Living legend Sami Grisafe literally reaches new heights

Working towards female football culturally relevant, Sami Grisafe is one of the sport’s avatars. A multi-talented athlete whose empowering legend can be traced back to her youth where barriers were first broken down, she brings broader attention to the game.

Returning to the Chicago Force in 2017, after a three-year absence from the game, it already represents one of the feel-good stories in the Women’s Football Alliance season. Undoubtedly, Grisafe’s career deserves a better ending.

A 2014 injury which resulted in tearing her ACL and Meniscus brought a premature end to her season, let alone her career. Despite announcing her retirement, there was always a competitive fire underneath, motivated towards a more fitting conclusion.

With speculation that this may be the last season in Chicago Force history, this gridiron swan song not only brings Grisafe’s glorious career full circle. The comeback symbolizes a tribute to a team that has meant so much to her.

Currently based out of California, Grisafe’s musical ambitions represent another amazing facet to her unique array of talents. In addition to the release of a song on iTunes called “All-Un-American”, she has also served as the host of a weekly concert series in Brentwood known as SunSeshLA.

Even when Grisafe resided in Chicago full-time, balancing football and musical gigs (which also included singing the National Anthem at Wrigley Field), she navigated between both worlds with ease.

Such navigation has taken on a whole new meaning in 2017 as weekly commutes from the Golden State to playing football in Chicago displays more than an admirable flexibility. It encompasses an admirable character, testament to her devotion to the game and teammates alike.

While she will also be using her time in the Windy City constructively for possible speaking opportunities and acoustic shows, there is a collective sense of happiness among fans and teammates alike to see her back in the Force jersey.

The weekly commute, with due deference, definitely places into perspective a key aspect of Grisafe’s amazing return to the gridiron. In any athlete’s career, the passing of time brings with it the need to make adjustments, understanding that such an outlook can bring with it future success.

Prior to such an eventful travel schedule, there was another journey for Grisafe, one that provided a defining moment. Visiting Mount Kilimanjaro, one of the world’s most famous peaks, it was a profoundly interesting excursion that allowed for a chance to bring new perspective to an existing friendship.

Participating at the urging of her best friend, Linsea, they were joined by a small group of amazing people whose efforts went beyond any self-gratification. There was a collaborative sense of teamwork in the name of raising funds for the African Alliance of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).

Along with a few days of heart warming volunteer with children at a local YMCA in Nairobi, Grisafe’s compassion established her as more than a sporting humanitarian. Throughout her musical career, she has graciously donated her time, performing at various causes, becoming a social activist through song. Her song in dedication to The Trevor Project is among such kind gestures.

The experience in Mount Kilimanjaro brought with it many personal lessons learned, it was a source of tremendous perspective. While Grisafe is a world-class athlete, a supernova of magnetism and allure who inspires so many, the essence of teamwork took on new meaning, definitely a building block towards Grisafe’s comeback in 2017.

“My journey up Mt. Kilimanjaro was an enlightening experience. During our final ascent, I endured a bad case of altitude sickness. I had to stop every five steps or so to gather my bearings and was the last one in my party to summit. As an athlete, this hurt my pride. Even now when I say that, it leaves me feeling uneasy.

The three-hour descent to our camp on summit day found me staggering all the way back to camp, falling more than walking and relying on the strength of my best friend to get me through.

The lesson I learned is grit can only get you so far in life. Sometimes, you need to have the grace to let others be your backbone. I think this is the true definition of a team. With grit and grace nothing is insurmountable.”

In many ways, Mount Kilimanjaro helped to set the tone for what is destined to be a memorable season. Two days before the flight, she was in contact with Force team president Linda Bache, verbally committing to competing with the Force this season.

Before the practices with the Force would even take place, the weekly flights would actually start with a journey to Orlando, returning to another key hallmark in Grisafe’s gridiron odyssey. Having starred with the United States national team with golden results at the 2010 and 2013 IFAF Women’s World Championships, the treasured chance for a third gold medal in 2017 extends an incredible legacy that has shepherded the sport.

With the 2017 edition of the IFAF Women’s Worlds taking place on the Pacific coast in Vancouver, British Columbia, it represents the first time that they shall be contested in North America. Undoubtedly, the feeling of familiarity also brings with it a sense of home field advantage for Grisafe and the other gridiron heroes on Team USA.

The path towards being named to Team USA a third time, placing Grisafe in truly rarified air occurred in March 2017 during a very exciting week of football at the Wide World of Sports facility in Orlando, Florida. In a week that began with Team USA tryouts, followed by the energetic Women’s World Football Games, culminating with the NFL’s annual showcase of stars, the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, Grisafe was definitely in her element.

With the residual warmth of the gridiron, Grisafe’s motivation rose to the surface. Although there was an obligatory, yet visceral, reflection on the injury that abruptly shelved a promising 2014, there was a progressive feeling of renewed confidence.

“Being back on the field for Team USA tryouts felt like home in so many ways. I was back on the gridiron, a place where I’ve spent a lot of time since the age of 10. Physically, I was reminded of my time off and felt a huge responsibility to not only rise to the occasion, but improve upon my past performance.

I had to prove myself. I like to pretend I am a rookie at the beginning of every season, because points aren’t awarded for experience. Points are awarded for results. Statistically, I want this to be the best season of my life.”

In discovering that she was named to Team USA, it was the catalyst towards a sensational seven-month journey filled with momentum and motivation. Refusing to rest on her laurels, Grisafe is looking towards this opportunity as one in which the level of loyalty and steadfastness will be greater than ever.

Understanding that the rest of the world is looking at the US as the standard bearer for its sport, it only serves to increase the level of competition. Looking at the privilege of wearing the team’s colors as more than just an honor, but a symbol of determination, Grisafe is ready to set a positive example,

“When I found out I made Team USA for a third time, I was eager to get started. I was honored to be asked to represent my country and excited to play with 44 of the best football players in the country.

At the same time, I know the challenge that awaits us. Putting a cohesive team together in a matter of weeks is not an easy undertaking. What we’ve accomplished in the past at the Women’s World Championships holds no water as we enter this year’s competition.

As one of the quaterback’s selected, I have a responsibility to keep our team focused in performing to the best of our abilities and not get distracted by pomp and circumstance. Making the team is both a reward and duty.”

To a degree, there is also a tinge of sadness. As Grisafe looks to bring the Chicago Force back into the WFA championship conversation, a monumental mentor adds a different dimension to the international aspect of 2017.

Force head coach John Konecki was the architect of the Team USA rosters in both 2010 and 2013, leading them to the pinnacle of their sport. While he will still roam the sidelines at Force games, his international career sees him taking on a new challenge as the head coach of Australia’s national team.

Although Team USA has always been a collection of the finest players from rival teams throughout the WFA, there is definitely a distinct feeling of transition this year. Making their IFAF Worlds debut in 2017, the ambitious Aussies have enjoyed their own competitive league since 2012, definitely prepared.

Confident of a podium finish under Konecki’s tutelage, it heralds a new era in which the competitive gap is potentially being bridged, while helping to shape the future. Regardless of the international ambitions, Konecki and the Force players that shall compete with Team USA, including Grisafe, are true professionals, refusing to let personal pride get in the way of their first WFA national title since 2013.

“Coming together to compete for our country in the world games while playing against each other on separate teams, each pursuing a national championship, always adds an interesting dynamic.

For the first time, we will also compete against our coach. For the past two world championships, the head coach of the Chicago Force, John Konecki, was the head coach for Team USA. This year a new head coach was selected for Team USA and Konecki will coach Team Australia.

Throughout this season, I will work with Coach Konecki to win another National Championship while preparing to compete against him in the world championships.”

Regardless of the final outcome in these seven months, there is no question that Grisafe has the heart of a lion, a champion before the race has even started. The sacrifices made to compete on the gridiron only add a new aspect to her amazing sporting legend, a true Captain America.

Employing both maturity and acumen, Grisafe’s comeback represents an amazing ability to approach the future with confidence while refusing to be haunted by past failures or blinded by past glories. Gaining the opportunity to wear the jersey of the Force and Team USA, this is truly the final ending fitting of an individual who is more than just a world class athlete, but a world class person.

“I feel very fortunate to be a part of the Chicago Force organization. Without large salaries (or any salary for that matter) and medical benefits to draw top athletes to our sport, it can be difficult to field and maintain a team of talented players. Our management, coaching staff, and veteran team members dedicate so much of their time to both recruiting and skill development.

It is because of their dedication so many of us will get to take the field together wearing the red, white and blue. I’m looking forward to sharing the field with both my Force sisters and players from all the other teams across the country. When we leave for training camp in June, we are no longer individuals from select teams. We are one team with one mission.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”