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It takes balls: world's best dodgeball players converge on Melbourne

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by October 12, 2016 General

By day, Amber Darwinkel​ operates heart-lung bypass machines for open heart surgery patients at Royal Melbourne Hospital.

You could say it’s a high pressure job, but the 25-year-old has got the perfect after-work de-stresser – she plays dodgeball. 

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People’s first reaction is either to laugh or to quote from the cult 2004 movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, about a smalltime Las Vegas gym owner (Vince Vaughn) who forms a team of misfits to win a tournament to save his business from takeover by a rich rival (Ben Stiller).

In full flight: Actor Ben Stiller in the movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.

In full flight: Actor Ben Stiller in the movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. Photo: Movie still

Amber Darwinkel, captain of the Australian women's dodgeball team ... Amber Darwinkel, captain of the Australian women’s dodgeball team …  Photo: Pat Scala

“If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball,” says the movie’s crusty old coach Patches O’Houlihan, (Rip Torn), who then throws a wrench at a player, to toughen him up.

Ms Darwinkel says in real-life, the sport is very social and fun – you score points by hitting the opposition team with foam balls – but she also takes it seriously.

From forming a team in 2008 for a laugh with friends, she now plays dodgeball three nights a week, trains two nights, and runs two leagues.

From October 19 to 22, she will captain the Australian women’s team against teams from nine other countries, including the US, Singapore and Canada, at the 2016 Dodgeball World Championships, held at the State Netball and Hockey Centre in Parkville.

... and in work mode at Royal Melbourne Hospital . … and in work mode at Royal Melbourne Hospital . Photo: Wayne Taylor

There will be food trucks and entertainment including circus acts and kids’ clinics. 

Ms Darwinkel says dodgeball is a great spectator sport and deserves a wider audience. “It’s got such good energy. You feel the hits, you can hear them: if people get hit on the chest you hear that dull kind of thud.” 

The Australian women will attempt to better their silver medal, losing to the US, at the 2015 world championships in Las Vegas.

The sport has taken off in Australia: when Ms Darwinkel started in 2008 there were six mixed teams in one league based in Bulleen. There are now more than 200 mixed teams across five major leagues in Melbourne and Geelong.

The first Victorian dodgeball all-women’s league will start early next year. At the World Championships next week, male and female teams will play in separate draws.

Ms Darwinkel says the beauty of the sport is that it can be played either “in a brainless way socially for fun, mucking around” or more seriously,  employing assigned positions, football-style ‘set plays’, and strategies. 

But it’s still a great way to let off steam.

On Tuesday last week, she worked a 15 hour hospital shift monitoring a critically ill patient’s life support machine. She went to dodgeball training straight after, and her exhaustion melted away.

“It doesn’t take long to get adrenalin and you’re wanting to play more,” she said. “You just get to throw balls at people.” 

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