Army sergeant rediscovers unity as BYU Frisbee athlete

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Ciera Kueser
Alicia Seeley joined the Army at 18 and is currently a captain for BYU’s competitive women’s ultimate Frisbee team. Seeley said being on the Frisbee team helps her feel camaraderie at BYU, similar to what she felt in the Army. (Ciera Kueser)

Alicia Seeley didn’t know what she wanted to do with her future in 2011. She was a senior at Bingham High School and had few post-graduation options. Just before her high school commencement ceremony, Seeley received a National Guard recruiting pamphlet in the mail that sparked her interest. Despite her family’s objections, Seeley joined the Army at age 18.

Seven years later, Seeley is a captain of BYU’s nationally-ranked women’s ultimate Frisbee team, served a mission in Australia and is fluent in Chinese — all due, at least in part, to her decision to serve in the Army.

Army days

When Seeley first joined the Army, she said she enjoyed the three-month boot camp in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, more than she expected.

“I was there for three months, and I loved it. I was one of those weird people who thought it was super fun,” Seeley said. “I loved running around the woods with my rifle, crawling in the mud and climbing on things.”

Following boot camp, Seeley went to Fort Huachuca, an Army camp in Arizona. She attended the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School and completed the interrogator course.

After seven months in Arizona, Seeley graduated and went to Monterey, California, to attend the Defense Language Institute. She was assigned to learn Mandarin Chinese.

“I loved Chinese, which was weird because I wanted to be a Spanish linguist so I could do counter-drug work. I wouldn’t have chosen Chinese, but they didn’t actually give me a choice,” Seeley said.

According to Seeley, her full-time job was learning how to speak Chinese at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center. In her spare time, she would hike or participate in beach bonfires with people from her young-single-adult ward in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Seeley said she did well in the Chinese course.

“I graduated with a 4.0, and I got the commandant’s award. The commandant is the boss of the entire base. It was so cool to get an award like that at age 19,” Seeley said.

Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Millward, a non-commissioned officer of Seeley’s unit, noted Seeley’s quiet excellence.

“My first impression of (Seeley) was that she was quiet, but appeared to be a good soldier. I did not realize that she was an athlete and spoke perfect Chinese Mandarin. She was very unassuming,” Millward said.

While Seeley was finishing her studies in California, she decided to serve a mission for the Church.

“I started to get the feeling that I was learning Chinese and was learning all of these skills, not just for myself, but because I needed to go serve,” Seeley said.

Once Seeley graduated from her Chinese course in California, she received her mission call to serve in the Australia Melbourne mission. She deferred her Army service for 18 months and left in March 2014.

While serving in Australia, Seeley spent most of her time in a small branch of young single adult Chinese students. Seeley also spent six months on the island of Tasmania trying to start a Chinese program for the Church.

“I could definitely see how my experiences in the military prepared me to serve a mission,” Seeley said. “Knowing Chinese was a huge advantage because I could hit the ground running. It wasn’t quite as steep of a learning curve because I could already communicate with people and have a decent conversation.”

Choosing BYU

While serving in Australia, Seeley grew close to a senior couple, the McFaddens, who encouraged her to attend school once she finished her mission.

“Originally (Seeley) wasn’t planning on going to college at all. She was going to go back in the military and pursue her career,” Robert McFadden said. “We suggested that going back to the military without an education would be a waste of her skills — that there was much more available to her than just working in the military.”

The McFaddens said Seeley was hesitant at first, but agreed to apply. Tessie McFadden encouraged Seeley to expand her opportunities and reminded her to look at the big picture.

“We aren’t saying serving in the military isn’t good, but she could do more in the military with an education,” Tessie said.

While serving in Australia, the McFaddens oversaw Seeley’s application to BYU. Seeley was accepted to BYU and began attending the university at age 23. However, Seeley said she initially didn’t enjoy her experience and felt out of place.

“I was majoring in just about everything. I changed my major frequently because I didn’t know how to apply the skills I had. I had a really hard time,” Seeley said. “I missed the Army. I missed being part of a team, and I missed being pushed physically and mentally.”

According to Seeley, school was difficult, but it just wasn’t the same as her experience in the military.

“I felt very isolated. I didn’t feel like I really connected with my classmates, and I missed that unity you get from military,” Seeley said. “It’s that sense of brotherhood where you go through so much together and then they become your family. I didn’t feel that at BYU.”

Finding ultimate Frisbee 

Seeley said things changed when she joined the women’s ultimate Frisbee team. She said she almost immediately felt more at home.

“Joining the team filled the void I had. I was craving not only human interaction but a special human connection that you get when you really put yourself out there, and you’re pushing each other to be better as a team,” Seeley said.

Seeley said before her time at BYU she had never played competitive Frisbee, but she found she enjoyed learning about it. According to Seeley, the 2017–18 season was the first year the women’s ultimate Frisbee team gained national recognition.

“We had a goal to finish the season ranked as one of the top 25 teams in the nation. That is really difficult to do for BYU because we don’t compete on Sundays. USA Ultimate, the governing body for competitive Frisbee, doesn’t make any exception for us,” Seeley said. “We just forfeit all of those games, which is unfortunate, but we are BYU, and those are our standards.”

Seeley said the team members got together and decided to put everything they had into making their goals of being nationally recognized a reality. The girls committed to weightlifting and running track workouts in addition to their field practices. Seeley said the girls understood that every person needed to be at every practice and training session in order to be successful.

The women’s ultimate Frisbee team had the best season in program history, according to Seeley. The team beat teams that were ranked in the top 10 in the nation. They reached their goal of ranking in the top 25 and ended up with a No. 17 ranking.

Ultiworld, a popular ranking platform, took into account their forfeited Sunday games and ranked the team No. 12 in the nation. Seeley said her teammates’ commitment is what propelled the team to reach its goal.

“It was pretty incredible to see how far we could come in one season where everyone was willing to work together,” Seeley said.

Seeley said the upcoming season is underway and the team has high hopes.Preseason training for the women’s team started in September, and the team is currently in the rebuilding stage.

“We have open practice, and we welcome anyone who wants to come out and be involved. As long as people are willing to work hard, I think that says a lot more than experience and talent — because that is what we do. We take motivated, ambitious people and turn them into frisbee athletes,” Seeley said.

According to Seeley, the official women’s Frisbee season starts in January 2019. The team plans to travel to California, Arizona, Florida and Washington to compete in tournaments. Live tournament updates and season standings can be tracked on Facebook and Instagram.

The connection, camaraderie and purpose Seeley felt with the Army, she finally found at BYU.

“I was so thrilled that I could find that kind of feeling somewhere else in my life,” she said. “I really started to feel like I found my place at BYU.”

Seeley said she is looking forward to the upcoming ultimate Frisbee season and that she “couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of this team.”

“I know my experiences have led me here,” she said.

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