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Are You Here for the Girls' Lacrosse Meeting?
Most people quit football because of an injury. In my case, I took up the game because of one. My gridiron career actually started with an awkward slide on a soccer field. I was 13 years old and playing in a preseason game with my competitive club team. It was a cold, wet February weekend so the field was a swampy mess. I was chasing after a player who had the ball when I hit a particularly slick area of the field. I knocked the ball out from under her feet, and it squirted out of bounds. Unfortunately, one of my legs went one way with the ball, while the other leg stayed on the field. A sharp, searing pain shot through my left thigh. It felt like it had been torn in half. Before I even stood up, I knew it wasn't good. It took just a moment, but a slip and a slide on a soaking wet field changed my life forever.
I didn't know how long I would be out of action, but the days quickly turned to weeks and then to months. I spent a lot of time resting the leg, icing it, and stretching it. But every time I tried to run, I couldn't go more than a few strides before the shooting pains hit. Then I'd start limping. When the leg didn't get better, I finally had an MRI. As it turned out, the tearing feeling I had felt on the field that day was exactly that. The scan showed a complete tear of my leftquadriceps muscle.
The next thing I knew, instead of spending most of my time on the soccer field with my team, I was spending it at a rehab clinic with a therapist. The season rolled by as I tried to nurse my quad back to health. It did start to heal, but it seemed like every time I made some progress, I'd hit a growth spurt. I would grow, but the injured muscle wouldn't grow with me. Every time I ran, it went into spasms.
Spring turned to summer, and summer to fall. Even after months of rehab, I still couldn't get the full motion and agility I needed to make the cuts and slides on the soccer field. Eventually I got to a point where I could jog, but I still couldn't sprint at full speed. I knew soccer, at the level I played at, was out of the picture. One year and three doctors later, I was finished -- at least for an unknown period of time.
The reality hit me hard. I had been playing at the highest competitive level in the state and was preparing for high school. I would be going to Chatfield High School, which boasted one of the top girls' soccer programs in the state. And the University of Colorado, where I wanted to go to college, had just added women's soccer to their athletic program. Even as a 13-year-old, my goal was to play Division I college soccer. The thought that I might not be able to play soccer in college, let alone high school, was hard to swallow.
Then it happened. On a typical spring evening more than a year after my injury. After dinner, Dad; my younger brother, Joe; and I went to the backyard to toss a ball around. We had a big yard that held soccer nets, batting tees, even a makeshift baseball diamond for our own pickup games. That night, the ball we tossed happened to be a football. We jogged around, doing pass plays and chucking the ball back and forth. On one particular play, I propped the ball up and kicked it back to my dad. Just on a whim. The ball flew about 20 yards over his head.
"Holy smokes, Kate!" My dad was amazed. "Could you do that again?"
"I don't know, probably..." I shrugged. It wasn't any big deal to me, I'd just kicked the ball.
"Hang on a second." He grabbed the ball, ran over, crouched down, and held the ball for me. "Give it a shot." Joe ran back to the edge of the yard to catch it. I lined up behind the ball, took a few steps, and gave it a pop. BAM! The ball sailed over Joe's head and landed in a neighbor's yard.
"Stay there!" Dad yelled to Joe. Dad retrieved the ball and began counting his steps as he made his way back to me. "That went close to 40 yards!" Dad exclaimed. Chuckling, he said, "Well, kiddo, if you can't play soccer, maybe you can make a career out of kicking footballs."
I laughed, too, but after a second started thinking, "Football -- could I play football?"
Maybe. After all, I had always loved the game. I was a diehard Denver Broncos fan and lived in an area where "Bronco-mania" ruled the fall and winter of football season. I followed the pros on Sundays, the University of Colorado on Saturday afternoons, and watched Joe play Little League football on Saturday mornings. I followed the sport so closely that when I talked to my guy friends at school, they were surprised at how much I knew about the game.
In elementary school, I had even written a short story about a girl who played football. She was a quarterback who would hide her long hair up in her helmet so no one would know she was a girl. She went on to lead the team to the championship and at the end everyone is shocked to find out she is a female. The next season, she wears her hair in a ponytail outside her helmet.
But that night in the backyard, something definitely felt right. It was 1995, and while it wasn't unheard of for a girl to play football, it certainly wasn't common. And I had thought due to my gender and size, I would always be stuck dreaming about the game from the stands. Little did I know that that would change in the weeks to come.
I used to joke that I grew up on sports and classic rock. Whether it was shooting hoops in the driveway or playing home run derby in the backyard, it was to the sound of the Doors, Steely Dan, and the Stones rocking the background.
In the Hnida family, we picked our lotto numbers by the jersey numbers of baseball greats -- the Babe, DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Roger Maris, as well as Stan "the Man" Musial. Football legends had their own place of honor: posters of Dick Butkus, Walter "Sweetness" Payton, Vince Lombardi, and Knute Rockne adorned the basement walls. You name the team, we had their pennant hanging somewhere. I simply don't remember life without sports -- it was ingrained in our family.
We lived in Littleton, a suburb just outside of Denver, and each of us kids went through the local public elementary, middle, and high schools. If a school offered a sport, we played it. If not, we played on the club or county level. Sometimes we played both.
My father, Dave, had played baseball in college, then worked his way around the minor leagues before going to medical school. Even after starting his medical practice, he played in an adult baseball league when we were young. I have the best memories of sitting in the bleachers on a hot summer night eating peanuts from the shell and yelling, "Heyyyyy battabattaaaaa, swing!" They were great nights. The smell of the grass, the bugs fluttering around the light poles, and the crack of the bat hitting the ball. It was more than a game; it was a way of life. Win or lose, we'd all be happy driving home with the deep bass of the Doors' "Riders on the Storm" booming inside the car.
As we got older, Dad continued to play but also started coaching -- my brothers in baseball, football, and basketball, my sister in soccer, and me with my kicking. He also took on the role of team physician for the high school and community Little Leagues. Dad is well known in Colorado, but not just for practicing medicine. When I was ten, he took a job as a medical reporter for a Denver TV station, where he reports on the day's health news.
My mother, on the other hand, is the day-to-day glue that holds our family together. She's a homemaker -- in the best sense of the word. She created and sustained a genuine atmosphere of love at home. Mom can do anything -- from reining in her four "kidlets" as she calls us to baking the best chocolate chip cookies in the world.
When Mom went to high school, the only opportunities that existed for her in sports were cheerleading and gymnastics. Instead, she decided to keep stats for the boys' basketball team -- a job that started her down the road of being a fervent sports fan. That's probably why she never complained when she had to get each of the four kids to our separate games or practices. And why she would spend her weekends shuttling from one game to the next, trying to never miss a swing, kick, or tackle. She loved it all as much as we did.
I was born in 1981, and quickly showed my parents and the world that I had a mind of my own. A typical firstborn, I was independent, stubborn, and, basically, a pain in the neck. I also was colicky. Some nights Dad would put me in the car seat and literally drive around for hours until I quit crying and fell asleep.
One night when the driving didn't work, my parents just put me in my crib to cry myself to sleep. After what seemed like an eternity of screaming, there was finally silence. Success! Moments later there was a giant boom and then more screaming. I had decided that if no one was going to come get me, I was going to get myself out. I simply climbed up the side rails and crashed to the floor. To this day, my parents shake their heads over the high-bars incident in my crib, saying only, "That's Katie for you."
I paid my parents back a few months later by using a set of car keys to scratch designs into their first-ever brand-new car -- a 1981 Subaru. I was pleased with my handiwork, but I swear that deep down inside, Dad still hasn't forgotten.
After that, I think my parents seriously discussed having only one child, but then they decided to try their luck on a second. Fortunately, number two was Joe. Joe was a mild-mannered and easygoing baby, traits that followed with him as he matured. He is 212 years younger than I, but quickly became bigger than his "big" sis. Joe grew to be six foot two and 240 pounds by high school and had an athletic build. He played football as well as baseball through the years.
Born in 1986, Kristen was number three and like Joe, she had a calm disposition. While she played soccer, lacrosse, and ran cross country, she also found her niche in academics. Kris was always on top of the honor roll and had a knack for foreign languages.
Jimmy came last in 1988, and my parents joke that if he had been born second, there would have been only two Hnida kids. Jim was a mirror image of me in personality, especially as a baby -- in other words, he was a handful. Jim, like the rest of us, played a bunch of sports as he grew up and went on to high school, but he was also involved in theater and student government.
I loved being the big sister. From the time I was a toddler, I always wanted to help out with my brothers and sister. I would call them "the kids," a phrase I still use when talking about them.
KJ, the dog, rounded out the Hnida clan. She was a golden lab mixed with a chow and had a feisty spirit. She was definitely a Hnida.
We were an exceptionally close family.
We supported and loved each other unconditionally. Better yet, we liked, and still like, each other as friends. We stuck together. When one of us was going through a tough time, the rest of us made sure we were there for anything that person needed.
We weren't competitive against one another. As children, we were each other's playmates, confidants, and role models. We had strong bonds that our parents reinforced continuously. Mom and Dad made it clear that the standards in our family were high and we did things one way -- the right way. We developed a sense of pride in ourselves and in our family that gives us stability that lasts to this day.
When it came to sports, our parents instilled in us a sense that if we were going to do something, we should do it to the best of our ability and then try just a little harder. If we took a chance and things didn't work out, we were still successful -- simply for trying. We never feared "failure," because if we gave it our all, it was never failure.
The high point of the day was sitting down together for dinner. We waited for each person to come home so we could eat a home-cooked meal together nearly every night. Dinner didn't end when the food was gone. We'd sit for an extra hour or so afterward telling stories, joking, and listening to how our days went.
When we were young, we'd often build forts to sleep in, and if we were lucky, we'd get Dad to come in and tell us a story before we fell asleep. We would snuggle together to listen to silly, made-up tales where the four of us and our friends were the main characters. Sometimes Dad would tell us stories about the things he and Mom did before we were born; how they coupon-clipped his way through medical school and didn't have any "real" furniture for years.
By far, our favorite was the tale of how they met. Dad was born and raised in New Jersey. Mom moved around a lot but lived in New Jersey for two years in junior high school. They didn't know each other then, but met years later, when my mom returned for a wedding. Dad was "dragged" to the wedding under protest by some of his friends. He was a broke medical student, so he figured at least he'd get a free meal out of it. Little did he know, not only would he get a chicken dinner, he would also get to meet his future wife. In a twist of fate, Dad caught the bride's garter. He had to put it on the leg of the woman who had caught the bouquet. And who caught the bouquet? My mom. They hit it off immediately and spent the rest of the night dancing and talking. The next day, though, Mom returned home to Colorado...and her boyfriend. Still, she left Dad with her address.
Dad started to write her letters and the letters turned to phone calls. Finally, Mom agreed to see him again; and Dad somehow scraped together enough money to go visit. The rest is history and they were married only seven months after the night they met.
We'd ask Dad why he kept writing Mom when he was so broke, just starting medical school, and two thousand miles away. Or we'd ask Mom why she even wrote him back. Their answers were the same: "Sometimes, in your heart, you just know what's right." More than a response, their answer became a lesson, one that would prove to be very important to me as I grew older: your heart will tell you what's right to do.
Along with a close family, faith was a strong part of my life since I can remember. We prayed as a family every night before dinner and every night before bed. We attended St. Frances Cabrini Church every Sunday, our six blond heads almost filling an entire row. The church itself was a place of comfort, with the familiar and secure feel of a second home.
For me, believing in God was never hard. I found Him to be everywhere: in the night sky, in my mother's eyes, even on the football field. I believed that He had a plan for each of us and that even when I was going through a rough time, it was for a reason and He would give me the strength to get through it.
When I got older I would often just go sit in the sanctuary of the church at night. It provided a place for solitude and quiet, away from my hectic life. In the years to come, it became a place to reflect when things got tough and hard to understand.
After a few more evenings of tossing and kicking the football around in the backyard with my family, things began to fall into place; events made it seem that I was meant to play football for real. In the eighth grade, I worked as a student assistant in the main office of Deer Creek Middle School. I'd answer phones, deliver notes around the school, and do random office work. I just happened to be organizing flyers for posting around the school when one caught my eye:
If you want to play football for Chatfield Senior High in the fall, come to the music room, Thursday 2:15.
I held my breath. I wanted to go. Thursday? That's today. Holy cow. I could feel my adrenaline start to rush. Football. After that night when I had first kicked the ball, the idea kept creeping deeper and deeper into my head.
Football. Was I crazy? Maybe, I decided. But I also decided that I would go to the meeting. It was one o'clock already and I didn't have long to wait. I spent my last period anxious and excited. The hands of the clock moved impossibly slow.
"Breathe!" I kept telling myself. It's just a meeting. But deep down, I think I knew that it was going to be more than that to me. Finally the bell rang, and I was on my way. I hurried downstairs, then stood outside the music room. Tons of guys were filing in, joking with each other and being loud.
A wave of anxiety washed over me. What was I thinking? I hung back for a moment. Half of the guys were the most popular guys in school. The other half were guys who'd played peewee football since they could walk. They were GUYS. What made me think that I should be in there, too? "GO!" a voice in my head said. I swallowed hard, screwed up all the courage I could find, and opened the door. Oh, man. There had to be about 100 guys in there. And not an open chair to be seen. I scanned the room. Aha! There was one. Of course, it was right smack in the middle.
"Excuse me," I muttered as I weaved my way toward the chair, trying to draw as little attention to myself as possible. But to my embarrassment, I did not go unnoticed.
"Hey there, little lady!" a voice bellowed. Dang it. I had just made it to the chair. I could feel myself begin to go red. The room became noticeably quieter. A big man with a slight southern accent was addressing me. "Are you here for the girls' lacrosse meeting? Because -- "
"No, sir." I looked at him straight in the eye and, with a boldness I didn't know I had, said, "I'm here for football." I flushed as the room erupted into whispers and giggles. The man held his hands up to quiet the room but chuckled himself.
"Hey, now, well, it is the nineties..." he said. "Have a seat."
I sat down as another round of snickers and giggles filled the room. A hundred pairs of eyes were staring at me, and I could feel every one.
"Okay, now that's enough. Let's get started!" the man boomed. "I'm Bob Beaty, the varsity head coach at Chatfield."
I finally started to breathe again as he began to talk. I can barely remember anything he said, aside from the basics -- football camp would begin a week before school started in August, and there were three teams -- varsity, junior varsity, and freshman. Since we were going to be freshmen, that's where a majority of us would be playing.
When the meeting was over, I filed out behind the rest of the guys amid stares and whispers. I even heard one guy say, "Why did she even come?"
I went home that evening and told my parents what I had done.
"What?" Mom said, shocked. "I thought you wanted to play volleyball."
"I did. But I want to play football more. Mom, the other night when Dad and Joe were tossing the ball, I kicked the heck out of the ball. I think I could be a pretty good kicker."
Dad raised his eyebrows. "You did hit that ball pretty good." I could tell he was mulling it over in his head, and I also sensed a glimmer of excitement in his eyes.
"You hit the ball pretty good, but what if one of those guys hits you? You only weigh 115 pounds! There are boys on Joe's Little League team who are bigger than you!" Mom exclaimed.
"Mom, that's why I would be a kicker, not a linebacker. I'd have a whole line of guys protecting me. I think I can do this."
But before she could protest any more, Dad intervened.
"I'll tell you what. Tonight I'll take Katie out to a set of goalposts and we'll see how she does. If she can do it, I'll talk to the coach." My face broke into a grin, and I looked expectantly at my mom.
"I've already signed you up for volleyball camp at the high school..." Mom ventured, but she knew that wasn't going to sway me and she relented. "Okay...."
That night, after dinner, Dad, Joe, and I dug out four old footballs from the garage and headed to the field. Dad had also managed to find a kicking tee and block, a special tee used to kick extra points and field goals.
It had been one of those beautiful Colorado spring days, and the air stayed warm into evening. I'd brought my soccer cleats and stretched out as Joe and Dad tossed the ball around. I was eager to see exactly what I could do.
"Okay, I'm ready!" I shouted. Joe went back behind the goalposts to fetch balls, and Dad came back to me with the kicking block. We went to the 10-yard line, the spot where extra points are kicked after a touchdown. Dad handed me the block and said, "Pick your spot." I put the tee in the grass and took about three steps back. I will never forget the next moment. Dad placed the ball on the tee, and I took off. BAM. The ball shot into the sky, high and straight down the middle of the uprights. The ball flew over Joe's head and landed on the track.
"Holy shit!" Dad muttered. "Sorry," he said to me. "How about another?"
"You bet," I said, smiling. Something had happened when I kicked that ball. I felt a feeling that I'd not felt before. It was just right; something had clicked inside.
Dad set the ball up again and I kicked another one onto the track. Joe went scrambling after it.
"All right, we're moving back." We backed up another 10 yards. And then another. One by one, I nailed each kick through.
"Let's go back 10 more." We went back and I shot one through. It cleared with a few yards to spare. Dad turned to me. "You just kicked a 40-yard field goal," he said.
"Are you kidding?" I knew we had been moving back, but I hadn't payed attention to exactly where we were; I just kept kicking. I counted the yard lines. He was right. But 40 yards? Wow. Dad was shaking his head in disbelief but smiling because he knew exactly what he'd just seen. "You are good. Very good. I will talk to the coach for you."
I smiled and looked at the goalposts.
"Thank you. But Dad..."
"Can we keep kicking?"
He laughed. "Of course."
Dusk began to settle in as I booted ball after ball. I kicked until it was dark. As the air cooled and my leg tired, I fell into a contented state, a permanent smile fixed on my face. We drove home, and Mom greeted us at the front door.
"She can do it. Absolutely, she can do it," Dad told her.
True to his word, Dad got in touch with the freshman football coach. His name was Keith Mead, and I went in to meet him a few days later.
He was calm and to the point. He told me they'd be happy to have me. He cut no one -- everybody who came out made the team. Plus, he hoped we scored a lot of points that season so maybe I'd get some chances to get into a game. It sounded good to me. I could tell Dad was relieved as well.
I spent that summer preparing for the upcoming season. I learned more about kicking, including how far I was supposed to be from the ball before I made my approach, and how to tilt the ball so I could get optimum height. I also learned there were standard place kicking guidelines, but each kicker had his own minor variations in style. There was a lot of trial and error, but I found the standard three steps back and two steps to the left side of the ball was just right. I also preferred that the ball be tilted slightly back and to the right to make solid contact.
Practicing was easy. Time would fly, and some days I'd get so into it that I had to make sure I didn't kick too much and make my leg sore.
To appease my mother, "just in case football doesn't work out," I still went to volleyball camp. But after the first day, I didn't go back. My heart was set on football, and somewhere inside I knew it was going to work. I could just feel it.
Before I knew it, in mid-August, it was time for the first football practice. Mom kissed my forehead before I left. "Good luck, sweetie. We'll pray for you." I had a funny feeling she wasn't just going to pray that I did well, but also pray I didn't get killed out there. I grabbed my cleats and jumped into Dad's pickup truck.
I was silent in the truck. Though I was excited, I still had a stomach full of butterflies. I even wished for a brief second that I was heading over to volleyball, not football practice. Dad kept giving me sideways glances. "It's going to work out fine," he told me, but I could tell he was a little nervous, too. I could understand my parents' feelings. Here they were, sending their firstborn, a scrawny five-eight, 115-pound daughter, out to play a game where there was cheering when one player crushed another.
The ride over to school was short, and the next thing I knew, I was standing in a noisy, crowded hallway with about 60 guys. I recognized a few, but there were a lot of unfamiliar faces. It seemed that there was some sort of line forming, so I wedged my way in. I didn't know what we were waiting for, but the guy in front of me answered my question. "We're waiting for helmets. You ever worn one before?" he asked me. I shyly shook my head no.
"It's not so bad. You'll get used to it quick. But what are you going to do with all that hair?"
"Oh, uh, just leave it in a ponytail, I guess...." I stammered, pushing long, blond strands off my face.
"I'm Matt, by the way. And you must be Katie." He smiled at me. "Yeah...how'd you know?" I asked.
"Word got around pretty quick that there was going to be a chick trying out. I didn't expect her to look like you, though." I didn't know quite how to respond.
"Well, I'm just going to be a kicker..." I trailed off.
"It's cool; we could use a good kicker. The guy who kicked on our team last year sucked."
"Yeah, I heard no one really had any kickers..."
"What the..." a deep voice exclaimed. We had reached the front of the line. One of the biggest and most muscular men I had ever seen in my life stared at me. "Who are you?" he asked. I felt myself blush again. Fortunately, Coach Mead emerged from the stacks of helmets just in time. "That's Katie. She's going to try kicking. Katie, this is Coach Ackerfelds."
"Ack, for short. Nice to meet you. Sorry about the surprise." He stuck out his beefy hand.
"No problem." I smiled and relaxed the slightest bit.
"Let's get you a helmet. Hmmmm, let's try...this one." Ack handed me a white helmet. Tentatively, I put it on my head. Whoa. It was way too big. My head felt like the great pumpkin.
Ack laughed and handed me another helmet. "This will be better," he said.
I took the other one off and put the new helmet on my head. It was better, but I still felt weird. "Shake your head," Ack instructed. I shook it back and forth. The helmet didn't seem like it was going anywhere. "That's good," he decided. "Here's your shorts and T-shirt for practice today. Smallest we have -- sorry." A phrase I would hear over and over throughout my career. "Now, go right over there" -- Ack pointed to another line -- "and get a lock for your locker. Then go...wait. I don't think you go to the regular locker room. Coach Mead?"
"Oh, yeah. Katie, when you get your lock, one of the trainers will take you upstairs, to the women's locker room. Then come back down and we'll be meeting in the wrestling room."
I went and got my lock and one of the girls showed me to my locker room. It was directly above the guys' locker room, right next to the weight room. "Does it matter which locker I take?" I asked the girl. "Nope. No one else really uses this locker room very much, so it'll just be you. The lockers the girls use for gym are in a different place."
I thanked her, then decided on the first locker. I put my cleats and helmet in and changed into the shorts and T-shirt they had given me. I looked in the mirror. "CHARGER FOOTBALL '95," my shirt proclaimed. Not bad, I thought. A little big, but not too horrible. The locker room was quiet, a welcome break from the mass of confusion and noise downstairs. It would become a haven for the next four years, a place where I could come and be alone. I sat on the bench for a second, closing my eyes to say a quick prayer that I would do okay once we got onto the field. Then I went back downstairs for our meeting. There were still a few guys getting helmets and locks, but most were going into the wrestling room. I followed. I was still getting a lot of stares, but some of the guys smiled at me. Soon Coach Mead came in, then Ack and a few other men.
Coach Mead introduced all the coaches and explained what positions they worked with. I didn't hear anyone mentioned for kickers. Then he went through rules and what we were to do the upcoming week. "You will tuck in your shirts. You address us each by 'sir' or 'coach.' No shoes in the building." He was practically shouting. "You got it?" A mumbling of yeses trickled through the room. "What was that?" he yelled. "YES!" came a chorus. "Yes, what?" he demanded. "YES, SIR!" the guys responded. "Good. Let's get on the field!" He was out the door, and the rest of the room was suddenly in a hurry to follow.
I made it back upstairs to my locker room, grabbed my helmet and cleats, and went outside. "Here we go," I thought. As I sat on the sidewalk and put on my cleats, I could hear the yells and hits from the upper practice fields. That must be where the older guys are, I thought. I knew that the varsity team had started earlier than we did. "Let's go, let's go!" I could hear Coach Mead yelling.
I scrambled up and went to the fields. Because the varsity and jayvee had the upper field, we were stuck down on a grassy spot between the baseball and softball fields. No goalposts, I thought, but that thought was cut short by more yelling from Coach Mead. "Helmets on! Lap around the baseball field, then back here in lines to stretch! GO!" We took off. "Faster! WE DON'T HAVE ALL DAY!" the coach barked.
Good grief, I thought. Do they ever stop yelling? Apparently not that day. We were yelled at as we formed stretching lines, we were yelled at as we learned how to do C-H-A-R-G-E-R jumping jacks, and we were yelled at as we broke off into position groups. There were no other guys who were just kickers, so I ended up all by myself, kicking balls into the soccer nets. Soon enough, we all joined back together and I got my first shot kicking with the team.
Since there were no goalposts, we used the soccer goals as our uprights. "Okay, anyone who can kick, hold, snap, let's go." I stepped up, feeling like I was going to puke all over my brand-new cleats. I didn't know the guy who was snapping to me, but I'd had a few classes with the guy who was going to be my holder. I did my steps back. This was it. The snap was low, but the holder scooped it up and got it onto the tee.
"Are you kidding?"
I looked up. The ball was sailing high, straight, in a perfect end-over-end rotation, and landed in the parking lot. The coaches were staring at me. The guys were staring at me.
I saw Coach Mead say something to one of the assistant coaches. "Let's do it again."
One-two-three. I did my steps again, and BAM. The second one was actually farther than the first. I started to relax and fell into my groove. We kept going, doing about six or seven kicks. Only one looked a bit off center, but would have easily been inside the uprights.
"Well, I think we've got our kicker..." Coach Mead said. I was psyched. The team broke back into position groups for more drills, and I went to go back to the soccer net.
"Katie." Coach Mead was standing in front of me with a man I had never seen before. Oh, no. For a second my heart stopped. What had I done? My kicks had all been good, hadn't they? Decent, at least? As my mind raced with all sorts of crazy, irrational thoughts, Coach Mead introduced me to the man next to him. "Katie, this is Don Jones. He's one of the varsity coaches and oversees the kickers."
"Hello, sir," I said tentatively. The man had a kind face.
"Hi, Katie. Saw you kicking there. You've got quite a leg," Coach Jones said.
"Thank you," I said, my mind still racing in all directions.
"We'd like to take you up to the varsity fields and have you kick up there. See how you look with some of the guys." What? Varsity?
I looked at Coach Mead. He was smiling.
"Man, you guys are gonna come down here and steal away our kicker the very first day of practice? Geez," he joked. "Go on, Katie. Go ahead." I stood there, a bit shell-shocked.
"Okay," I said, unsure that this was happening. Coach Jones and I started to walk up to the upper fields, and my nerves began to twitch again.
"We've got four other kickers up there that I'd like to compare you to. I was very impressed by what I just saw. How long have you been kicking footballs?"
"Um, about three months now, I guess," I said.
"Ah. Are you a soccer player?" he asked.
"Yes. Well, no. I mean, I was. But not anymore."
We were at the field. These guys looked HUGE compared to the guys I had just been with. Suddenly it was as if I were in another country. Coach Jones took me onto the field and introduced me to the other kickers. They all seemed pretty nice. We were kicking 25-yard field goals from an angle on the right side of the field.
As we began to kick, I quickly found that I could keep up with these guys. We would rotate through, each holding, kicking, and fielding the balls. Coach Jones kept a close eye on us. My competitive gene kicked in, and I started to gain some confidence. Finally I asked, "Okay, are we going to move back yet?" After all, we were only kicking 30-yard field goals.
"Can you kick farther back?" one of the guys asked in amazement.
"Well, yeah," I said. "Can't you?"
"A bit, but man, I don't want to push back too much farther. Coach Jones said we didn't need to go back very far today," he said. I looked to one of the other kickers, a kid with blond hair who had a cannon for a leg.
"Let's go back a bit," he said with a shrug. So we backed up, me and the kid with the cannon leg. We were about 40 yards away. He popped a few through -- all with plenty of distance, but one or two went a bit wide.
"You're good..." I told him.
"Thanks. You aren't so bad yourself," he said, and proceeded to hold four balls, each of which I knocked through cleanly.
All of a sudden, I heard a whistle blow and a loud yell from the opposite side of the field. The four other kickers took off toward the whistle. I didn't know what to do. Luckily, Coach Jones found me.
"You looked good today. Great, actually. I'd like to keep you up here to practice with us. I'll let Coach Mead know. Can you be here at nine tomorrow, instead of 10?"
Of course I could. I'd be there at 4 a.m. for him if he'd asked.
And with that, my first official day of football practice was over. And little did I know, the rest of my life was beginning.
Dad was waiting for me after practice.
"What happened? Where'd you go? Are you okay?" Dad asked anxiously. He had a panicked look on his face.
"What?" I was totally confused.
"I saw you kick, I thought you looked okay, then I saw the coach and some other guy come talk to you. Then they took you away," he said rapidly.
"Yeah, they took me to the upper fields to kick," I said.
"The upper fields?" he said. "You mean they didn't cut you?"
"No," I said, laughing. "Dad, they took me up to kick with the older guys. I'm going to get a shot at the varsity team!"
His eyes widened. "You're kidding!"
"I thought they cut you!"
"No!" I was cracking up.
"Well, all of a sudden this guy comes down to the freshman field and takes you away. I thought for sure they were telling you this wasn't going to work!"
He paused. "Varsity?"
"Yes. I know, I can't believe it!" I said.
"Kate-O! I'm so proud of you! I can't believe this!" He pounded on the steering wheel, then gave me a hug.
The next week was a blur. I worked out with the varsity guys, then would come down and watch the rest of the freshmen practice. I received the rest of my gear, and my teammates taught me how to put my pads in all the right places. I was becoming more comfortable by the day and more confident.
When school opened a week later, I got a big surprise.
I was sitting in my last-period class when Coach Jones walked in. What is he doing here? I wondered. He spoke to my teacher, smiled at me, then walked to the door.
"Katie," my teacher said, smiling at me. "Mr. Jones needs you. Get your stuff." Get my stuff? What was going on? I gathered my books into my bag and went to the hallway, where Coach Jones was waiting, a jersey in his hand.
"What's go -- " I started to ask, but he interrupted me.
"Hurry, we've got to go fast. I forgot that you still had class now." The school was so crowded that we were on a split schedule -- freshmen started and finished later than everyone else.
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"Locker room, then the field. We've got pictures today -- and you're our backup kicker. You made varsity."
He handed me the jersey, which I held on to like a piece of gold.
"Change quick. Put this on and come on out."
Though all of my teammates tried to look tough and mean for the picture, I just couldn't do it. That day, I couldn't resist a smile.
Copyright 2006 by Katie Hnida
Excerpted from Still Kicking by Katie Hnida Copyright © 2006 by Katie Hnida. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Rainy Night in Albuquerque
Are You Here for the Girls' Lacrosse Meeting?
"I'll Kick All Day if You Let Me"
The Queen Wears a Helmet
Where Did He Go?
"Go Home, Prom Queen"
Welcome to the Big Time
Just When I Thought It Couldn't Get Any Worse
The Night That Changed My Life Forever
Hope Is Spelled U-C-L-A
80 Tapes Later
Is This Heaven? No, It's Albuquerque
"Let Katie Take the First Kick"
Terms of Endearment
It Ain't Over Until the Skinny Girl Kicks
For Katie Hnida, it took just 1.28 seconds to make history. This is the inspiring story of Hnida's journey to becoming the first woman ever to play and score in NCAA Division 1 football. At the age of 14, fate found Hnida through a torn thigh muscle which allowed her to set out in search of a different athletic talent. Not only did she find her calling in an entirely different sport, she found where she fit best with very different teammates as well. One may think having nearly 200 sweaty immature men as teammates would be a struggle, but for Hnida, this story details her entire journey to the big times including her horrifying setbacks and incredible perseverance through it all. As she tells her story, every single part of her story, she expresses to all woman that we can do anything we put our minds too. Being women shouldn't hold us back, it should further make us strive to be better than the boys and show them that women can do anything men can. She discovered her dream at the age of 14 and never for a second took her sight off of it; she expresses this message through her story and reminds us all to go after our wildest dreams. Don't give up until the dream is successfully achieved, take each step one day at a time, and never regret anything you do in life- just look towards a better tomorrow. Hnida is the poster child for believing in herself and she wants all women to know that they should be able to believe in themselves too. Always believe in who you are and what you choose to do with your life. Even when life gets you down, and boy did life put Katie Hnida down sometimes, we must all rise to the occasion and beat everything that has been stacked against us. Katie Hnida is truly a hero and she has inspired me to never lose sight of my dreams and to always look toward a better tomorrow. With that said, there's not a lot about this book that I would say I didn't enjoy. I read this book cover to cover in two days because it had me hooked! She tells her story exactly how everything happens, and she trusts the reader enough to tell the ENTIRE story. Her voice is so apparent and she reminds us all to be strongest person we can be. Because me opinions weigh so heavily on the "in favor" side, I can't even come up with the slightest of arguments. I 150% recommend this book to readers of all ages. Whether athletics play a big part in your life or not, this is a life-changing true story of incredible perseverance and the inspiration to go where no female has ever gone before.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 19, 2007
After reading this book i feel an empowered to be a kicker. I have always wanted to be one and now Katie has given me the strength to do that. She went through so much to be the first women to score in a Divison I game. Katie is my hero and she will forever be written in the books for what she accomplished...she will be in ESPN on day!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 30, 2006
I first heard of this book in an article for People magazine. After reading Still Kicking I discovered my hero, Katie Hnida. She has endured more than any person should ever have to and she still kept going and reached her dream! This is literally the best book I have ever read!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 30, 2006
With all of the hoopla with the OJ Simpsons of the world, what a refreshing and hope-filled book. This young woman pursued a dream again obstacles that would have stopped most people in their tracks. Not only an athlete, but a great role model in other areas. Hats off to this outstanding woman. I would highly recommend this to all- espcially those with daughters-- and to football fans everywhere!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 26, 2008
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Posted December 19, 2011
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