Support through Sport UK had the pleasure of chatting to Catherine Vivo about the role that tackle football has played, and continues to play, in her life ...
Hi Catherine. When did you start playing tackle football?
I started playing tackle football in 1994 during my first year in high school. I was on the freshman football team. I played for the Mt. Carmel Sundevils as Quarterback (QB) and Defensive Back (DB) and most definitely had to earn my way up as I started on the team as 85lbs of nothing! Being 14 years old and the only female on the team meant that I faced quite a bit of adversity - but I really wanted to play as I'd seen my two oldest brothers, Ivan and Jeff, play and wanted to follow in their footsteps.
Given that we're a UK sports charity, with a largely UK-based audience, can you tell us a bit more about tackle football?
American tackle football is a sport played by two teams of 11 players on a rectangular football field. There is an offense, carrying the ball, and a defense team, defending their end zone. The offense will attempt to advance the ball down the field by running or passing it. The team with the most points at the end of a game wins.
The sport has been around since 1869 and has mostly been played by men. However, in 1926, women's tackle football was introduced. Since the 1960s, there have been many attempts to get women's football leagues up and running, with mixed success. The most prominent female league in the United States is the Independent Women's Football League - the IWFL - which was founded in 2000.
Thanks for that. We hear that you've set up your own team? Tell us more ...
I've been playing women's tackle football since the Fall of 2003 and have seen the appetite for the women's game really grow during this time. My team used to be more of a grassroots team than a professional team. Therefore, as a graphic and web designer, I volunteered my services in the hope that I could give them a more professional edge. I updated the website and helped to redesign the marketing materials and tickets. Slowly but surely, I got more and more involved, and I also started to assist on the operational side of things. After a few years, the original owner of the team asked if I would like to buy it from her. She saw how invested I was in the team and knew that I'd take care of it. I jumped at the opportunity and so, in 2008, I became the new owner of the California Quake. Since then, I've helped to really professionalise the organisation and I've grown and improved the football programme. The California Quake is part of the IWFL, has been around for 15 seasons and takes real pride in its traditions, sportsmanship and continuous efforts to give women the opportunity to play tackle football in the Los Angeles area. I'm quite humbled and honoured to be part of this historic stepping stone and I'm excited to see what the future holds for women in sport.
What would you say are the benefits of tackle football? So what has it brought to your life both on and off the pitch?
Playing tackle football has brought me many joys in life. It's taught me the importance of discipline, respect, trust, mental strength and camaraderie, and has enabled me to meet people from all walks of life. The memories it's given me are priceless. Football has become a huge part of my life. I live it, breathe it, sleep it ... every waking (and non-waking!) moment of my life revolves around football. It's literally in my blood; I'm hugely passionate about it. I'm not just a fan, a coach, a player, a trainer, an owner etc. ... and I don't do it for the money ... I simply do it for the love of the sport! I plan my life around football - I scheduled my wedding around the season and even planned the timing of my pregnancy so that I could return for the next season in time! It's my son first, football second and everything else after!
I've seen football not only change my life but change other players' lives too. I've witnessed players use football to motivate them to take a better direction in their lives. And football tends to be a second family for my team and provides a sense of belonging. It's a place where we can come together and we really have each other's backs, both on and off the field. It's a sisterhood that is unexplainable, amazing and priceless! I've seen many of the team's children grow up, I've seen players graduate, players get married. Every practice, every pass, every game, every moment, every injury and every surgery has been so worth it to be part of such an incredible group and bond.
And are we right in thinking that tackle football is helping you to get through a difficult time right now?
Football is not just a sport, it's helped me through some bad times. It's helped me to have some respite from work troubles, bereavements, stress etc... That turf is my sanctuary; it's my heaven and the one place that brings me peace.
Football has been particularly helpful for me over the past two years, which have been quite difficult as I've been diagnosed with several major health issues. My real family and my football family have given me incredible support.
At the end of the 2014 season, I chose to retire from playing the sport and, whilst I still struggle with the idea of not being able to hit the gridiron again, football remains a hugely important part of my life. I want to get healthy and spend as much time as I can with my son and help him through his football career - or whatever venture he chooses to pursue.
Without football I wouldn't be strong enough to go through what I'm going through right now. Football has helped me to stay positive and focused and to be a fighter. It's given me real strength of character, which I'm drawing on in my current battle.
We wish you all the best, Catherine. And one final question ... what would your message be to people who are considering taking up a sport?
Being an athlete has taught me how to become a better person, both on and off the field. It's also taught me to become a leader. It's given me mental strength, which I now draw on in all aspects of my life. I hope that by sharing my story I will inspire others to find themselves through sport. I'm writing a book about my life and hope to publish it next year. I'm also practicing to be a motivational speaker. My final message would be to live in the now.