I have no legs. I distinctly remember having legs three minutes ago, but now I've lost them. Where have they gone? Everyone else around me has legs. I can see them. There they go, jogging ahead of me in expensive Nike training gear, high-fiving each other as they cross the line into the end zone.
I look down. My legs are moving, but I sure can't feel them plowing up the field for the fourth of eight 110-yard sprints I'm running as part of tryouts for Dallas' back-to-back-to-back world-champion women's professional football team, the Diamonds. It's just like the NFL, except no exorbitant pay and minus the millions of Sunday TV viewers. Yes, they tackle. Yes, they kick ass. They break bones and spirits—quite possibly mine.
Several seconds after the rest of the women have completed their sprints, I hobble over the line. I beat the fat girl and the one with the sprained ankle. But still no legs. We have a 30-second break before our next 110-yard sprint. That means I have half a minute to decide whether I'll be donating my legs to journalism for the last four sprints or inching off the field in defeat. Defeat sounds pretty freaking good right now.
I'd arrived at the Birdville Independent School District stadium 30 minutes late because it turns out that there are two Birdville ISD stadiums. Clearly this school district is academically successful and well-funded; I am deeply offended.
When I finally got to the shiny new athletics complex where the Diamonds play, they were just folding up their sign-in tables. But I hustled up to fill out a couple of forms, one of which said, more or less, "I'm likely to seriously injure myself today. But I'm very, very foolish, and I'll be happy to pay for my own months-long hospital stay and years of physical therapy."
On the field, about 50 women of all shapes and sizes are engaged in various drills involving running back and forth between orange cones, lifting weights and generally looking like badasses. There are women who would make the Cowboys offensive line more than a little nervous in a match-up, towering more than 6 feet tall and probably 300 pounds of quarterback-flattening deliciousness. And there are the size-6 girls not any bigger than me, though conspicuously lacking the jiggly bits I've been carefully crafting with the delicate application of gorditas and Buffalo wings.
I'm paired up with a very pretty, very athletic brown-haired woman about my size who calls herself "Welter." She walks me through some stretches. I tell her I'm mainly a volleyball player (sand, beer usually involved) and a dancer (I frequent the Slip Inn's Thursday hip-hop night.) Then, it's time to play catch-up since I missed the first bit of tryouts. First, an agility drill.
I dash between cones set up in a T shape, tagging the grass and coming up each time to lose my balance in a shining display of distinct non-agility. Next, the bench press. I keep waiting for my spotter, a muscular girl with a serious black knee brace that looks like it really means business, to take off the giant weights on the end of the bar. Can they not see these tiny stick arms? Can they not envision the cracking of my sternum as the entire apparatus crashes atop me? How do you file an insurance claim for "I'm an idiot"?
But Welter and the girls surrounding me are nothing but encouraging, cheering me on as my biceps shake violently in three futile attempts to lower the bar to my chest. Welter—who I am shocked to learn is a linebacker—jogs me over to another agility drill, then 40-yard sprints. Soon, my head is aching and my chest is heaving. I remember the advice I'd read on the Dallas Diamonds Web site: "In the days before the tryout, make sure you hydrate your body."
In the spirit of preparation, I had hired a couple of big-name celebrity trainers to help get me properly hydrated. But though my workouts with Jack Daniel and Stella Artois had been nothing short of intense, they don't seem to be helping me out much today. And they sure aren't doing anything when it comes to running, catching and defending. For the second half of tryouts, we're separated into two categories: big ass-kickers and little catcher-types. I am a little catcher-type.
It had long become clear to the coaches that I was hopelessly lost, so I am taken aside with another girl for a crash course in defending a receiver before being shipped off to the tryout lines. I can catch a couple of passes if allowed to stand still and face the quarterback—after, of course, taking three or four balls square in the sports bra and coughing violently. But for the next drill, running and covering another player, I both drop the ball and fail to keep anyone else from catching the ball every single time. This is a complete joke. Even the pity high-fives have stopped coming my way.
Paired with a stocky, vicious-looking blonde I'd seen mow over several defenders, I square against her and growl, "Are you ready for all 130 pounds of this?"
"Hit!" yells the quarterback, throwing a lofty spiral.
"Whoooomphoooock!" goes my chest as the stocky girl plows straight through me and proceeds to catch a long pass way down the field, leaving me spinning about 5 feet from the line of scrimmage. Yes. She had certainly been ready for all 130 pounds of that.
So this is what exhausted feels like. A little bit of searing pain with a hint of humiliation seasoned with a touch of shame and four heaping spoonfuls of freaking tired. This cannot get worse.
"Time for 110s!" the coach yells, and I follow the jogging herd to line up at the goal post. I'm dense when it comes to sports, but I know how long a football field plus end zones is. Gazing at the opposite goal and barely able to inhale a full breath every few seconds, I am sure that there is no way I'm going to make it across this field. I figure my car is about 50 yards away. That's the only distance that seems reasonable right now. But I came here to try out.
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With every ounce of strength left in my bruised, shaking body, I heave myself across the field with the herd. I'm not dead last! I can go home! Right after I do this seven more times! What?!
We're not running one 110. We're running eight. I stare back up the field and very nearly become intimately reacquainted with the burrito I'd eaten for lunch. Thirty seconds for a break, and back we go. On the third trip, something close to delirium sets in. At number four, I figure I'll jump ship, tell the coach I have a hell of a lot of respect for the team and crawl to the car.
But I've already humiliated myself enough for the day, so I finish the fifth, sixth and seventh sprint. At number eight, I am sure that I will never again know what it feels like to have legs. I am a torso floating across the field, barely beating the girl with the sprained ankle. I know I'll never make the team, so after the coach's final pep talk, I slink away to my car unnoticed.
On the drive back to Dallas, I chug Gatorade and praise the good Lord for allowing us humble humans to develop cruise control; otherwise, I'd never have made it back across the county line with no legs.