The European Championships – My Experience (Part I)

Dreams can come true but they aren’t handed to you on a plate with a bow and sprinkled with sparkles.

It takes dedication, determination and vision. You have to believe in your ability, trust in your heart and dare to dream of success.

How many books, films and TV shows are produced using a dream as the basis? How many of us sit there and think that would never happen to me? “I couldn’t do that”, “I’m not good enough”, “I am too small”, “I am too big”.

I was one of those doubters, once upon a time.

But if you don’t try & if you don’t dare to dream you will always have the ‘what if?’, and always be a what if.

You will never truly know what you could have been or could have done.

Back in April of this year the Great Britain selection process began for the upcoming European Championships to be held in Granada, Spain. It all started with invites to the performance programme and having been a part of the Birmingham Lions Championship winning side a number of my team mates, peers and friends were invited along and I was going with them.

Having played in all previous GB games I had wanted that invite but still had the doubt as to whether it would come through as I had moved position in the domestic season and was still very new to the defensive side of the ball.

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So off we went on a murky spring day to Hertfordshire, the home of the Tornadoes, for open trials and performance testing. Upon arrival it was all forms & scales and some ladies are not big fans of weighing themselves and certainly in groups prefer to have a catch up rather than fill out long questionnaires about your health.

We all learnt pretty quickly this was not how it was going to be when Defensive Coordinator Coach Ward made his presence known and gave us all a quick kick up the backside.

So kit on, forms filled in and out to the field. Everyone bubbling with excitement, apprehension and those nerves causing giggles.

Strenuous warm up done and the testing began. And yes this was basically the same testing done at the combine for the NFL Draft – Whoever knew a 40 yard dash would cause so much anxiety and worry.

Having not seriously trained sprints or any speed training for a number of months, I was worried. Would these younger spritely new athletes out pace me? Show me up in the first test? My heart was pounding and I was sweating with nervous tension. Down into a three point stance setting myself, big deep breathe, muscles engaged – GO!

Leg drive, arms pumping, stay low. Run through the gate don’t pull up early. Push Push Push!

Gasping for air… what was my time? Was I last? How much work do I have to do?

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That was just a 40 yard dash, still to come was agility, cone drills, broad jumps, verticals and endurance. But I made it through the morning and was ready for the afternoon physicality’s that come with the game.

Shotguns drills were first up and I always like to test a person’s ability to get aggressive and switch it off. Are they able to flick the switch? So a late chest bump or extra leg drive after the whistle always followed with a smile sorts out the wheat and the chaff.

The afternoon finished with a scrimmage and I turned on my hunter mode seeking out my prey. It becomes instinctual and any smaller, slower receivers and running backs are picked off. Show a weakness and have it smelt out by a hungry defense all looking to be the hunter gatherer.

Driving home that evening I wondered if I would have done enough as I knew how much I had to do and dreamed that I would make the squad. With 4 camps before Spain and a lot of work to do away from the practice field I questioned, “would I make the cut?”.

I felt tired and wanted a hot bath. My arms felt bruised and my legs heavy. The smell of wet gloves, heavy pads and helmet leather filled the car.

Back to reality for the next few days awaiting notification from Head Coach Jim Messenger as to whether I would be back for the camps, training with the best the country had to offer, ready to represent your country in a European Championship.

A few days later the email flagged up in my account and I was nervous about opening it. Yes I admit I had a degree of confidence but there was that demon sat on my shoulder telling me I was too slow and too old, why would they take a 30+ ex rugby player over youthful exuberance and vitality?

Scanning the email I was in and invited to forthcoming camps. I was over the moon and excited to be part of this adventure for Women in sport, for American Football and for progression of a game. I had no idea how hard it would be, how much time I would need to give but I was committed.

At the time I was training at Paramount Fitness in Nottingham on their Small group Personal Training Programme, x3 a week and making good progress. My lifts had gone through the roof and I had set myself some targets in terms of where I wanted to be earlier in the year. I needed to be stronger, faster and leaner. Building size and losing body fat at the same time is a difficult balancing act and not one I have always done so well at. Getting the right macronutrient balance was going to be tricky.

The last thing a Baller wants to be is slight, you’ll be lifted off your feet and smashed into next week during every play. But you can’t be slow and robotic. You need to react, move fast and be powerful.

I was trying to balance a full time job, learn and study for a level 3 diploma in Personal Training, coach at Paramount Fitness, train for the Europeans and learn a whole new playbook with all its codes and variations. This juggling act would of previously bought upon stress levels to the point where I would of either got ill, ate chocolate, lived off takeout or hidden in bed. None of these were an option this time and not a crutch I would ever want to go back to.

I got organised, I was prepared and planned out my time. First camp was around the corner and everyone wants to stamp their mark and prove why they deserve a starting jersey. 3 days away with over 50 women, all angry, all emotional, all tired.

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Bombarded with information, measured for jerseys, pants, filling in forms, equipment checks, issued with playbooks, told about nutritional requirements, given goals and targets to achieve in terms of testing and fitness. Minds blown it was down to the field. At this point the coaches were not our friends they were there to prepare us for a European Championships. We still had Russia to despatch and a whole playbook to install. Extra reps, push ups and lots of shouting was all I remember from day one. Stand by your team mate and do your job. Don’t be a maverick. One person doesn’t win the game. And every rep wasn’t good enough, wasn’t fast enough and could have been lower.

Day two and three hadn’t even begun and we were knackered. Players had knocks and bruises and the thought of getting up to do it all again was frightening.

But even now, this early into the programme we had a bond. We knew we couldn’t do this without each other. We knew we were a team and our strength would be our unity. Divided we stand, united we fall is our motto at Birmingham Lions but it showed it was going to be the motto that a whole national squad embraced. Could a rookie team just over 6 months into its birth really challenge the big hitters of Europe? We were certainly going to dedicate our lives and time to each other for the next few months.

Be sure to check out part II of my experience coming in the next few days.

Laura