ultimate players

AI, Acrobatics and Ultimate: Maika Isogawa


1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi! My name is Maika Isogawa (aka Perrie). Right now, I’m majoring in Symbolic Systems at Stanford University with a focus in artificial intelligence. I also studied physics and engineering at the University of Minnesota because I used to want to be an astrophysicist. I spent two years flying (literally) around the world as a lead performer for Cirque Du Soleil. I have a strange love for stationery, great design, strategy,and most recently --  ultimate frisbee! I play for Stanford Women's Ultimate team Superfly.

2. Can you tell us about your Cirque Du Soleil career?

Minnesota has the largest youth circus training school in the United States (Circus Juventas). I spent a week there for summer camp when I was younger, and was hooked ever since. It became my after-school activity and obsession. By my senior year of high school, I spent 5 hours there a day, 6 times a week. But I graduated high school and left for Stanford, never planning on pursuing performing professionally.


One day during my freshman year of college, my old circus coach called me with a job opportunity for a company called Spiegelworld. One of their shows ‘Absinthe’ is currently the best show on the Las Vegas strip (multiple years in a row). I decided to take the leap, and signed the contract the day after my 18th birthday. The journey began, and I trained in Vegas, then toured Australia.

That’s where I crossed paths with Cirque Du Soleil’s “TOTEM.” It was one of those ‘right place at the right time’ circumstances, and I joined the show as the youngest performer on the cast. I trained in Montreal at the Cirque Du Soleil headquarters, then joined the show in Tokyo. I toured with TOTEM in Japan, Russia, and Belgium before deciding to return to Stanford.

3. How did you start playing Ultimate?


I came across ultimate while looking for a club sport to stay active after coming back to Stanford. I was at the activities fair, and was looking for the volleyball table when a frisbee came flying at me. I caught it, and someone yelled, “Great! Now you can join ultimate.”

I went to the first few practices in the fall, and even though it was good exercise, I really didn’t like running (I had never run before, or played a field sport, or played a team sport...)  and was not going to even try out for Superfly. The current captain of the team basically forced me to come to tryouts. This is my second year playing ultimate, and I love it.

4. Do you think your Cirque Du Soleil experience has influenced your frisbee performance?


Yes, and no. My particular discipline of circus performance is probably the exact opposite skillset for someone to be successful at ultimate frisbee. As an aerialist, I’m flying through the air all day. I rarely used my legs, and I certainly never ran. I also had pretty pathetic cardiovascular endurance. The transition to ultimate was almost comical.

However, there are certain skills that have proven quite helpful in ultimate:

- Body control: When I am told to change my body positioning, I can do it right away. I know my body in space quite well, and I think that has helped me quickly improve my defense.

- Performing under pressure: Sometimes games can be stressful, or I might feel a sense of responsibility. There’s no performance event that can be more nerve wracking or stressful than a dangerous circus act in front of thousands of people on a daily basis - so instead of crumbling under pressure, I’m able to rise to the challenge.

- Mental fortitude: working professionally, no matter how exhausted you are, you still need to perform. The same can be said for ultimate. You still need to put on a show.

 5. What motivates you to travel?

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I think the way I was raised has nurtured my travel bug. I was born in Japan, and grew up between Japan and Minnesota. Every year, I traveled somewhere new with my mom/family. With Cirque, I moved to a new city every few months. Even now I have a hard time staying in one place for too long. Ultimate is a great way to get some travel in even while in school.

There is no place I can particularly call ‘home’ but I’ve learned that ‘home’ is definitely with the people that I love and care about. I’m so grateful to have multiple ‘homes’ around the world, and the ultimate frisbee community has expanded that even further.

6. Could you summarize a bit about “Ultimate Probability”?

I did a project about ‘the flip’ (the way many teams determine who starts during a game) was actually for a Stanford probability class.

Basically, there’s a slightly higher probability of the discs landing ‘evens.’ But most of the time, it doesn’t really matter… or does it?

 You can watch the full video here:

7. What do you like about the Greatest Ultimate Bag?

I LOVE this bag. I’m currently using the smaller size, but it was spacious enough to hold all of my tournament gear for a long weekend away! The best part is, it’s designed specifically for ultimate.

Here are 3 of my favorite features:


-Organization: There is a pocket for everything! I can keep my cleats, clean clothes, dirty clothes, wallets and keys, etc., all separate for fast and easy access.

-Adaptability: the Greatest Bag transforms so easily with handles, a long strap, and beautifully hidden backpack features. I’ve traveled with this bag all around New York City and California quite stylishly, and it’s so easy to convert.

-The cooler compartment: this is all bonus points. Sure, keep ice or something in there, but nobody can deny how good a cold beer tastes after a weekend of intense, competitive ultimate. This feature is brilliant.

The Greatest bag is now my go-to travel bag, not only for tournaments, but for general travel as well.

For more stories from Maika, check out her website and follow her instagram @maikaisogawa.