Jenn Gallup’s competitive hardcourt bike polo career began with a crash at her first tournament. But she got back on her bike laughing, glad to have gotten her jitters out of the way. In the months since that rocky debut she’s become addicted to the game, which is played with homemade mallets and street hockey balls. Players ride pared-down bikes as they race around on old tennis courts in the summer and garages in the winter. Don’t confuse the sport with traditional cycle polo, which is played on grass. Gallup, a lifelong cyclist, doesn’t mind the inevitable bruises and road rash that come from playing on the hardcourt. She’s just happy to be able to play a team sport on her bike. The North American Bike Polo Championships took place recently in Roseville, a competition in which Gallup hopes to one day compete.
The game “It starts with a joust, with the ball in the middle of the court and both teams lined up with their wheels against the backboards. They say, ‘3-2-1 polo!’ and you race to the ball. It is as dangerous as it sounds. Helmets are required, and I wear a face cage and elbow pads and shin guards.”
Childhood on wheels “I grew up being more comfortable on two wheels than my own legs. In central Illinois, down there in farm country, having a bike to get you around — [especially] when the nearest neighbor was a mile away — was instrumental to you having any fun as a kid. My brother and I would be out there building ramps in the back yard. There were a lot of Band-Aids and Mom shaking her head. My first ‘real’ bike was a Rainbow Rider. It was kind of a girl-BMX cruiser with coaster brakes and a banana seat. It was the raddest bike ever.”
365 commuter “Biking has been my sole source of transportation for 12 years, when I sold my last car. I think riding a bike year-round here has helped me appreciate the beauty of winter and the way it changes the landscape of the city.”
Awkward introduction “The first time I went to see bike polo it was at the Midwest Championships in the parking lot at Dunwoody. I thought, ‘What the heck is this?’ This is silly. I tried it out and I was horrible. I don’t think anyone has a natural talent for it — it’s the most awkward thing. You’re riding one-handed holding something and hitting a ball at the same time. It will make you feel like you’re riding a bike for the first time.”
Polo pals “I was open to a different challenge and wanted to develop a different skill set. Racing is fun and I like that competitive edge, but I was yearning for a more ball-sport type team sport. I really love the camaraderie. You can go anywhere in the world and see another polo player and they’ll put you on their couch overnight. I got better the more I played and so it quickly became an addiction.”
Gear gals “My ambition is to play in the Ladies Army [tournament]. It’s organized by gals and played by gals and it helps boost the camaraderie of the whole female presence. It’s a coed sport, but it’s typical to be one of a very few number of women.”
Pass the kale “I like pizza and beer as much as the next person, and it takes a little more work to stay fit as I’m getting older. I like being strong. I’m a believer in maintenance outside of what you do all the time, so I do circuit training, push-ups, plank, and I eat well — besides the occasional pizza and beer. I have a lot of green on my plate; I can’t remember the last time I ate fast food. I’ll do this as long as I can. I don’t see myself getting bored with it.”