman’s career stat line.)
The lesson, as always: behind every great Ladyman is...another Ladyman.
Mat Ladyman and his Minnesota Wind Chill squad host the Montreal Royal in Winnipeg for their 2020 home opener: April 18th at WSF Soccer North, 770 Leila Ave. Get your tickets now before they’re sold out!