Weekend Warriors: Women's Bike Polo Is One Badass Sport
Melody Brocious has a semi-permanent bruise just below her belly button, where the handlebars of her bicycle repeatedly dent her abdomen when she crashes her bike on the hard court. It's the size of a silver dollar and just one of many physical trophies she has earned as a member of Los Angeles' bike polo scene for the past two years. Just last December, the 29-year-old had her biggest injury yet while playing a tournament in Houston: a dislocated elbow.
"My feet were clipped into the pedals, and I was falling. I couldn't clip my foot out," recalled the 5-foot-10 blonde, who works as a costume supervisor for an educational theater nonprofit. "And so I fell, and I caught myself on my hand, which forced my elbow out of joint."
The injuries are worth it, though, Brocious says. "Safety is boring."
Also worth it: the constant traveling she does on her own dime to tournaments as far away as Mexico City. Most recently, she trekked to San Francisco for the Ladies Army 7, a three-day event. With 28 teams and 84 polo players, it's the biggest annual women's-only hard-court bike polo tournament in the world (although the event did include a co-ed tournament on its last day).
"I feel an instant common bond with any woman who plays polo because you're up against the same things," she said of the alternative sport, which is mostly played co-ed and has its roots in the Seattle bike messenger scene. That includes the casual sexism she and fellow female polo players experience on their home courts. "There's always that element like, "Can you do this? You have breasts!" It's like, yes, I'm an athlete, I'm a polo player. I'm not my gender."
With names like the Suffer-jets and Natural Born Chillers, the teams themselves, each composed of three women, reflect the sport's unique DIY, community-driven culture. Brocious' teammates -- Chandel, a denim designer from Toronto, and Monica, a young mother from Houston -- found each other through mutual friends and chance meetings at other polo events.
They decided to form their team, Call Me Lady, even though they'd never played or practiced together before. Not that this is atypical; Brocious usually finds her teammates rather haphazardly on the Internet through the League of Bike Polo website or Facebook. It's not uncommon for local bike polo players to offer up their couches and floors as accommodations for out-of-towners during tournaments.
To prepare for Ladies Army, Brocious rode her bike throughout Los Angeles 30 to 90 miles a week, played co-ed pickup games and practiced scoring drills solo with her mallet. And while she considers herself an athlete now, she had only limited experience with organized sports before discovering polo and tapping into its spirit of inclusivity. Now, she can't imagine her life without it.
"A lot of days, polo is my reason for getting out of bed in the morning," she said. "Improving at polo is what keeps me interested in life because it's a challenge, and it's a chance to grow. And it's a chance to maybe get hurt."
Sounds like that bruise isn't going anywhere soon. And that's perfectly OK with her.
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