Frisbee and Focaccia: Ultimate frisbee team, music, chemistry of bread all key to Jonny Malks ’21’s identity

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Jonny Malks ’21 has a wide-reaching presence at the College of William and Mary. Some know him as a co-captain of Darkhorse, the College’s Ultimate Frisbee A-team; some as a frequent talent featured by AMP Homebrews; and others as that guy who helped them with their paper at the Writing Resource Center in Earl Gregg Swem Library.

A key player and enthusiastic teammate on Darkhorse, Malks tore his ACL in September 2018 after a bad landing during practice.

“I was just going up for a jump at practice, came down and it buckled,” Malks said. “70 percent of ACL injuries are non-contact, so it’s just like you’re running and it overextends or you’re jumping. It’s definitely a strange injury and one that is a big mental battle.”

Unable to participate in gameplay, he has continued his role as a co-captain as well as stepped up as a coach of sorts for the team.

“I’ve been basically just coaching and just helping out wherever I can,” Malks said. “I’m thankful for all the opportunities I’ve gotten and all the wonderful people that I’ve met. That’s why I stick around and stick around with the team, even when I can’t play. It’s such an enjoyable experience to captain William and Mary Darkhorse because all the guys are some of the greatest I’ve ever met, so I’m really thankful for them.”

In the summer of 2018, before his ACL injury, Malks was selected as a member of the Under-20 men’s United States team in the World Junior Ultimate Championship in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

“It’s a really ephemeral process,” Malks said. “It’s like one tryout weekend in the winter and then the team is picked like early spring and then you basically do workouts up until a week before the actual tournament, and then you all meet for a week. … Then the tournament is just incredible. It can be anywhere in the world, this time it was in Canada so just a short bus ride from Naperville, but it was incredible.”

The more fulfilling part of the experience for Malks was bonding with his new teammates and being exposed to the exceptional talent of players from all over the world. 

“The community of Ultimate is what makes it special,” Malks said. “I’m sure if you’ve read or heard anything about Ultimate that’s a lot of what people say but this international community was just sublime. … The spirit was great at this world’s tournament, and we ended up winning gold and it was just it was the most incredible experience — it was like a dream.”

Music is another major part of Malks’ identity. He plays the guitar, ukulele and piano, and has been writing his own songs since the seventh grade. Now, Malks shares his music with his peers and the community by performing at AMP Homebrews and having jam sessions with friends. 

“[My parents] have always been encouraging me to do it, but I never wanted to practice up until the seventh grade when we took a trip to Hawaii and I picked up the uke because there were free lessons in the hotel lobby, which was pretty unique to Hawaii,” Malks said. “So, I picked it up there, wrote my first song that same summer, and then taught myself the guitar and I’ve been learning ever since.”

Malks and his friends jokingly branded his style “sad boy” music. Writing the lyrics and putting words to the music is his favorite part of the process.

“I write love songs, I write about my life, I write weird lyrics,” Malks said. “I’m really into lyrics, they’re probably my favorite. I’m like an okay musician but really I like lyrics. … I love sharing my music with the William and Mary community.”

Malks also works at the Writing Resource Center, where he gets the opportunity to work hands-on with students and their writing. For Malks, he is not only providing a service for his peers, but also getting the chance to learn from them as well.

“I think writing really is—any sort of writing—a very personal and vulnerable process in itself,” Malks said. “So being able to share that with tons of different people and learn so much from them about whatever they’re writing about is really special. So, it’s a really incredible job.”

When he’s not at practice, work or physical therapy, Malks likes to spend time with his sister Sarah Malks ’19.

“[My sister] lives just off campus so I like to hang out with her a lot,” Malks said. “We’re watching the Bachelor together, which has been good. It’s been lots of drama, but we always do some nice baked goods.”

A lesser-known interest of Malks’ is that he loves to bake bread. He finds learning about the different kinds of bread and the unique elements and styles involved in the process therapeutic. Malks’ tentative upperclassmen Monroe Scholar project will be on the chemistry of bread.

“I’m really into baking, bread specifically,” Malks said. “Learning about all the different kinds of breads and all the different kinds of like kneading styles and how long do you have to rise them for and how the ingredients interact in dough is really special to me. It’s just so interesting how you can put all of the inedible ingredients together and come out with a final [product] like that.”

The William and Mary Ultimate men’s and women’s respective A and B teams are putting on a series of games, the Virginia Showcase Series, which benefit two charities: The Girls Ultimate Movement and Here for the Girls. Malks is particularly excited to be a supporter of the Girls Ultimate Movement, the USA Ultimate organization committed to increasing the participation of girls in the sport, because of its drive to achieve equity in Ultimate.

“That has become a huge part of why Ultimate is so special to me, because we have, not only people who think about these sort of things … but there’s so much action for it,” Malks said. “It’s just a beautiful game and it’s so important that, especially girls, have the role models to see that they can not only play Ultimate, but play sports and do whatever they want to do and know that it’s not a man’s world anymore. It’s definitely women’s time to shine in sports, and in general, I think. So, I’m really excited about the Girls Ultimate Movement as a charity.”

Above all, Malks is thankful to be at the College because it has allowed him to create an identity for himself that is more than just one activity.

“I’m really thankful to be at William and Mary because it’s one of those places where, or one of those situations for me, where I’ve been hurt so much and I knew [Frisbee] was my favorite sport and I was super passionate about it, but I never realized how much of my identity Ultimate had become until I was like wrenched away from it for over a year with these injuries combined,” Malks said.

While he considers Ultimate to be a major part of that identity, something he didn’t realize until his injuries, he credits the College for allowing him to be a player in more than one game.

“It’s a really special place, William and Mary, for me just because I’m still enjoying it and I’m still loving the people and the academics and my job and all the different activities that we have here,” Malks said. “I’m really thankful for William and Mary because I truly know that I love it when the one thing that I’m usually doing has been sort of pulled out from under me and it still makes me happy every day to be here.”