Football Christmas in Orlando: Part 2, Break and Women’s World Football Games Camp

Days Off: January 23rd-24th

We woke up on Monday the 23rd and decided to first head to the field to watch some of our teammates and friends that were playing in the 2nd tryout section. When we got to the field, it was very windy. This 2nd session had over 100 people in it so each position group was obviously larger. I think there were around 20-25 linebackers.

It was great to watch my teammates in action. Before I had left, I had numerous requests to film whenever I could so I went live on Facebook with some of the drills. I made a point to get Rachel Woods in there too. Rachel is my quarterback at home and like me, has been rehabbing from a knee injury. She tore her ACL about a week before my injury. We have tried to support each other through the process. I knew that Rachel might be a bit more private than me but it meant just as much to her to be on that field. I was proud of her. I moved around to the different groups to film and we said hi to people as they broke for water before we left.

We then
headed out to pick up Leann’s teammate Sarah Cooper before we aimed at going to Disney Springs.Disney Springs is a free boardwalk type area that has shopping. We
walked around a bit before settling down to lunch. Alexis and Nikki came by and meet us up and we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around and taking pictures.

The following day, we had decided to go to a Disney Park. Brooklyn had left on Monday so she could go back to work but Leann’s other teammate Lindsey had arrived and she used to work at Disney back in the day. This meant she had a close friend who still did and could get us passes.We had decided on the Hollywood park.

We arrived in the afternoon and took the train from the parking lot to the entrance. We walked around a bit before finding some rides. Lindsey and I rode the elevator ride first. I loved the props they used and it was pretty fun. I had to hold on to my bag though because when the ride dropped I almost lost it! We then jumped on the Aerosmith themed roller coast which was pretty awesome.

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For lunch we stopped at Disney restaurant and I had a chicken sandwich before we resumed our wandering around. We finished our theme park trip with a historical Hollywood themed ride. Basically we rode in a train as it took us through different sets where they described Hollywood history. Since I’m a nerd, I actually enjoyed this.


Women’s World Games: January 25-28th

The following day we arrived back at the ESPN complex for the start of the 4th annual Women’s World Games. This is an international camp where players from around the world attend. This year we had over 200 women from 20 countries attend. It’s amazing as there are women who play from countries that you didn’t realize had football period, let alone women’s football.

I attended the 1st and 3rd versions of this camp and loved it. There is a mentor program each year to match more veteran people with people newer to the game. This year my mentee was from Russia. Her name is Sasha and she is also a linebacker. Russia actually brought a few players and a couple of coaches. Sasha’s best friend was also a linebacker and I kind of adopted them both as my Russians.

russian

I met them that morning and we exchanged gifts. I gave Sasha a Seattle Majestics shirt and she brought me Russian chocolate. It was adorable as they didn’t speak English strongly but we were still able to communicate.

The first day we broke into position groups. We had a couple of the same coaches from trials but some others joined. One of the best parts about the camp to me is that when you register you get your country’s flag placed on your helmet. So when you look across the field you see all the different flags represented.

After the first practice we started a series of forums put on by the NFL to encourage women into positions in coaching, scouting, and front office. The first panel included some high level names. Kim Pegula (co-owner of the Buffalo Bills), Scott Pioli (Atlanta Falcons Assistant GM), Dawn Aponte (former executive with Miami Dolphins), and Kimberly Fields (NFL Senior VP of Football Operations).

The set up was basically like a talk show. We had chairs on the floor and bleachers that we sat in that faced a stage where the panelist sat and discussed positions within the sport and how to get your foot in the door. I was floored by the thought that I would have never imagined when I had first started playing 11 years ago that the NFL would at some point create an initiative to cultivate the talent in my sport.

I was impressed by how bright all the panelists were. They were all great at what they do and they all obviously worked hard at it. I think the forums were positive for us to see that yes, these opportunities do exist. I think a lot of us had thought these positions to be behind some Wizard of Oz curtain. Exposure to it will lead to growth for women in this sport.

There was a second session that afternoon that included Ron Rivera (Carolina Panthers Head Coach), Stephanie Rivera (former WNBA coach), Courtney Rivera (Social Media for the Carolina Panthers) and Kathryn Smith (First Female Coach hired by NY Jets).

The Rivera’s were so genuine that I felt like you could hang out with them and pick their coaching brains for hours. All three of them coach. Obviously, Ron coaches the Panthers but Stephanie coaches basketball including in the WNBA, and their daughter Courtney coaches softball.

Later forums included Mary Bingham (Team Nutritionist of the Miami Dolphins), Katie Blackburn (Executive VP of the Cincinnati Bengals), Dean Blandino (Senior VP of Officiating), Dave Gardi (Senior VP of Football Operations of NFL), Michelle Mckenna-Doyle (Senior VP/CIO of NFL), Dave Puloka (Head Strength and Conditioning Coach of Miami Dolphins), and Tara Wood (Employee Relations of NFL).

One of the other cool things was that since we happened to playing at the ESPN Complex where all the Pro Bowl Festivities were happening, we got to watch all the fan fest sets get built and interact with fans while they enjoyed the atmosphere. Many of my friends saw NFL players and got pictures with them. I was not as lucky but did enjoy the excitement. In between practices we would walk around and explore.

Thursday the January 26th ended with us being divided up into 3 games. Everyone was split into a beginners game, intermediate, and advanced game. I was put into the advanced game which actually ended up being the 2nd game due to scheduling of the Pro Bowl events.

This meant that on Friday night when the first game was happening, I went back to the hotel to complete some laundry so Leann could watch some of her teammates. Once the laundry was complete I met her back at the field so we could watch the beginners game. It was very cold for some reason that night so I tried to jump around to stay warm.

Saturday morning we woke up so we could get to the field early to watch the Pro Bowl practice. This was the final walk through for the teams before their game the next day and we all got passes to watch. Alexis, Leann, and I tried to find room at the first field but ended up getting pushed over to the 2nd field where the NFC was practicing.

When they came out it was funny because they do walk thru’s just like we do. Laid back, no equipment, but obvious nervous energy. We lined up around the makeshift barriers and Alexis made friends with the Cowboys fans next to her. I’m not sure why one would do that but hey. To each their own. Go 49ers.

After some pictures and videos I got antsy and started thinking about the game I was about to play. I went back to the cafeteria where we were supposed to meet so I could take my time getting ready.

odell

Apparently, just after I left, Odell Beckham went to the section I was just at and high fived Alexis and signed autographs. Maybe next time.

Stay tuned for Part 3 where I go over the Women’s World Game and the Pro Bowl!

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