I couldn't stop laughing. Even as I fell. Hard.
I didn't even try to catch myself. After watching the short clips on Knockerball Chattanooga's website, I had faith that my tumble onto the lawn at Coolidge Park wouldn't really hurt — that it might, in fact, be enjoyable — and my trust fall was rewarded. My backsplat was completely absorbed by the inflatable ball that encircled my upper body, shielding me from any contact with the ground and bouncing me like one of the balloons in the parachute game I used to play as a child.
The ball swallowed me to my shins, head and all. While only mildly encumbering in my charge against my co-workers in our game of Last Man Standing (which I obviously didn't win), it made picking myself up off the ground feel almost as arduous as getting up while strapped to a snowboard. A cause for more laughter.
I'm sure our pseudo sumo wrestling bounce death match inspired some laughs from onlookers as well. It definitely sparked curiosity and questions from every single person who passed by.
Knockerball is marketed as "bubble soccer," but local franchise owner Jonathan LeCroy says most people end up preferring to get right to the punch and just knock each other down. In fact, he didn't even bring a soccer ball.
After heaving around the 25-pound bubble, I can see why. Each session is scheduled for two hours, but we only made it 45 minutes at best before we got too winded and the novelty wore off.
I can't speak for everyone — I definitely heard a thud when slender Emily hit the ground — but the only time I got "hurt" was when I fell directly onto the seatbelt-like harness holding me inside the ball, and that was mild at best. (I recommend snugging up that harness.)
I had expected the ball to get slimily sweaty, but, while warm in there, what I noticed most was how unwieldy the ball was, despite the hand grips inside to steady you. I had opted for the bigger ball, after all. The smaller one felt too claustrophobic. But I'm pretty sure what felt like flat-out exertion looked to everyone else like The Three Stooges in slow motion. Be sure to watch the video we made to see for yourself.
And read on. In case you haven't seen the clips of the Carolina Panthers on YouTube — and especially if you have — Chatter's writing staff decided to give Knockerball a go so we could let you know what to really expect. Besides childlike laughter, of course.
What I expected: I pictured being inside something between a hamster wheel and a beach ball that makes you invincible.
What it was actually like: My expectations weren't too far off, aside from the invincible part. I was surprised by the weight of the ball and the intensity of the impact. (Tip: If you jump into the air when knocking into someone, you're the one who's going down.) Some people come at you with more force than others (Shane) and I started avoiding those people ... and then basically avoiding everyone.
Would I do it again: I wouldn't have been able to resist trying it once, but the soreness I felt in my neck the next day would probably make me think twice about doing it again. It's much more fun to watch others get (slightly) hurt.
What I expected: The video of Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers sprinting at one another in Knockberballs and sending someone into orbit was something I'd seen, so I expected a milder version of that. Maybe with some soccer thrown in.
What is was actually like: It was tons of fun, but a few things stuck out. One, when you're going against your co-workers, everyone tends to hold back a bit. No one wants to accidentally knock out their boss. Two, it's much more of a workout than I expected. Even though we weren't running into another especially hard, this would have been easier four years (and 30 pounds) ago. The video doesn't do it justice!
Would I do it again: Probably! Having a more structured game or doing it in a non-work setting would also help, I think.
What I expected: As a concept, I imagined that Knockerball would be like a trampoline: fun in theory, but dangerous in reality. The week before our game, I flashed back to the many black eyes and sprained ankles of my childhood. I seriously questioned whether a 33-year-old woman such as myself had any business donning an inflatable bubble and inviting others to knock her to the ground.
What it was actually like: The first few times I was knocked down did sort of hurt. The impact whiplashed my limbs and slammed my glasses against the bridge of my nose. But I quickly learned how to fall properly: Let your body go slack; pull your knees up into the ball. Knockerball is a game of brute strength. And the biggest lesson I learned was to keep my eyes on the big guys (looking at you, Shane) and go after the little ones (sorry, Gabrielle).
Would I do it again: Probably not. But it was fun, and I definitely laughed more with my co-workers than I ever had before.
What I expected: I'd seen students playing Knockerball during my college days, but I had never donned the bubble gear myself. I'm not exactly what you'd call "athletic," so I suspected I'd spend most of my time on the ground, rolling in defeat.
What it was actually like: I'll admit there was a bit of a learning curve (I somehow ended up trapped upside-down on my head inside the ball), but after I got the hang of lugging the unexpectedly heavy inflatable, something primal welled up within me. And I kind of liked it. I directed my newfound bloodlust toward Shane. We'd had some ... "disagreements" ... about this month's Beautiful People nominees, and this gave us a chance to really tackle our differences. Literally.
Would I do it again: Will Shane be there? My sneakers are in my car.
What I expected: I had absolutely no concept of what I was walking into. I actually misunderstood and thought it was going to be much more like a giant hamster ball.
What it was actually like: The reality of Knockerball is just as ridiculous and fun as it sounds. Though, I think we all went a little softer on each other than normal, since no one wanted to come into work the next day knowing they were responsible for maiming a co-worker.
Would I do it again: Yes, but preferably after a few adult beverages (which the business does not condone nor take responsibility for, of course).