Originally Published on: https://canadafootballchat.com/dianne-ikeda-a-portrait-of-courageous-determination/
In the football narrative of Dianne Ikeda, the date of May 14, 2016 shall stand as a turning point. Sullenly shelved for the remainder of the season after suffering a torn ACL and meniscus in a contest that pitted the rising Halifax Xplosion against the Saint John Storm, the ominous expectation was that this impediment could mark the end of her gridiron endeavors.
Remaining part of the team in a coaching capacity, maintaining her enthusiasm for game and team alike, Ikeda rebounded from two surgeries over the course of two years, rewriting her destiny. While her injury was known throughout the Maritime Women’s Football League’s (MWFL) circles, the revelation of her return to the gridiron, a tale of sheer courage and perseverance, resulted in one of the most inspiring moment of the most recent season.
“There was never a question of ‘if’ I would come back to playing, it was a question of when I would be physically ready. I nearly came back for the 2017 season, but made the hard decision to take the season off to completely heal.”
With a combination of coincidence and calling, Ikeda’s return to the MWFL gridiron took place on May 12, 2018 at Cole Harbour Field in Dartmouth, nearly two years to the day of her injury, opposing the same team she suffered the injury against. While there was an understandable blend of eagerness and trepidation, a remarkable support of encouragement on social media supplied ample motivation, simultaneously igniting the fire in her heart.
Yet, the road back from the recovery of sports injuries revolves around more than just the physical. Integral to the full recovery involves overcoming the psychological effects, which can complete the equation towards a confident comeback. Undoubtedly, Ikeda’s first game back certainly centered on the strength of her rebuilt knee.
As quickly as concern filled her thoughts, it evaporated quite rapidly, replaced by an assured eagerness. Learning to make adjustments, the success of her first tackle represented a rejuvenation, transforming from hobbled warrior to gridiron goddess,
“The first game back was both exciting and nerve wracking. I did not know the full capacity of my knee and how it would hold up. I was scared of someone landing on it and re-injuring it, or twisting the wrong way, etc. Yet, after I got my first tackle in and started to feel out my new abilities, all I felt was happiness to be back on the field.”
Despite the Storm prevailing by a 38-6 tally, the real victory was in Ikeda’s bravery, mounting a heroic effort. Such an output is one that also reflected her strong team-first approach, quick to recognize what the Xplosion meant. Representing a second family to Ikeda, the team was a critical component in her comeback. Surrounded by a group of teammates and coaches that fostered a highly positive culture, this supportive collaboration proved to be uplifting. Displaying an empathy without apprehension, Ikeda transitioned back throughout practice sessions that allowed her to mesh with her teammates without posing a setback to her admirable recovery.
“The Xplosion team and coaching staff was amazing to me! I stayed with the team as a coach while I was injured, so almost everyone already knew me. During practices, they always made sure that I was only doing what was pain free, and they all expressed their excitement for me to be back playing again. In fact, anyone in the league who knew me and knew my injury was very supportive and excited for me that I was back.”
Recounting the cherished highlights in her comeback, Ikeda reveals how a trio of tackles were essential in rebuilding her confidence. Particularly, a pair of titanic tackles against two of the Lady Glads’ megastars, refueling a personal rivalry while rekindling the joy of gracing the gridiron, garbed in the Xplosion jersey.
Also members of Team Canada, Olivia DeMerchant, a two-sport star whose rugby exploits have resulted in competition internationally, along with Alex Black-Morel, among a trio of Canadians to have played in the first three IFAF Women’s Worlds, were the recipients of smashing tackles by Ikeda. Undoubtedly, such plays heralded Ikeda’s return to the MWFL, simultaneously re-establishing her standing as a defensive stalwart for the Xplosion.
“Favourite moment? There are three tackles that stand out as times when I was happiest on the field. My very first tackle of the season on Kait Girouard, and my first solo tackles on Olivia DeMerchant and Alex Morel; only because I have an internal rivalry with those girls because they are so talented and it is quite difficult for someone my size to take them down!”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
In celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, Fourth and Feminine is recognizing this landmark anniversary by saluting a collection of sensational female football heroes. Since the inaugural IFAF Women’s World Football Championships in 2010, the awareness of women gracing the gridiron the world over is quickly gaining awareness. Undeniably, Canada has been part of this fascinating movement.
Adding to the momentum of the sport’s evolution is the fact that many of the competitors are multi-sport stars. From the hardcourts of basketball, to the frozen perimeter of the hockey rink, football has served as an athletic extension for so many inspiring women, adding a unique facet to the game’s growth, while exemplifying the potential for women in sport to serve as role models.
Since league play has been established in Canada, one of the most notable is the Maritime Women’s Football League. Having existed since 2003, the Saint John Storm have emerged as the signature franchise of MWFL football. Valiant competitors from the Halifax Xplosion, Moncton Vipers and Capital Area Lady Gladiators have all made their presence felt in league lore too, supplying no shortage of gridiron heroes that have donned the Team Atlantic jersey in national championship competition.
Atlantic Canada’s contribution to female football was also an essential springboard towards setting the foundation as a truly national game. The first Canadian team that competed at the IFAF Women’s Worlds, back in 2010, saw the majority of the team hailing from the MWFL. In addition, the head coach for Canada also called the MWFL home. The level of competitive experience cultivated in the MWFL found its greatest legacy across the Atlantic, as the inaugural IFAF Worlds were contested in Stockholm, Sweden.
Nearly a decade after the existence of the MWFL, female football in Prairie Canada enjoyed the beginning of its proud roots. In existence for over a decade, the independent Edmonton Storm spearheaded an amazing era which saw football grow by a quantum leap in Alberta. With the existence of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, the Western Conference has included a gathering of teams from throughout Alberta, including the Storm, Calgary Rage, Lethbridge Steel, the Grand Prairie Northern Anarky, plus the now defunct Okotoks Lady Outlawz.
Neighbouring province Saskatchewan has emerged as the hub for elite female football in Canada. With the shared dynasty between the Regina Riot and the Saskatoon Valkyries (combining to win the first eight championships in WWCFL history), their dominance has been highlighted by players from both teams amalgamating to become Team Saskatchewan. In unification, this stellar group captured the 2016 Canadian National Women’s Championship.
Prairie Pride is also emphasized by the impact of Winnipeg’s involvement in the WWCFL. With two teams, the Fearless and the Wolf Pack, gracing the gridiron, both clubs enjoy a steady stream of incoming talent through the existence of the ground breaking Manitoba Girls Football Association. Long before a competitive girls league existed in Utah, the MGFA was staking its claim in the province’s sporting conversation, providing girls with an empowering option to pursue their athletic endeavors.
As Ontario looks to expand its imprint on the gridiron, the establishment of the MIFO holds tremendous potential. Considering that Canada’s roster for the first three IFAF Women’s Worlds did not include one player from Ontario (attributed to the fact that Ontario did not field teams at the Canadian Women’s Nationals), the possibility for growth in Canada’s biggest province may result in a roster richly filled with prospective international talent. With Canada seeking its first-ever gold in IFAF play, help from Ontario may serve as the key to capture the elusive gold.
Worth noting, Ontario’s gridiron legacy involves a triptych of unique moments. The admirable effort to establish the Central Canadian Women’s Football League (CCWFL), which gained the endorsement of the two Canadian Football League franchises in the Greater Toronto Area, was a positive step forward. Although the league never enjoyed its inaugural season, it helped raise awareness that female football in Toronto was a possibility.
Such a possibility was also increased by the presence of the Toronto Triumph, a team that played indoor football at the Ricoh Coliseum, and later, Mississauga’s Hershey Centre. Under the brand of Legends Football League, the Canadian-based grouping of teams included the British Columbia Angels (competing in Abbottsford), along with clubs in Regina and Saskatoon. Although a second season never materialized, which would have included a team in Calgary known by the moniker “Fillies”, a handful of Canadian talent made their way south of the border, competing for teams in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Nashville and Seattle.
The Canadian content that filtered its way into the US based teams of Legends Football only comprised a fraction of the narrative. Worth noting, the Women’s World Football Games, the brainchild of Samantha Rapoport, an employee from USA Football, who was raised in Montreal, it became one of the most notable events of the decade. Hosted in states such as Florida, Louisiana and Texas, the profile of the Games took on a much more profound meaning, as the event would be held in Orlando, just a few days before the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, also in the same city. The NFL certainly noticed, commendably sponsoring a seminar for women hoping to gain careers in football, which saw all participants from the Games cordially invited.
Appropriately, Rapoport’s impact in the game had its initial footing on home soil. Having lined up at the quarterback position for the Montreal Blitz, she was among a long line of notable women in female football that donned the club’s colours. Having provided players to Canada’s entries at all three IFAF Women’s Worlds, the dazzling display of world-class talents stand as one of its greatest legacies.
For the hockey-mad city, the rise of the Blitz as one of the most competitive teams in club play ran parallel to the emergence of women’s ice hockey capturing the imagination of fans. Akin to the Storm, the existence of the Blitz also spans over a decade, although its greatest achievements took place south of the border.
Having competed in the IWFL, the Blitz became the first-ever (and only) Canadian team to win a league championship. Eventually capturing championships at both the Division I and Division III levels, the biggest irony is the fact that such triumphs did not take place on Canadian soil. Of note, the Blitz captured their championships in Round Rock, Texas.
Spending the 2017 season in the Women’s Football Alliance, the Blitz made history as the first Canadian team to align with the league. In that same season, the Blitz would not only advance to the second round of the WFA playoffs, adding to the sense of history, they would also supply over 10 players to Team Canada’s entry at the IFAF Worlds.
Considering that the 2017 edition of the Worlds were held in Vancouver, the first-ever to be held on North American soil, it proved to be an iconic moment in sporting Canadiana. Not only did the Canadian contingent score a touchdown against the United States in the gold medal game, the first time that the Americans ever allowed a touchdown. Taking into account that 2017 was also Canada’s sesquicentennial, national pride took on a whole new meaning for the women who donned the Canadian jersey.
Approaching the future with a tremendous optimism, the women of Canadian football have a lot to be proud of. Fittingly, Atlantic Canada’s role in the future of Canadian female football may hold a unique component, adding a strong feeling of full circle. As the Montreal Blitz no longer compete in the WFA, their newest initiative involves taking a look inward, keen towards establishing an Eastern Canadian league. With exhibition games against MIFO and Team New Brunswick (a team of MWFL All-Stars), such events are setting the stage towards the next great goal of the game; establishing an East vs. West National Championship.
1: Samantha Rapoport
In an era that has seen the likes of Sarah Thomas and Dr. Jen Welter positively change the perception of women in football, just as relevant is the presence of Samantha Rapoport. First involved in football during the early 2000s, as a quarterback with her hometown Montreal Blitz, Rapoport has also brought her A-game to the board room.
Having joined USA Football, Rapoport, an alumnae of McGill University, was the architect behind the Women’s World Football Games (WWFG). Welcoming players from over a dozen countries, the event would not only foster a sense of friendship and unification among players from the world over, running parallel to the development of the IFAF Women’s Worlds.
Of note, the second of the WWFG would signify a monumental milestone in Rapoport’s gridiron vision. Hosted at the New Orleans Saints training facility, it provided the participants with a major league feeling worthy of the ambition the women of football brought to the gridiron.
Since then, the WWFG has continued to increase in prominence. With the event also featuring a seminar geared at women aspiring for careers in football, the presence of numerous figures from NFL football, including Terry Pegula, the co-owner of the Buffalo Bills has only added an important relevance to such aspirations. Taking into account that Phoebe Schechter, a player from Great Britain, gained an opportunity for a coaching internship with the Bills through her attendance at one of the seminars, it stands as one of the crowning achievements in Rapoport’s commendable concept of shaping the future of the game for women.
Currently employed with the NFL, it represents a sensational summit for the revered Rapoport. Celebrated for her achievements with recognition in People Magazine, honored among a group of women that are changing the world, she is crafting a legacy as one of the game’s modern builders. Leading the way for an empowering generation that is redefining the role of women in football, Rapoport is a gridiron great on both sides of the border.
2: Trina Graves
3: Alex Black
4: Candace Bloomquist
5: Aimee Kowalski
6: Candice Ward
7: Christine O’Donnell
8: Stevi Schnoor
Having also played for Canada’s national rugby sevens team, Stevi Schnoor brought such skills from the pitch to the gridiron.
Employing a tenacious athleticism and an endurance that has made her one of the most dependable players on any team she suits up for, Schnoor is known affectionately among fans as “The Bull”. Among the top 10 all-time leading rushers in Legends Football League play, she has simultaneously established herself as the league’s finest Canadian competitor.
Enjoying her first Legends Cup championship as a member of the British Columbia Angels, Schnoor would bring her skills to the Seattle Mist, quickly becoming a gridiron hero among American and Canadian fans alike. In her Mist debut, she would score multiple touchdowns in a Pacific Cup victory against their archrivals, the Los Angeles Temptation, garnering the nickname “Stevi Wonder”
Winning a pair of Legends Cup titles with the Mist, Schnoor was constantly among the league’s leading rushers. Adding luster to such a magical time in Seattle was the fact that there was a significant amount of Canadian content. Joining Schnoor on the Mist included Mary-Anne Hanson, who was also the quarterback during the Angels’ championship season. A former volleyball player in Atlantic University Sport play, the statuesque Deanna Schaper-Kotter gained a spot on the Mist’s offensive line unit.
The 2018 season would mark a new chapter in Schnoor’s gridiron odyssey. Suiting up for the expansion Nashville Knights, there was a recurring theme upon her arrival. Akin to first joining the Mist, when a handful of players from British Columbia joined the team, Schnoor was part of an eastward migration of Seattle players that joined the Knights.
Led by Danika Brace, the first female coach in league history, Schnoor called wondrous women such as Jade Randle, fellow running back Dominique Maloy and quarterback KK Matheny teammates once again. Although Schnoor did not enjoy the statistical season in Music City that she was accustomed to in Seattle, her imposing presence translated into strong leadership, contributing towards a Knights team that gained a postseaon berth in their expansion season.
9: Saadia Ashraf
10: Jaime Lammerding
Disclaimer: This list is not endorsed by Football Canada, the IFAF, LFL, IWFA, MWFL, WWCFL and WFA, any clubs affiliated in the aforementioned leagues, along with its players and/or management.
One of the most pioneering women in Atlantic Canadian football, Lisa Harlow’s name is synonymous with achievement. Having starred in the Maritime Women’s Football League during its nascent years, Harlow quickly became one of the feature players with the dynastic Saint John Storm.
Becoming the first player inducted into the Storm’s Ring of Honour, Harlow would also make her mark by becoming head coach, emulating her father, Larry, who served in the same capacity for a number of seasons. Leading the club to the Judy Upward Trophy, such a milestone affirmed Harlow’s status as an icon in Maritime football.
Perhaps no highlight in Harlow’s storied career shall compare to the opportunity to don the Canadian jersey at the inaugural IFAF Women’s World Football Championships in 2010. Among a gathering of superb MWFL talent that made up more than half of the Canadian roster, she was part of a watershed moment in both Canadian football and league lore, signaling the arrival of women in the gridiron conversation.
12: Julie Paetsch
13: Lindsay Ertman
One of the first superstars of female football in Western Canada, Lindsay Ertman holds a treasured place in Edmonton sporting lore. Quiet yet strong willed, Ertman spent over a decade with the Edmonton Storm, establishing herself as an empowering pioneer that set the stage for the gridiron opportunities of today’s generation.
14: Karin Simmons, Edmonton Storm, Quarterback
15: Tannis Wilson
16: Erin Walton, Calgary Rage
17: Emma Hicks
18: Aria McGowan, Edmonton Storm, Quarterback
19: Laurence Pontbriand, Team Canada 2013 and 2017, Montreal Blitz
23: Beth Thomson, Team Canada 2013 and 2017, Saskatoon
24: Virginie Roberge Team Canada 2013 and 2017
25: Carly Dyck, Team Canada 2017
26: Claire Dore, Team Canada 2013 and 2017
27: Alia Palmer, Team Canada 2010
28: Cheryl O’Leary, Coach and Administrator, MWFL, Team Atlantic
Competing with the Capital Area Lady Gladiators, enjoying the experience of hoisting the Judy Upward Trophy, it only represents part of the narrative in Cheryl O’Leary’s brilliant football career. Having also given her time in an executive capacity with the MWFL, her credentials made her a key addition to the Central Canadian Women’s Football League, when she relocated to the Greater Toronto Area for professional reasons. Although the CCWFL never played a game, O’Leary would have been an ideal ambassador for the league and the brand.
Also relevant is O’Leary’s experience as a coach. Serving in a coaching capacity with Team Atlantic at the inaugural Canadian women’s national football championships, contested in 2012, the following year would propel her into history. With Canada appearing at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds, O’Leary became the first woman to be part of the coaching staff. Serving under the tutelage of Olivier Eddie, O’Leary was part of a group of heroes from the MWFL representing Canada on an international scale.
29: Mandy Hamilton-Mallais, First MVP in MWFL History 2005
32: Kora-Lea Vidal, Edmonton Storm, Calgary Rage, Team Canada 2010
Having played for both the Edmonton Storm and the Calgary Rage, Kora-Lea Vidal has been on both sides of the biggest rivalry in Alberta female football. During her time with the Rage, Vidal’s loyalty to the game and team alike, took on a whole new dimension. Experiencing the milestone of becoming a mom, it was not uncommon for Vidal to have her young child in attendance at home games.
Prior to joining the Rage, Vidal enjoyed the opportunity to be part of an empowering chapter in Canadian female sports. Named to the roster that competed at the inaugural 2010 IFAF Women’s Worlds, contested overseas in Sweden, Vidal (known at the time by her maiden name: Kora-Lea Hooker) contributed towards the Canadian unit garnering a silver medal.
33: Holly Arthur, Halifax Xplosion, Calgary Rage, Team Atlantic
Among an exclusive sorority of female footballers that have graced the gridiron in both the MWFL and the WWCFL, Holly Arthur brought a tremendous dedication to each team that she played for. From competing with Team Atlantic at the inaugural Canadian National Women’s Football Championships in 2012, to her time with the Halifax Xplosion and the Calgary Rage, Arthur was a highly likeable teammate.
Wearing number 12 with the Xplosion, Arthur established herself as one of the team’s luminaries, gaining a spot on the MWFL All-Star Team. Quite possibly, her greatest highlight with the club was one that actually took place off the field. Serving as one of the defining moments in club lore, one that helped propel the women of Xplosion football into a greater local awareness, she was among the organizers for the Xplosion’s participation in the Halifax Pride Parade.
Upon her arrival to the Rage, making the cross country journey with her family to a new residence in Alberta, Arthur provided a strong veteran presence to a team that already consisted of strong leadership. Considering that the Rage enjoyed many other new recruits during Arthur’s time with the club, her experience from the MWFL allowed her to set a positive example for the recruits who were also novices to the game, allowing for an enjoyable transition.
34: Tori Giles
35: Amanda Ruller
36: Jana Taylor, QB, Team Canada 2010
37: Lori Boyles, 2010
38: Mallory Starkey, Team Canada 2013, Regina Riot
39: Kris Chatterton Team Canada 2013, 2017
40: Emilie Belanger, Team Canada 2013, 2017, Regina Riot, Montreal Blitz, Chicago Force