An unarmed combatant runs away from a group of three others wielding foam swords, waiting for any chance to land the blow that will get him thrown out of the game. A fierce battle like this unfolding in our urban sprawl is just an ordinary Saturday at Monroe Park, where people go medieval by taking part in the growing sport of Dagorhir.
In the late ’70s, Dagorhir was created by Bryan Weise near Washington, D.C., to recreate the adventures he read about in “Lord of the Rings.” Now the sport has grown to around 100 active chapters in the United States. The chapter that practices every Saturday in Monroe Park is called Galatia Mercenary Company and has 30 active members. Every year chapters from around the U. S. gather for Ragnarok, where large-scale battles occur. This year Ragnarok will be held from June 20-28 at Cooper’s Lake in Pennsylvania.
Buck ‘Stone’ Helmke was one of the founding members of Galatia in 2003.
“When you go to one of the larger fights, like the yearly Thanksgiving battle that has 200 people easily, it’s like a scene out of ‘Braveheart,’” Helmke said. “Huge lines of fighters, shield walls clashing, full on charges — it’s a lot of fun.”
In Dagorhir each player is equipped with a foam weapon; weapons include spears, swords, daggers or bows and arrows. The goal of the game is to land a blow on the torso. Some weapons cause different points of damage depending on the armor a player is wearing. Helmke noted that the rulebook comes out to be around 31 pages.
The weapons contain PVC pipe or a fiberglass core, which is then wrapped up with foam. Helmke estimates his sword cost him $5 to make and has lasted for two years.
Justin ‘Pintsize’ Farin, a former VCU student that graduated in 2009, joined Galatia in 2006.
“Well for starters, I’m a nerd and I like nerdy things and believe it or not, it’s a lot of exercise,” Farin said.
Paul ‘Warthog’ Seiberlich, a former indoor soccer player for the Washington Warthogs, saw the game being played in a park and decided to join. He’s currently a member in a chapter called Felis Inferus, based in Maryland.
“I saw it was foam and thought ‘oh they’re just nerds, LARPers,’” Seiberlich said. “So I put my car in gear and was just leaving and I saw someone football-tackle a guy. (It was) interesting, so I paused, and then I saw another someone take an eight-foot weapon and sweep the guy’s foot above his head, and then I saw a guy shield-kick a guy who fell six feet and I thought, this was for me, and went over and talked to them.”
Seiberlich worked at Ragnarok as a medic, treating players who got hurt. The most common injuries that Seiberlich treated were caused by dehydration.
“Safety is the number one item for Dagorhir,” Seiberlich said. “but of course it happens, someone aims for the arm, accidently hits someone in the head. You’re running all by yourself, you twist your ankle. Same as high school soccer, same as PE class, it happens.”
Helmke invites anyone to join them at practice every Saturday in Monroe Park. The Galatia unit offers extra weapons for people to try out the sport.
“Everyone out here is great friends,” Helmke said. “The other guy who helped start the unit was the best man at my wedding, we end up with a very close knit community, especially when you’re spending time at camp outs and battles and fighting with someone shoulder to shoulder.”