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Our Editorial Assistant Tries Out Six of the Toughest Sports Nottingham Has to Offer

26 July 22 words: Lizzy O'Riordan
photos: Natalie Owen, Andrew Truglia, Fabrice Gagos

Wrestling. Archery. Roller derby. It's possible to master all of these in a month, right? Lizzy O'Riordan finds out... 

Some people find sports invigorating. Others, awe-inspiring. But for me, the most accurate word would be intimidating, my total historical lack of skill putting me off most athletic endeavours. Mix that in with a healthy dose of school PE-induced shame and you’ve got someone who was not looking forward to the sports edition of LeftLion. Naturally, therefore, the office picked me to be the roving reporter this month, taking on the challenge of trying six new sports for the very first time…

Aerial Hoop

I begin this journey with aerial hoop, which involves exercising with a heavy metal hoop suspended from the ceiling - the kind of thing you might most commonly associate with circus performers, who skillfully weave in and out through a series of dynamic routines. But it’s also an activity that us laymen can try too, and which we have multiple studios dedicated to in Nottingham. 

Located in an old lace factory, I opt for a trip to Polekat and arrive for a lesson with Kat herself on a Tuesday afternoon. Filled with bright streaming light and bare brick walls, the space (alongside Kat’s leotard) makes me feel like an extra in Flashdance and I’m excited to live out my eighties dreams. 

“How high is your pain tolerance?” Kat asks me, and like a soldier (who is eager to impress) I say that I can handle anything. She’s already told me that aerial tends to leave a few bruises, but if nothing else, I’m proud, and won’t let that deter me. Upside-down like a bat, legs hanging over the top of the hoop, blood streaming to the top of my head, I start to wonder if I’ve made the right decision. 

But, though sometimes difficult and requiring a few moments of bravery, I am a convert. Held in the hoop by my own body weight, I feel graceful and strong, and as the session comes to a close, I’m checking with Kat how to come back for more. For me, a solid 10/10 for my first sport.

polekatfitness.com

Climbing

By the time climbing rolls around less than 24 hours later, I’m feeling pretty strong. I’ve already deluded myself into thinking I can see a six-pack after forty minutes of aerial and I’m ready for a lunch-time session at the depot. 

Starting with the easiest level, I channel a monkey scaling a tree and all of a sudden I’m wondering if I’m wrong about myself. Have I been an athlete all along? Am I the strongest person on the planet? 

And then we move up to the slightly harder level and I’m instantly humbled. The walls are at a more difficult angle, the plastic rocks less easy to grip, and now that I've gotten to the top, I have no idea how to return to the safety of the floor. My forehead starts sweating and I quickly realise I might have a secret fear of heights.  

“How would you suggest I come back down?” I ask Archie, my very friendly instructor, and he guides me (not totally gracefully) to safety. Not an activity I would describe myself as good at, but something that I can definitely appreciate the appeal of, climbing pushes you both physically and mentally. Plus, there seems to be a thriving sense of community among climbers which I find really charming. A 7/10 for me, I’d definitely recommend climbing to others, but can’t necessarily see myself doing it again. 

depotclimbing.co.uk

Roller Derby

A week has passed since my previous sporting extravaganzas, I’m starting to get a cold, and I feel generally grumpy. Nonetheless, I’m excited to try out roller derby, despite my only reference point being the film Whip It

Roller derby has a reputation for being brutal, but when I arrive the atmosphere seems the furthest thing from frightening. Joining a group of fellow newbies, I’m led by Puck, who teaches me how to skate, how to stop and, most importantly, how to fall - a lesson I learn by violently throwing myself to the floor. 

After the basics are over, I join the main group of girls and we work on moving quickly between lanes, a skill that’s very important in this high speed sport. But my favourite part of the experience comes from learning to make a ‘wall’ - a move in which a group of players create a barrier with their bodies to stop the ‘jammer’ getting past you. 

My first group sport of this experience, I love the feeling of support and camaraderie among the other players as we shout out movements and directions aloud. And while I have nothing against mixed gender sports, there is something very empowering about a group made up largely of women, all of whom are strong and fun and there to support each other. 

Another 10/10 for me, roller derby was a real boost to my sporting confidence and a great first dip into team sports. 

nottsrollerderby.co.uk

Archery

We simply couldn’t have a sports edition without at least one mention of archery - the sport of our very own Robin Hood, which I got to experience with a modern twist through a game of virtual archery. 

Taking place (unsurprisingly) at the Robin Hood Adventures as part of Nottingham Castle, the game mixes the real and the technological by having you shoot a projected screen, all the while feeding you historical facts about Robin Hood and the history of archery as an activity. 

Short and sweet, I finish the experience in less than five minutes, so I’d only really recommend it as one part of the Castle tour, rather than a day's activity in itself. Nonetheless, it was an interesting and interactive way to learn a little bit of history and to have a taste of times gone by. 

The game did seem to have some kind of vanity setting, which allowed me to score easily every time - something I sincerely doubt would have happened in a real-life archery situation. I’m not complaining, but I do think it takes away some of my integrity in being able to call it a sport. 

Rating-wise, I’ve got to go for a 6/10. Great atmosphere, a really cool way to learn more about Nottingham’s heritage, but really stretching the definition of archery. 

nottinghamcastle.org.uk

Dodgeball

To be totally honest, I have done dodgeball before, the sport acting as a back-up lesson on rainy PE days. And as a further confession, I never enjoyed it. I am, however, a lover of a redemption plot, and with that in mind I head down to Nottingham Dodgeball Club on a sunny June evening, trying to push down the pre-emptive panic that’s brewing. 

Taking off my glasses in fear of them breaking, I head into the first game essentially blind and actively afraid. The team has shown me how to throw and catch, but now we’re mid-game with all sorts of dodgeball lingo being thrown around. With each match lasting a quick three minutes, it’s a fast-paced experience and I’m still scared of being hit by the ball. Apparently, they are made of non-sting material - but the noise they make hitting the wall suggests otherwise. 

I’m told that, with time, I’ll learn to “train my flinch to catch”, and while I’m sure that’s true, I’m currently far away from that place. With all that said, though, I am impressed by the team. Unlike school dodgeball, which revolved around the merciless throwing of basketballs, there is a lot of skill and teamwork involved, plus a strong sense of mutual respect.

I found this one strangely mentally straining, my sport-induced shame rearing its ugly head regularly. Much like climbing, I’m giving this one a 7/10. Good stuff, not for me. 

facebook.com/Nottinghamdodgeballclub

Wrestling

And finally, wrestling. It’s good to end every article with a bang - and what embodies that more than the actual possibility of being knocked out? So I apparently thought when I agreed to a Thursday morning session at Nottingham’s House of Pain, anyway.

As a younger sister, I do have some previous fighting experience  (once I kicked my brother so hard it made a foot-shaped bruise), but it would be fair to say I was incredibly nervous. Though I’m quickly reassured by my instructor Stixx who, though intimidating to look at, is actually an incredibly kind and good teacher.

I learn how to run the ropes, shoulder roll and (once again) fall safely. Stixx asks me how I feel about learning to jump over someone, and I say I’m very fond of the idea. He calls pro wrestler Riley Nova over to the ring. I promptly panic mid-move and kick Riley in the head. 

Somewhere between a sport and a work of theatre, I’m surprised to realise how much learning to wrestle is like learning to dance, with a focus on choreographing moves and hamming up your facial expressions, and I’m impressed by the level of showmanship. 

From someone who had never watched a single match, enjoying wrestling is the biggest surprise of all this month, and I leave the academy feeling giddy. A completely unexpected 9/10, I encourage you likewise to try something out of your comfort zone. 

houseofpainwrestling.wordpress.com

A rewarding journey, my month of sports was trialling in more ways than one. As things turn out, my cool apathy to sports was actually (who would have guessed?) a fairly large fear of failing at them, but thanks to my instructors I feel significantly less embarrassed, and actually eager to try more. Will I be keeping up with six new sports? Absolutely not. But do I feel more confident to try something new? That’s a definite yes.

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