Nate Doss and Valarie Jenkins confident of bright future for Russian disc golfBy Brian Canever June 12, 2015
It’s not going to be easy task for Russia’s budding disc golf community, but after their recent experiences in Moscow and Omsk Nate Doss and Valarie Jenkins are confident that the sport will find its home in the country.
“For disc golf to grow, it’s gonna take hard work from a lot of people over a long period of time,” Doss says, “but we saw the same excitement in Russia that we’ve seen in new American players. After people play it the first time, they’re hooked.”
Doss and Jenkins, professional disc golf’s power couple, traveled as Sports Envoys for the U.S. Department of State SportsUnited division, and over five days were given a full schedule of meetings with government representatives, disc golf officials and trainers, and clinics for interested children and adults.
From the start in Moscow, however, there were unexpected changes. On their first full day, Doss and Jenkins were supposed to lead a clinic for Moscow school children. After setting up a small course with five baskets, they waited for the children to show. The man who helped organize the event contacted the school only to discover it was the first day of summer vacation.
“We looked around and we had Amy (from the U.S. Embassy), our driver Sergey, two translators, and two other guys named Dennis and Sergey” Jenkins says. “And we led a clinic for everyone that was involved in organizing the event. It was a great lead-in for all our clinics throughout the week.”
During the rest of their time in Moscow, Doss and Jenkins toured the U.S. Embassy, visited with local disc golfers, and played the city’s only established course. They had the opportunity to speak at greater length with Sergey and Denis, entrepreneurs who partner with Disc Golf Park in Finland to sell disc golf and ultimate Frisbee equipment in Russia. Both are working with local government to build a second disc golf course just outside of Moscow.
“It was great to meet with Denis and Sergey, who have aspirations of building courses and getting people involved,” Doss says. “They asked so many questions about locations, pay-to-play, and we had conversations that lasted hours.”
When Doss and Jenkins arrived in Omsk, they met with Denis’ mother, Marina Tokareva, a U.S. State Department exchange alumna who, in part, inspired the exchange. Tokareva spoke with U.S. Consul General Otto Hans Van Maerssen about how the sport can be used for diplomacy at the 10-year anniversary celebration for exchange.
“Anybody who we came in contact with in Omsk that knew disc golf was really motivated by Marina,” Jenkins says. “She is an incredible woman. She was on the phone constantly, getting people to show up to our clinics. She doesn’t play either; but she sees this opportunity with disc golf, that it’s inclusive and great recreation, and in Omsk they’re dealing with a society that needs more of both.”
For Doss and Jenkins, the best part of their trip came the final two days as they led clinics for everyone from high-heeled teenagers and construction workers, to children with disabilities and orphans as part of a citywide sports inclusion event at the Omsk Regional Expo-Center.
“From the moment they made their first putts, the looks on their faces were priceless,” Jenkins says. “We’ve been playing this sport for 20-plus years and it’s now our job, so seeing the raw beginning of these kids playing and how excited they can be, it was refreshing.”
“It really impacted me personally, too” Doss adds. “I remember getting in the car on the long drive back to the hotel and I said to Val, ‘We need to bring this back to the U.S. and work with underserved kids back home.’ It took us going all the way to Russia to see we could help kids in the U.S.”
Doss and Jenkins returned to the U.S. to resume their busy tour schedule, but will not forget their experience as Sports Envoys. They are proud of their role in helping connect new players and fans with Tokareva and the disc golf community, and for showing that disc golf can serve to empower marginalized individuals and communities by including members from all sectors of society.
“In the end, the most empowered person from all this is Marina because we helped carry on her vision,” Jenkins says. “She’s gonna do incredible things for disc golf in Russia.”