Diverse paths lead to football for women
To say that some players for the Portland Fighting Shockwave have come a long way describes more than just their development as football players.
Veronika Miketova caught the football bug in the Czech Republic. Coco Rallings drives 2 1/2 hours one way for each practice. Joeterika Grant found football a decade after her basketball career ended.
Their journeys are different, but the lengths they go to play tackle football demonstrate a shared passion. Rallings spends hours on I-5. Miketova balances being mom to a 1-year-old son with improving as a running back. Grant is without a permanent home, but is among the top tacklers nationally in the Women's Football Alliance.
Such dedication impresses Fighting Shockwave coach Asia Wisecarver, who says those examples of human resiliency inspire her, as do the friendships forged during the team's weekly practices and weekend games.
"Football as an outlet has been big this year," Wisecarver said, explaining that the social aspect of playing a nontraditional women's sport is significant.
The Fighting Shockwave are scheduled to complete the season, their 20th, with a June 18 game in Everett, Washington, against the Seattle Spartans. A live webstream of that 6 p.m. game should be availble on the Seattle Spartans' Twitch.tv channel.
They have one win and three losses after a 74-0 June 12 home loss to a more experienced Nevada Storm. Wisecarver noted that three of the Shockwave's games have been close, and that for a roster filled with rookies the team has shown great grit and dedication.
It's hard to imagine a player more dedicated to playing football — man or woman — than Rallings.
This is the Oakridge resident's 17th season playing tackle football. Rallings, who turns 53 this year and primarily plays defensive end, served eight years in the Army. Until she heard about a women's team forming in Eugene in 2000, her football experience was mud football games while growing up in Chicago.
Despite working multiple jobs, the long drive to practices and games are worth it for Rallings, a self-described workaholic. So are the injuries, the list of which grew longer when she broke the humerus bone in her arm April 1 — a coincidence that she can only laugh about.
"I still made the tackle," Rallings said. "It's football. I'm used to being sore."
She's taken a few seasons off when teams folded or after coaching changes, but is in her ninth season making the drive north to play with the Shockwave.
"I have roots here. Now, I'm more invested. I'm doing more than just playing football. These are my friends. We have a lot of young players, and I'm helping them learn the game."
Teams have popped up closer to home, including a new Salem area team this season. But, Rallings expects to play at least three more seasons with the Fighting Shockwave.
"I guess my goal is to be the oldest player in the league and to have played the most seasons," she said. "I'll probably quit after 20 seasons and start coaching."
Miketova's introduction to American football happened when she went to watch friends play for a men's team in her native Czech Republic. Not big on watching, she joined played two seasons with the Brno Amazons whie completing a graduate degree in architecture. After college, she established the Ostrada Diamonds, in her hometown.
"It wasn't easy, but we did well," she said of getting equipment, finding coaches and recruiting players.
Miketova also represented the Czech Republic at an international flag football tournament.
After two years, with the Diamonds in good hands and wanting to see some of the world, Miketova traveled to New Zealand. While there, she played rugby and flag football — and met husband Jarer Coon. The couple moved to Portland two years ago. Miketova was ready for a return to football, but pregnancy postponed her return to the field.
These days, not much will separate Miketova from 1-year-old son, Oliver. But the chance to play football does.
During the pandemic, she started baking custom cakes for friends and hopes to turn that into a business. She loves architecture, but that path is on hold.
"Life is very interesting, sometimes," Miketova said of the turns hers has taken.
Changing direction is a skill that comes in handy as a running back and strong safety for the Fighting Shockwave. After playing seven-on-seven tackle football in the Czech Republic, Miketova is enjoying playing the 11-player game.
Being one of 11 players working to execute each play is one reason Miketova fell for football.
"It's a team game," Miketova said. "One person is not able to (accomplish) something. It's not just one person making things happen."
Miketova, Rallings and Grant each said football, and working toward a common goal, has become an important outlet in these stressful times. For Grant, that stress includes uncertain housing.
Recently displaced, she has been "couch surfing" or staying with her mom. She started her own landscaping business, but recently had a setback when the catalytic converter was stolen off her car.
Through such challenges, including a broken wrist suffered in a recent game, Grant has persevered at linebacker for the Fighting Shockwave. Entering the June 12 game against Seattle, Grant's 34 tackles (21 solo, three for lost yardage) were the second most in Division II of the Women's Football Alliance.
A 2009 graduate of Reynolds, basketball was Grant's sport in high school and at College of the Siskiyous. Social media posts by former college teammates who were playing women's football piqued Grant's interest, and she tracked down the Fighting Shockwave.
She said that, even waiting for a season, being part of a team again helped her fend off boredom during the pandemic. In a rookie season that began with virtual training sessions and team-building events, Grant learned some basic football. Once practices began, she found she enjoyed the physical challenge the game presents.
In the process, Grant said, football has become much more than a needed outlet.
"I've found a new family."
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