They say the longest journey begins with a single step.
But everyone, it seems, has a different journey and their own unique path on which to travel.
For Leanne Coleman that path and that journey have led to the fulfillment of a childhood dream.
She wanted to play football in the big leagues and, as a child, she allowed herself that dream. She allowed herself to dream big.
And, surprising everyone including herself, she made that dream come true.
In 2016 she signed on to play with Edmonton Storm of the Women’s Western Canadian Football League.
She was 51-years-old.
Looking back, it seems Coleman’s journey began not with a single step, but with a single toss of the football.
“I just loved it,” she said. “I would go out in the yard and play football. I played football with my older brother, Murray and I played with anyone who wanted to play. I pretty much lived football.”
Coleman recalls one of the happiest memories of her childhood is hanging out with her dad watching the Edmonton Eskimos on the football field on television.
“That was our team,” she said.
As Coleman approached her teens the fact that she played football and, in fact, excelled at the sport did not go over too well with some of her male peers. A few of them even went so far as to make rude comments and for the first time in her short life, the young girl felt embarrassed and uncomfortable playing the sport she loved.
“Those were awkward years,” she said. “After a while I just didn’t play football anymore.”
Time marched on and eventually Coleman married and she and her husband Bill began the job of raising their children, Riley, Asley and Kelsey.
One day Coleman was browsing through Facebook and she happened to notice a post by the Edmonton Eskimos stating that the Edmonton Storm from the WWCFL was holding a women’s football camp.
Coleman did not respond immediately. She read the post and continued to scroll down. But something made her go back and re-read it. And then something else deep inside of her urged her to sign up for that football camp.
And so she did.
“That five hours went by so fast,” she said. “It was truly five hours of fun.”
Prepared to grab her free T-shirt and go home, Coleman was completely taken off guard when the head coach called her over and told her she wanted her to be a member of the team.
“I almost laughed,” she said, “and I wondered if she knew how old I was.”
Although she was thrilled with the offer, the decision to play for the Edmonton Storm was not made easily.
“It was a big commitment and a lot of driving involved, but somehow I couldn’t give up on the idea. It had been my childhood dream to play in the CFL. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t do it.”
And so it came to be that when the Edmonton Storm suited up to play for the 2016 season, Coleman was right there in the line-up. And, not only was her team undefeated during that season, she was named defensive lineman of the year.
Coleman was thrilled.
“I love the game,” she said. “I love the challenge. It’s such a great atmosphere. It’s awesome.”
Last year Coleman sprained her ankle and spent some time on the sidelines, but this year she is back in full force as defensive end and co-captain.
And now her daughter, 23-year-old Kelsey, has joined the team as offensive guard.
The team is off to a good start this year defeating Grande Prairie 63-0 in their first game.
Coleman is looking forward to the new season.
She is especially grateful that she had the courage to follow through on the opportunity to pursue her dream and she urges others to follow their own dream.
“Never give up on a dream or anything you are passionate about. If you can’t stop thinking about it you need to pursue it. The negative self talk, other people’s judgments, the doubts, the fears, push all that aside because it is not serving you. Just go for it. No matter the outcome you will never regret it.”
Coleman’s final words of advice are sprinkled with a dose of common sense.
“Age is a state of mind. We do have to grow older, but we don’t have to grow up.”