When I asked him for his card, Larry Imperiale fished around in his backpack and pulled out a three-inch mini-disc with “10-Time World Freestyle Frisbee Champion,” his name, address, and website printed on it and handed it to me. Very interesting, I thought. Nobody has a Frisbee for a card.
Later, I checked out his website. There’s a picture of Imperiale standing atop Nepal’s Imja Tse peak doing a chest-roll with a disc while wearing a sweatshirt that reads “The Most Fun Wins.” Most people get to the top of a 20,000-foot Himalayan peak, thank the gods for clear weather and to be alive, snap a photo and then get the hell down. But some don’t. Some play a little Frisbee. Meet Larry Imperiale.
Imperiale knows how to play the kind of Frisbee the average Joe knows how to play – pop open a few cold drinks, turn up the music, let the coals turn white and hot and throw the battered disc for a while. He can play ultimate Frisbee. He can hang in a game of Frisbee golf, too. That’s the Frisbee we all know how to play, Imperiale included. What makes Larry Imperiale a world champ, however, is his prowess at freestyle. Chances are, you haven’t played freestyle.
Watching Imperiale play freestyle Frisbee is not unlike watching figure skaters execute a pairs routine – freestyle is a team, or in disc lingo, “co-op,” sport. Just as figure skaters have their technical moves – a triple or a Salchow – and just as figure skaters use the rhythm of their chosen music to link and expose those showcase moves. Imperiale choreographs his “co-op”ed freestyle routines to music so that the money moves are rhythmically highlighted for judges to see.
“Scarecrows”, or discs caught blind behind the head with a stiff arm, or “Laerbs kicks” (named after Imperiale – he created the move), where one can keep the disc aloft and in control by kicking its rim, are some of the more esoteric moves you might see Imperiale perform in competition. (Imperiale kicks the disc with so much force during competitions that he wears three pairs of socks and a pair of shoes to protect his feet.) The nail-delay, where the disc is spun on the finger indefinitely. or the air-brush, where the outside of the disc is swatted (much like keeping a basketball spinning on you finger) to keep it aloft, are second-nature moves to Imperiale and players in his select group.
According to Imperiale, “Freestylers will sometimes work together on a routine for months or even years before competitions.” However, if he gets to a tourney and is co-oped with new players, “in a couple of days, you can choreograph a routine.” Freestyle tournaments aren’t the laid-back picnic-type events one might associate with the sport, either. “Tournaments are stressful” Imperiale explains. “sometimes I use focused visualization to see the whole routine.” Imperiale says that one tournament in central California was so hot that “I puked, made the last catch and we won the tourney.” (Davis, 1979).
A world-class athlete has a strict training regimen, one that requires Rocky-like morning runs, solitary stadium climbing and stretching at which a yoga guru would wince, right? “I hate working out,” Imperiale grumbles, and he’s somewhat happy about not being able to touch his toes. “Skiing is my passion. I skied 75 days last year.” The (California native (he’s from outside of San Francisco) is also passionate about mountain biking. Imperiale moved to Evergreen, Colo. four years ago to ski and bike and “be near the mountains.” “I like biking in the foothills, in Summit County, and Bergen Peak in Evergreen,” he says.
How does a 38-year old man play Frisbee all over the world and still make a living? Easy. He starts a company and then sells it. Imperiale turned his 1987 MBA thesis into SalePoint, which by 1991 had become Inc. Magazine’s 19th fastest growing private company in the U.S. He sold SalePoint in 1992, and this allows him to play freestyle, ski, ride, and travel.
Though he’s co-director of the Freestyle Player’s Association (FPA) and a recognized and desired name at any world-class disc tourney – he will appear in this August’s World Championships in Helsinki, Finland and is then touring in Europe before returning to Evergreen in September – Imperiale’s a guy who likes to just get out there and play. He’s at Denver’s Washington Park most every Sunday around noon, jamming with anyone who wants to play, dishing out world-class nail delays, air brushes, scarecrows and, of course, Laerbs kicks. Imperiale would love to jam with you, and if you forget your flying disc, don’t worry about it. Just ask him for his card.