Sarah Hokom PDGA #34563 Team MVP
With so many players moving from one manufacturer to another, there is definitely a sense that the disc golf athlete has come of age and now understands their value in the marketplace. 2019 is lining up to be the most interesting season for fans of disc golf, and may go down as “the year of the player”.
Within the sport of disc golf the men get the views, draw the attention, and make the highlight reels. Often times, the MPO field offers some extraordinary things with a disc, and spark the viewer’s imagination in the process. But one athlete that has played a vital role in the way disc golf has evolved throughout the years isn’t a man at all. That player is Sarah Hokom PDGA # 34563.
At first glance, you may not recognize the correlation between Sarah’s career and the personal freedoms that top disc golfers are currently enjoying in the sport, but it is her perseverance and work ethic that has kept the dream of having a disc golf career alive for so many men and women around the world. A challenging aspect of having a disc golf career has always been how to support yourself or a family while working solely at disc golf week in and week out. Many great players have hit the scene on fire only to be broken down by the harsh realities of the road life. Sarah’s stubborn, determination to maintain a lifestyle on the road has been a beacon, not only to other women disc golfers, but to anyone who chooses to face the adversities that exist shuffling from event to event.
In 2009, Sarah tested the touring waters while still working as a science teacher, but she didn’t hit the road full-time until the summer of 2010. I asked her if she was nervous on the road back then and she admitted that, “Road life was very much the same as it is now, just with smaller FPO fields and fewer members of the disc golf community to rely on for lodging at different events. I slept in my car a lot. I was a little nervous to tour, but more so excited. I knew I could make it work.”
It was players like her and their refusal to quit that kept the disc golf scene chugging along until the world saw the brilliance of the sport.
From the outside, fans of disc golf watch media of the pros traveling around the country and think their days are filled with picturesque views and luxurious hotel suites. Unfortunately, the road is not so kind. I asked Sarah what has been her obstacles pursuing a career on the highway. “The hardest struggle has been managing finances, injuries, and slumps. I rarely treat myself to luxuries, even after a big win because I never know when my next paycheck will be. Relying on prize money to pay the bills can be very stressful. I've learned over the years to find ways to earn money doing other things, like selling disc golf products and doing clinics or private lessons.”
It’s difficult to imagine that one of the top female disc golfers of the last decade has had to find creative ways to make ends meet. She went on to add that, “Injuries that keep you from competing can be both mentally and financially devastating. Even if you play, usually you are unable to compete at the same level you typically do, leading to emotional and financial stress. You begin to doubt yourself and wonder if you’ll ever be able to get back to a high level of performance. Coupled with frustration and depression, it can be overwhelming.”
Recently, a barrage of disc golfers buying and renovating vans for this year’s tour have flooded the social media pages. I asked Sarah what advice she has for the wave of players joining the disc golf caravan and she commented that, “Find other people to split campsites with, join Planet Fitness for showers and rainy day workouts. When between events, sleep at truck stops, not rest areas. Truck stops often have showers, food, bathrooms, and cameras for safety.” Her advice demonstrates the many nuances that she has mastered while traveling that go beyond strapping herself behind the wheel and motoring to the next event.
Another aspect of constant travel is being cut off from a normal day to day life with loved ones. I wanted to know if spending time on the road had been a strain on connections with friends and family and her response was, “Absolutely. This is one of the more difficult aspects to manage. As the years go by, people in your life at “home”, continue about their lives without you and after a while it’s very easy to lose touch. You miss birthdays and other parties, and connections with them slowly diminish. At the same time, relationships with fellow road-warriors become stronger and more essential.”
This year, Sarah Hokom has signed a one year deal with MVP Disc Sports. Sarah has mentioned in other interviews that she preferred a one year agreement as a way for the partnership to test the waters over the initial year. This decision falls in line with the methodical way that Sarah has approached everything in her disc golf career. MVP Disc Sports has been slow to dip their toes into the sponsorship game, at least with high profile players until lately. I talked to Steve Hollaway, Marketing and Team Manager at MVP, and I asked him how Sarah fits into the “TeamFam” concept and he said, “I was impressed with her professionalism toward the sport. She is a tried and true professional with regards to her play on and off the course. Sarah is a champion in both the sport and for women in the sport. We are proud to have her be a part of us.”
Photo: Alan J. Vaughn
Sarah admitted that last year was the first time on the road since 2010 that she has broken-even financially during a tour. I asked her if the signing with MVP will make things easier and she was honest with her response, “Touring is never easy, but I suspect that my partnership with MVP and my other sponsors will allow me to feel more financially free and give me a large support group of dedicated fans to call upon if I need anything.” Her work ethic is well-known, and I wondered how she would apply her persistence to learning a new bag and replacing her often used “Firebird” and she filled me in with the details by saying that, “I will be throwing the Resistor and the Fireball to fill that slot. Primarily, I’ll be increasing my field work practice to ensure I understand the nuances of the molds I’m throwing. I’ll also be spending more time on the course to test out the lines and be more confident with my game.” I dug a little further by asking what’s the most important asset that a manufacturer can provide at this point in her career and what mold will be her tour and signature discs and she commented, “The most important aspect is that they (manufacturer) believe in my ability to perform at a high level and are excited to co-brand together on projects that will benefit both of us.” Sarah shied away from disclosing which molds MVP might place her name on, but let me know that they are currently working on it.
Sarah hasn’t gone it alone; through the years she has depended on her boyfriend Robin to shoulder the burden of the daily grind. I asked her how he has lightened her load to allow her to achieve success and she commented with humor saying, “Robin literally lightens my load as my caddy for every round I play in competition. But, he is also great as a companion in life. We split up the driving, food preparation and random duties like getting our van ready to camp. He also does the heavy lifting when running events and will be a major component in the “Throw & Go MVP” events we are holding this year on the road.”
To understand where we are in the sport of disc golf, we must recognize those who paved the way for others to follow. 2012 World champion, Sarah Hokom has put her heart and soul into disc golf and is beginning to reap the rewards of her stubborn tenacity to remain an elite athlete in an exploding sport, and all the while juggling a demanding tour lifestyle. I asked her which event this year is most important to her and she commented in a way that only Sarah Hokom could have by saying, “The most important event is the next one I’m playing!” Sarah will join a burgeoning MVP team with notable players like Matt Dollar, Amanda Melwiki, and the prolific Elaine King. The future looks bright for Sarah Hokom with the world waiting to see what she will do in 2019.