Prior to the beginning of the season for the Calgary Rage, Esther Estairia Hong was a novice at football. Although she would have been unable to explain offensive schemes such as a play-action pass or the blitz on defense, her passion for the game was quickly ignited. A chance encounter through her place of work served as the catalyst in providing Hong with the motivation.
“Before I joined the Rage, I really did not know what football was. I never watched a game, did not understand the rules and the scoring system never made sense to me. I did not even know what any of the positions were called except I knew there was a quarterback that threw the ball (laughs).”
“Football found me. I heard about the first boot camp that the Rage held last November through a co-worker of mine that had a client that played on the team. Kimba was awesome in answering all my questions and making me feel welcome to join the girls.”
Despite her inexperience, coupled by the greenness of being a rookie, Hong quickly found a group of athletes that would evolve into fast friends. Through the passion and motivation that defined the veterans drive to play football, Hong’s desire to compete was augmented.
“I remember that day so clearly. I saw the girls and right away I felt intimated and nervous. I thought to myself 'OMG (oh my god) these girls can crush me with their pinky!’ Once the camp started and we got into the drills, the ladies in my group were very encouraging and super supportive. I could not help but to be drawn in.”
The positive team culture fostered a feeling of belonging and acceptance which helped transform Hong’s insights on the game and her new team into one of contentment. In discussing the impact on the feeling of friendship, she elaborated,
“Friendship? No, no, you mean family! Since I never watched football before playing on the team, the veterans on the Rage were definitely the ones I looked up to and learned a lot from (aside from the coaches of course).
"I felt a sense of home to be around tough, strong women that were competitive, dedicated, disciplined and not afraid to take a hit. I had never experienced that type of feeling before in my life. So my football journey started there.”
Once playing for the Calgary Rage became a reality, Hong had to deal with the way her peers and other individuals would perceive her. Suddenly, she was a gridiron goddess with the marks to show for it. Regardless of people’s views on her sport of choice, those marks were badges of honor for an elated rookie proud to don the black and red colors of the Rage.
“From men, it was usually ‘Oh good for you, that is awesome! What position?’ From women... one look at the bruises riddled on my body, they start to cringe and say, ‘You are crazy!’ Or, ‘Is football really worth all the pain?’ I would always answer ‘Hell, yes!’”
One of the "Welcome to the WWCFL" moments for Hong is coping with the long road trips. To travel out of province from Calgary to Saskatoon consists of 615 kilometers. Compared to traveling in province from Calgary to Grande Prairie, it is a longer trip, ranging 756 kilometers. Hong approaches the road trips as an opportunity to bond with her teammates, who have become an extended family for her.
“Well, with me being a rookie and not knowing anyone on the team before I joined, I pass the time (on bus trips) by talking with my teammates and getting to know them better. I can definitely say that a huge part of me loving football is my teammates. I mean, yes, that rush of my first touchdown was amazing, yet nothing compared to the love and support received from my Rage family.”
Despite the fact that the Rage missed the 2013 WWCFL postseason, Hong reflects on her season with delight and gratification. While Hong managed to persevere despite the wounds and the hurt, her willingness to endure was the defining factor of her inaugural season.
“I have gone through the season with frequent trips to the hospital, bruises covering my limbs, a concussion that rattled my brain, constant jammed fingers, stitches and a toenail falling off…throughout all of this I have never been so happy in my life and so proud to be part of a team.
"The Rage family is truly something to feel blessed to be a part of. I will forever be grateful as I love my team. Together we are stronger!”
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise indicated
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