| Erica Curran

How one ultimate player is fighting for a cure for Cystic Fibrosis

STEM Ultimate coach Joe Norskov is the best kind of role model. The Knoxville resident is using Ultimate and his connections to help advance the mission of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. It’s a cause that’s been dear to his heart since he learned that a teammate was struggling with the disease. Since then, he’s made it his mission to help find a cure. 

Recently, Joe was nominated as for the 2019 class of Rising Stars by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. As part of that, he’s raising money for the organization. At press time, he’s raised nearly $8000 toward his $10,000 goal. You can help Joe reach his goal by shopping this exclusive "Joe Norskov" jersey. Proceeds from this jersey's sales will be contributed to Joe's fundraising campaign. 

Savage is proud to count Joe as a longtime customer, and we recently sat down with him to get to know him a bit better. Here’s what he had to say.

Savage: How did you get your start playing ultimate? What do you love about the sport? 

Joe Norskov: My older brother attended University of Colorado in 2002, which I believe was two years prior to Beau Kittredge's first season. I mention Beau because the iconic Beau Jumps Over a Guy YouTube video was a moment in my life. While my brother never played for the Mamabirds, he attended lots of pickup games and brought home the sport to me. I tried and failed to get people at my high school interested, but luckily when I tried in college I had a senior co-founder who was well versed in student government. We started the team at my alma mater Maryville College in 2005 and were the bad news bears of D3 college ultimate. Crowning achievement: we beat Harvard's B-team at B-Easterns one year for maybe like 13th place (possibly lower). Many of those teammates became lifelong friends and 4/7ths of my groomsmen at my wedding were college teammates.  

Two main things I love about ultimate: there's an inherent beauty of a disc in flight and the community is incredible. I gave a Pecha Kucha talk in May 2018 that outlines many of the reasons I believe ultimate can help society improve. Conflict resolution, accountability, and being able to laugh at oneself are incredibly important life skills. Those skills are common in ultimate players. 

Savage: What's your involvement in the Knoxville scene? What makes it special? 

JN: The Knoxville scene has given me a lot and I am just trying to give back. Analogy: If you ride on the bus for a while, it's only fair to take a turn driving. I am on the board for Knoxville Youth Ultimate as treasurer and run our winter goalty league as a board member for Knoxville Ultimate Club. This is the sixth school year I've been involved with youth and am the assistant head coach of L&N STEM Academy. We placed seventh in the nation last year at Cut's national invite tourney in Rockford, Illinois. For the adult club, I've been captaining summer, fall, and winter leagues for four years and have been running winter league for three years… Knoxville ultimate is a community that has been pushing for high level ultimate in all the right ways for years: youth and co-ed or women's ultimate. What makes the Knoxville scene particularly special to me is that I met my now wife on a summer league team five years ago.

Savage: When did you start taking an interest in fighting Cystic Fibrosis? Can you tell us about your friend? 

JN: I met him playing ultimate in college and his name quickly became a verb on our team. Pulling a Chris Allen meant you made some ridiculous shot that most people couldn't, or otherwise performed far above average. His first year of playing he was just a cut above everyone as a natural athlete. At one cold tournament, we noticed his hands turning a little blue and we started asking questions. He explained he had this disease since birth that caused among other things poor circulation. Over the course of our years together on the ultimate team, I could see him declining a bit due to the other terrible effects of CF. Luckily in 2012, the drug Kalydeco was released and it worked really well for him. We were able to play summer league together with many of our old college teammates in 2015. Our dismal record didn't reflect how much fun we had.

Savage: Tell us about your Cystic Fibrosis Foundation campaign.

JN: My campaign is part of my nomination for the 2019 class of Rising Stars by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Rising Stars are outstanding young professionals in the Knoxville community recognized for their commitment to volunteerism and career achievement. My work with Knoxville Youth Ultimate was a major contributor to my nomination. As part of this award, I pledged to raise funds for the organization. I have happily doubled my initial goal and have since increased it twice. It is amazing to see such incredible generosity for such a worthy cause.

Savage: Have you found that the ultimate community is supportive of charitable causes like this? 

JN: The local ultimate community has been huge. Friends of mine realized the opportunity and decided to make a Knoxville ultimate table at the black tie gala that will honor all Rising Stars. Many other people in the ultimate community have pitched in as well with individual donations. Other charitable causes in the past have included helping to fund Knoxville's youth teams when they traveled to their first national tournament (Knoxville high school women's team placed ninth last year at the national invite as well — they're awesome!), helping to fund medical bills, helping after a skiing accident, volunteering to clean up a local park of invasive plant species in exchange for field access, and many, many others.

Savage: Anything else you want to add?

JN: Before starting this fundraising campaign as part of receiving my Rising Star recognition, I was very averse to asking for help, donations, or sponsorships. This process has taught me that people want to help, donate, and sponsor if you ask. You just have to ask.