Want to keep fit? Well, you could run, bike, maybe hit the gym. But here in Indianapolis there are lots of other, far more unusual ways to break a sweat. Most set the entry bar pretty low, are geared more to good times than athletic excellence, and cost little or nothing to try. So give your gym membership a rest and experience something new. Like, crazy new.
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Test your tolerance for pain with men's roller derby
How exactly did a sport about plowing into opponents at a high speed become pigeonholed as a "ladies' game"? The Race City Rebels amateur squad wants to change that perception by offering men a chance to get in on the fun (and contusions). They welcome all adult males, regardless of training level or prior experience. But you will need to bring your own skates, mouth guard, and pads. Plus something called a "tailbone protector."
This game, which looks like a beta version of baseball, is actually the second most-popular sport in the world. Get in on the (mild) excitement by contacting the Cricket Club of Indianapolis. Be advised, however, that this amateur club isn’t kidding around; they're like the guys at your company who take the corporate softball team really, really seriously. If hardcore cricket isn't your cup of tea, don't worry, they’ll be happy to point you to entry-level local classes and programs.
Play polo, without the high-end snobbery
This game is exactly what it sounds like: you play polo, except on a bike instead of a horse. (But there's probably no after-match Champagne brunch. Sorry!). Anyway, Indianapolis Bicycle Polo holds its contests every Tuesday and Thursday at the Arsenal Park Polo Courts. All you have to do is show up with your bike helmet and the club will loan you a mallet and a ride.
Fake a sweat with cornhole
We’re not sure how much of a workout you’ll get from a sport that can be played while holding a beer bottle, but we can say without reservation that you’ll have fun. Especially since cornhole league "competitions" mostly take place in the parking lots of local pubs and microbreweries.
Take a ride inside with velodrome bike racing
Most bicycle racing takes place on the open road, but Indianapolis offers the chance to cut loose on one of the world’s few Olympic-quality velodromes. It's located at the Indy Cycloplex, which is basically a banked oval for two-wheelers that allows you to go very fast. The track hosts everything from free riding to training sessions to amateur and professional races.
This oddball subspecies of conventional bowling uses a hole-less, grapefruit-sized ball to knock over pins roughly a third the size of regular ones. Though the game, once hugely popular, now hovers at the edge of extinction, Indy still hosts two duckpin bowling alleys, both located in the Fountain Square Theatre. You’ll find eight lanes (and tons of early 20th-century bowling memorabilia) at Action Duckpin Bowl on the building’s fourth floor, and a Jetsons-esque ambiance in the basement-level, uber-retro Atomic Bowl Duckpin.
Play disc golf, the more entertaining version of golf
Remember tossing around a Frisbee on the quad between classes? This sport is nothing like that. It’s kind of like golf, in that it takes place on a sprawling course. But instead of sinking putts, you deftly toss flying discs (generally heavier and stiffer than conventional Frisbees) into pole-mounted baskets. Indy, which hosts half a dozen courses, is a hotbed of sorts for this niche-iest of niche sports. There are even leagues, overseen by the Indianapolis Disc Golf Club.
Work that upper body by rowing
If you’re interested in slicing through the water (specifically Eagle Creek Reservoir) in one of those knife-shaped rowing shells we see every four years during the Summer Olympics, the Indianapolis Rowing Center is the place to get your feet wet. Eagle Creek features an Olympic-grade rowing course and offers everything from "learn to row" classes to competitions. You’re also going to meet some new friends, because you’ll likely train in an eight-person team.
Defy everything about soccer with Gaelic football
Ireland’s most popular sport is sort of like soccer, if you could use your hands and the teams had 15 members. The object is to kick or toss the ball into a goal, or put it through a set of goalposts above it. It’s an excellent aerobic workout, plus it’s kind of cathartic for soccer players who can for once dispense with all the fancy footwork and just chuck the damn thing.
This aquatic version of land polo is obviously less sweaty than the terrestrial version. However it’s much, much more physically demanding, because you don’t have a horse to schlep you up and down the field of play. If this sounds like fun, the Indy Water Polo club would love to introduce you to the sport. Added benefit: summer matches usually take place in outdoor pools.
Finally figure out what orienteering is
Imagine a world where GPS doesn’t exist and you’re forced to get around using a map and a compass. That’s the experience offered by Indiana Crossroads Orienteering: tromping through the woods with Christopher Columbus-era navigational aids, struggling to, literally, get from Point A to Point B. It’s a fine way to get some fresh air and exercise. Plus stepping on a copperhead or surprising a bobcat will really, really boost your heart rate.
Get ballsy with hurling
This traditional Irish sport is somewhat like lacrosse, except you don’t play with a basket on the end of a stick. Instead you get a formidable-looking club called a hurley that’s used to hit a ball called a sliotar. Just make sure you don’t clobber another player with that hurley, or it’s to the ER you’re a-goin’.
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Sam Stall is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis who's written something like 20 books. He does triathlons and also base jumps. In his dreams.