By: Andrew Gardner
The Pittsburgh Thunderbirds recently re-acquired Chris Graber mid-season for a Saturday night game against the Philadelphia Phoenix on May 27th.
He hadn't been at Thunderbirds tryouts, and he hadn't been to any Thunderbirds practices all season. In fact, Graber's primary focus wasn't even ultimate at all! So why was it when he was ready, the coaches were ready too?
For starters, Graber is already an AUDL veteran, playing in 29 career games, 28 of those career games in a Black &Gold uniform for Pittsburgh, amassing 10 assists, 41 goals, 9 blocks, and a +52 rating.
Even so, rejoining a squad mid-season might bring along some rust with it, especially considering ultimate wasn't something Graber was prioritizing. What was Graber doing with his off-season time?
Graber was enrolled at Mount Vernon Nazarene University (MVNU). Established by the Church of the Nazarene, the University opened its doors in 1968 and serves the denomination’s East Central Region of Ohio.
It was there that Graber joined the Track & Field team with no prior experience. Up until that point, the only competitive structured sport Graber had ever competed in was the sport of ultimate disc.
Graber specialized in two events; the long jump and the triple jump, and by his 3rd season, he had shattered the previous university records by landing a 7.10 meter (over 23 feet) long-jump and a 13.65 meter (~45 feet) triple-jump. The previous records? 6.79 meters and 13 meters respectively.
At the conclusion of the track season, Graber had arrived at Thunderbirds practice the week prior to the match against the Phoenix.
Assistant Coach Andrew Miller said of Graber, "He looked very fast, and he looked like he was already a starter on our D-line."Post-practice, Head Coach Max Barowski made the team run full field sprints. Who won every sprint? Chris Graber.
"The most interesting thing about it was when Graber was closing in on the finish line, his arms came out to the side and he looked back at the rest of the team as if to say, 'where is everyone?'", said Thunderbirds teammate Kevin Nicholl. "I don't think he meant to do it, but it was pretty funny."
In the ensuing game, Graber scored 3 times, recorded one block - a massive backhand huck block on Phoenix's James Pollard) shown below - in only 19 points played, primarily on the defensive line.
In the Thunderbirds history, Graber has littered the social channels with top plays. In 2019 against the New York Empire, he came in at #4 on ESPN's Sports Center Top 10 Plays when he jumped horizontally over his defender to snare the disc.
Chris Graber of the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds is the #4 play on Sports Centers Top 10
by u/Tribetime2010 in ultimate
Graber is active and ready to take flight for his next game on Sunday, June 4th in Madison, Wisconsin against the Madison Radicals. You can follow Chris Graber on Instagram by following @cgraber23