Fit to be fun: The heck with the gym this year. Here's to exercise that isn't a drag

Andrea Beesley-Brown ain't crazy about going to the gym.

Ask the affable 28-year-old why, and she rattles off some fairly standard anti-fitness excuses: lack of motivation, tedious workout regimens, and those dang perplexing exercise machines.

"I've never quite figured out how to use a lot of those beasts," Beesley-Brown says of the chrome-and-vinyl fitness contraptions. "I never know the correct technique, so I'm kind of afraid of doing more harm than good to my body."

Like a lot of us who've resolved this year to get into shape, Beesley-Brown finds it difficult to stick to a gym regimen. That's why she skipped the gym altogether and had a little fun while getting healthy this past year. You can, too, by participating in any of the numerous gonzo sporting events or offbeat outdoor activities going on locally. Why squander your scrilla on the monotony of an L.A. Fitness membership when you can get some cardio flinging dodgeballs or racing Safeway carts? Many of these over-the-top activities are also ultra-social, so your personality will get as much of a workout as your muscles.

Beesley-Brown is already ahead of the pack. It's easy for her to work up a sweat, as most days find her crashing about local skating rinks as her roller derby alter ego, "Kamikaze Kiwi," captain of the Arizona Derby Dames' Brutal Beauties squad. As a result, Beesley-Brown estimates all her body-checking of fellow babes helped her shed 45 pounds over the past year. (Eating more healthfully helped, too.) And although it's unlikely the former New Zealander will grace the cover of Muscle & Fitness anytime soon, she's living proof that one can ditch the gym and still get in shape (or at least lose some inches).

For those like Beesley-Brown who want some girl-on-girl action in their new funky fitness routine, there's hope. All three of the Valley's roller derby leagues are always on the lookout for new blood. The Arizona Roller Derby and the Renegade Rollergirls hold weekly practices at local sporting facilities (while Derby Dames tryouts are held quarterly), where girls confab with team captains to learn about the leagues and determine whether they can handle some skate-clad slaughter. Ladies who can meet the financial obligations (monthly dues range from $30-$40, plus an initial outlay of approximately $200 for pads and other equipment) and other requirements (health insurance is mandatory in certain leagues) are placed on calorie-burning developmental teams, where they're schooled on fundamentals such as skating, falling, fighting, and endurance before participating in regular bouts.

If you miss dessert but still yearn for better health, consider giving pudding wrestling a taste. The organizers of the Renegade Rollergirls are also behind the sweet-yet-scandalous Dirty Darlins of Debauchery, where pierced punker princesses wrestle in kiddy pools filled with Jell-O Instant pudding at bars like J-Heads. Co-founder Joann Thrax encourages women who are interested in joining the gooey grappling to visit the group's weekly practices, held at various sticky locales around town (see below).

Gals and guys who are more inclined to throw round rubber balls than dessert products should consider gathering some like-minded friends and coworkers and signing up for — no kidding! — Arizona Dodgeball. The league's 10-week season of bounce-laden battles takes place in both the spring and fall. Similar to the game you played during your Romper Room days (and inspired, in part, by the 2004 Ben Stiller spoof Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story), these dodgeball teams are mostly made up of folks 21-35 years of age who take on names like "Kobra Kai" and "The Average Ho's." They peg their way to supremacy on Thursdays at the Arizona Army National Guard gymnasium (see below). Neither physical fitness nor über-geeky '70s style sweatbands are required.

Another schoolyard favorite that's been repurposed into a hipster pastime in recent years is kickball. Countless local parks play host to five different leagues of the World Adult Kickball Association — like the Arizona Fire Division in Tempe or the Arizona Sunrise Division in Scottsdale — with coed teams playing this fourth-grade sport for fun and amusement most weeknights. (Newbie players who don't have enough friends to form a squad can sign up, too, and will be assigned a team.) In addition to all the kicking, WAKA warriors are known for their drinking, so games are usually followed by celebrations at local watering holes (especially those that sponsor divisions).

Another crew that's mixing sports and spirits is Phoenix's Hash House Harriers, who describe themselves as a "drinking club with a running problem." At various events throughout the month, participants navigate maze-like, three- to six-mile courses laid out in flour or chalk. Winding through either urban or rural settings around the Valley, these paths are fraught with dead ends, weird intersections, and "beer checks" (which could be a tavern or a bag full of beers) where Harriers stop to chug or compete in drinking games (although no one is required to imbibe). All that glugging of brew is meant to equalize things between the hardcore runners and the hardcore drinkers. It illustrates the group's twin philosophies of non-competition and fun. (Those who attempt to come in first are dubbed "FRBs," or "front-running bastards.")

While the Harriers are re-enacting some Chariots of Fire-meets-Animal House fantasies, devotees of adventure racing are living their personal version of The Amazing Race. Much like the CBS reality show, their game is a mass scavenger hunt featuring pairs or trios who decipher clues and navigate checkpoints on foot or via public transportation in pursuit of such prizes as round-trip airfare or cash. Organizations like the Great Urban Race, High Trek Adventure, and Urban Dare run races once or twice a year here.

When you're bombing around the streets of Copper Square, burning calories and looking for clues, watch out for the hyperactive hipsters competing in the annual Phoenix Idiotarod. A parody of the renowned Alaskan dog-sledding race — and echoing similar events in San Francisco and New York City — this outrageous event features crews of five piloting bizarrely decorated shopping trolleys through the downtown Phoenix arts district. High jinks and sabotage are common to the race — last year's inaugural run saw one team dousing their foes with ketchup, mustard, and powdered sugar.

Who says there's no food — or fun — in getting into shape?

Where to get your gut-busting game on

Arizona Derby Dames
Tryouts are quarterly, including in February at USA Skateland (7 E. Southern Ave. in Mesa). $5. 18 years or older. Visit the Web site for more info.

AZ Dodgeball
The spring season starts February 21, and new teams can sign up until February 14. Fees are $57 per player. Games are held Thursdays, 7-10 p.m., at the Arizona Army National Guard gymnasium, 1335 N. 52nd St. 18 and older. Contact »e-mail link.

Arizona Roller Derby
Practices held Mondays, 8:30-10:30 p.m., at USA Skateland (7 E. Southern Ave. in Mesa); Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8-10 p.m.; at Casey at the Bat (3947 E. Union Hills Dr., 602-971-3224); and Thursdays, 7:45-9:45 p.m., at Castle Sports Club (11420 N. 19th Ave., 602-331-2582). 18 and over. »E-mail link.

Dirty Darlins of Debauchery
Weekly practices are Thursdays, 6-8 p.m. 21 and over. Contact »e-mail link for locations, which vary.

The Great Urban Race
Next race is Saturday, February 9, at noon, with registration at 11 a.m. $59 per person before race day, $70 per person on the day of the race.

Hash House Harriers
The main chapter's events are held on first, third, and fifth Saturdays, and the "Hump d' Hash" is every Wednesday, 6:36 p.m. at various locations. $5 per person for most races, $1 per person for the "Hump d'Hash." Visit the group's Web site for locations, times, and additional events.

High Trek Adventure
Next race is in the fall. $80 per team for early registration; $120 during the week of the race. Call 480-326-4893 or visit the Web site for more.

Phoenix Idiotarod
Scheduled for Saturday, February 9. Fees are $30 per team. Teams can join up until race day. 21 and over. Visit the Web site for more info.

Renegade Rollergirls
Open skating sessions are Wednesdays, 7-9:30 p.m. 18 and over. Contact »e-mail link for locations and more info.

Urban Dare
Races are in March and November. Teams can register up until race day. Visit the Web site for more info.

World Adult Kickball Association
Registration for the ongoing winter season is open until the first week of February, with varying starting dates, locations, times, and match info for each of the Valley's four WAKA divisions. Games are played Monday through Thursday. Registration deadline for new teams (of at least 12 players, four of whom must be female) and individual players also vary. 21 and over. Check the Web site for more info.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.