I hadn’t played dodgeball since Scott Baio was a 16-year-old on Happy Days rather than a commitment-phobic reality TV star. Back then I stank at team sports, but loved dodgeball with a passion now reserved for my husband and Law & Order reruns. To me it’s the purest of all sports, requiring only a ball, bodies and a desire to win’or at least nail the opposition.
Back in school, the gym teacher would divide the class into two teams: One formed a huge circle with a medium-sized ball, ready to strike the members of the other team, who were trapped inside. For some, this was akin to torture, but for me it was pure joy. All the dodging and throwing made for a great cardio workout, plus it was a perfect excuse to take out my frustrations on people I didn’t like.
So when I saw an article about dodgeball gaining popularity as an adult sport, my heart skipped a beat. Apparently it isn’t just for the playground anymore. While the 2004 Ben Stiller/Vince Vaughn flick, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, mocked the seriousness of the sport in the U.S., it worked like a romantic comedy for many North Americans, rekindling a love of the game.
I decided to try a free trial session, but was a little worried about being able to keep up. A 30-something former runner, I’ve become lazy; these days, my exercise consists mainly of riding my bike (less Lance Armstrong, more Mary Poppins). But Dean Kozak, program manager for the Canadian Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, assured me that dodgeball would be fun and beneficial. ‘It’s great for physical conditioning and burning calories,’ he said.
I roped two friends and my husband, Dave, into joining me. He describes dodgeball as his ‘Grade 9 nightmare.’ It was quickly rekindled when we opened the door to the junior high school gym we’d be playing in. Not much had changed since our childhoods, including fears of being laughed at or being picked last for the team. But age brought new concerns, too: One friend worried that her bad hip might not allow her to bend down and pick up the ball. I was afraid my recurring foot pain might cause me to sit out.
About 24 people showed up that day, ranging from their late teens to mid-40s, and we began tossing balls in an informal warm-up. I was shocked the first time I got hit in the butt. Then I turned around to see my hubby standing there, grinning as he chucked another ball at me. I wasn’t sure if he was warming up or acting out a relationship issue.
Eventually we divided into four teams of six with at least one woman per side (the ratio of guys to girls was four to one). As the only female on my team, I was determined to prove I had the, um, ‘balls’ for the game. The first rule we learned was that three players on each side had to lie on the floor until the ref blew his whistle, at which point they would get up, run to the centre line and retrieve the waiting balls. Always a fan of activities that involve lying down (Pilates, yoga, napping), I volunteered for the mission. But as the dust bunnies swirled, I felt less like a sportswoman and more like a human Swiffer.
The rest of the game was straightforward: Retrieve wayward balls, throw them at the opposing team and try not to get hit. I squealed with every dodge, but didn’t expect the adrenaline rush that swept over me. I felt so powerful, so exhilarated, so’manly. In another era, I might have gone out and strangled a woolly mammoth with my bare hands. Instead, at the end of one round, I found myself face to face with a well-mannered young man who said: ‘I can’t hit her.’ I raised my battle cry: ‘But I can hit you!’
Funny how a game I remember with such childlike fondness now seemed so unadulterated and thrilling. Afterwards, my throwing arm throbbed and my inner thighs felt like I had just completed a ThighMaster marathon‘Squeeze for the Cure, anyone? (Apparently, Kozak wasn’t kidding when he said dodgeball is an excellent workout for the core area between your rib cage and your knees.)
Still, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had exercising‘despite the fact that I still throw, and shriek, like a girl.
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