Behind the Facemask: Birgit Schwenk, The Shadow that Found Her Confidence

Birgit Schwenk, native of Mainz in the Rheinland-Pfalz part of Germany, found football in 2006 when she in was in the cafeteria at her university. She was approached by a fellow classmate who stated she was playing football and they were looking to add people to their roster. Birgit was a bit confused because this woman was talking about how she had “a perfect football body.” She had never been asked to join a sports team with that kind of approach. Stated in previous posts I have made, women with size are not celebrated like men with size are on this planet, even though they are fully capable of being athletes too.

A couple of days later, Birgit joined the youth football practice at the Sportsclub. One of the guys from the men’s team that practiced there asked how old Birgit was, thinking she was male and wanting to recruit her. Birgit’s coach laughed and and informed him that she is in fact a woman.

After one practice, Birgit was hooked on football. She helped build up a team called the TSV Schott Mainz Golden Eagles Ladies. They struggled the first couple of years but eventually grew to the point they become a constant member of the German Football League called Damenbundesliga.

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Birgit has now played 10 years and plays on the offensive and defensive line. She prefers to play right guard on offense. She jokes that one day she hopes to convert into the fastest and strongest tight end in the world! I certainly know from playing her that a tight end with her size would be hard to cover.

Birgit’s favorite NFL team is the New Orleans Saints because they graciously hosted the Women’s World Football Games last year at their facilities. That is where Birgit and I met. 224 women from 17 countries attended this week long camp that ended with a series of games. Birgit’s favorite player is Rebekka Perrier who was her teammate and coach for many years.

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Birgit has faced many obstacles playing football. One of which is that she is naturally a friendly person and had to learn that it’s OK to put that aside and dominate on the field. She trained herself to be aggressive and to find an internal strength to compete. Birgit became addicted to competing and now misses it. She sometimes will play against youth teams just to feel like she is being challenged.

When preparing for a game, Birgit likes to have her own space and have quiet. She checks her equipment “a thousand times.” She checks with her coaches if she has any questions about blocking schemes and talks with her teammates. Her biggest pet peev is when she has to try to hurry or if people are overly nervous around her. At times, Birgit has even used meditation before a game to remain calm.

Birgit’s proudest moment was when her team reached National Championship. It was a great feeling to have started with the team in 2006 with only 2 or 3 other girls. They practiced for 2 years on a small green area by the river Main and had little funding. They weren’t allow to play in the division they wanted to because the club they were with didn’t have the funding either.

They eventually changed clubs in 2008 and started that season with 11 girls. The rule was that you needed 15 girls to play so they had to round up whatever friends, sisters, cousins, they could find to make it work. Even with the lack of experience they played well and were able to win in Division 2.

This last year they moved up to Division 1 and got all the way to finals and lost to an experienced team called the Berlin Kobra Ladies but it was a close game, 36-28 and they were proud to have gotten that far.

Birgit is also proud about a 3rd place finish at the European Championships in Spain when she played on Team Germany. She also got selected as an All-Star for the tournament.

Birgit’s funniest moment was as at the National Tryout Camp for Team Germany in 2010. She was playing nose tackle and the offense had a long run and Birgit busted 20 yards down the field to help save a touchdown with the safety. A few weeks later she met other girls from the national team and they were calling her Shadow. She was confused and asked why they called her Shadow. They said that when she tackled the running back, she came back to the huddle and said, “damn, I run and run and then the sun was gone and a high shadow came over me and smashed me to the ground!”

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There was another time where Birgit and her linemen were standing at the line of scrimmage and waiting for the ref to blow their whistle to begin play. One of the players on the other team told Birgit’s center that she liked her shoes. The center said thank you and the other player asked her where she got them. Then the ref said, “OK, that just happened during a ladies game.” Everyone laughed.

Birgit’s philosophy is that while you are on the field to “keep calm and carry on.”  She believes that you cannot win if you are nervous and panic. Birgit says it is best to stay loose and focused so that you don’t play flat. She says that is OK if you make a mistake if you learn from it.

Football has taught Birgit that she is OK as she is. It has boosted her self-confidence and taught her that you need all sizes and shapes on the football team in order to succeed. She also has learned to take in the joy of playing a sport that she had previously lost while being in school. Football has helped develop Birgit into the person she is now. Birgit wants to articulate to people chasing their dreams that we all start from the bottom.

A fun fact that people might not know about Birgit is that she took ballet as a child. This might explain her great foot work.

Needless to say, Birgit brushes her obstacles aside as you can see from the video below.

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