“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it” – Bruce Lee
I remember meeting 3 young ladies at the 2000 Mardi Gras Open in New Orleans. They were called the Fallen Angels, I believe. They were a big deal because they were young attractive females who were playing a male dominated sport. So who can tell me what is wrong with that last sentence?
No, this is not going to be about sexism or feminism or any other “ism”. This will not be an argument for women in the military or who gets paid more or a glass ceiling or any of that. The point is quite simple and I will put it out from the get go. Are you a good paintball player? Do you contribute? Are you a team player? Good. Play paintball.
I will say that I believe women ARE different from men and I celebrate that difference; that is what makes a woman unique. In other words, I appreciate women for being women and the differences/balance they bring. That being said let me explain what brought this topic about and why I decided to write about it this month on Zen. This is a topic that came to my attention when speaking with my daughter. The gist of the discussion was about her wanting to play competitive paintball and what she would need to do to go about learning and being competitive.
Personally, I don’t understand why more women don’t play paintball. Biologically, on average, men do have the advantage in size and strength. But how does that translate to paintball? Does my bicep size make my paintball gun better? Do you really require great strength and size like a football or basketball player to be competitive in our sport? The answer is no.
Teams like the Fallen Angels and the Femme Fatales paved the way for teams like Fat lady Charms, Poison Ivy, and Destiny. Regrettably, if you Google “Women of paintball”, you will be greeted with images of scantily clad girls holding paintball markers. Not likely the end game Tami Adamson, Bea Paxson or Keely Watson had in mind when they started. It should be about the ability just like when we look at any other player. Of course, being friends with Bea, easily one of, if not the most recognized female in the sport, I decided to reach out to her and see what she had to say about how she got started and what it was like.
“The airball fields are what attracted me – how different it was from any kind of sporting activity I’ve ever observed or have been a part of. I wanted to be part of something different and paintball was, well, different.”
She went on to explain how being a woman in the sport brought about its criticisms.
“I didn’t like how I was accused of getting support simply because of my looks. Not saying that I’m the most beautiful person in the world, but because of being a female in a sea of males in this industry, it was somewhat easy for me to stand out a bit. But, I wanted to be more than just a “pretty face” and I wanted to earn my spot in the paintball world by being revered as someone that also knew about all aspects of paintball, to be able to explain it, to teach it, and to encourage others to get involved.”
Bea has advice for other ladies out there, “Just practice and train more to be treated equally and selected to play alongside other men. I remember in my rookie years, I wanted so badly to learn from my mistakes that I would go up to the many men that bunkered me or shot me to ask what I could’ve done better or what I did wrong. And 9 times out of 10, the guys were always willing to explain to me what I could do to improve…. diversify yourself as a player and learn all positions. Don’t just start in the back, too, like most females are typically set up in initially. If they do end up starting in the back, change it up and learn how to be a mid or front player, too.”
Now, I have experience with coaching females. During the 2014 Season, I had the pleasure of meeting and coaching a young lady from Texas when she guested with one of the Prime squads for a couple of events. One of the things I appreciated about Taylor Mitchell was that she didn’t want to be given anything because she was a woman. She wanted to earn her spot because she could play. And make no qualms about it, she did.
“…if you don’t bring up the fact that you’re a girl while playing, then people forget that you’re a girl and treat you like normal.”
What drew her to the sport? “I loved eliminating people. That’s the best part.” Sound familiar guys? Taylor knew what was required. She came to play and that is why I treated her like any other player.
Taylor has always been athletic and has played competitive softball almost all her life. But she firmly believes that being good at paintball has nothing to do with your gender and all to do about your ability to play and be a team player. “…it has nothing to do about your genetic makeup. But the effort and talent you put into it to become a better player.”
This past 2016 World Cup I was introduced to two other females who made me take notice for their attitude and ability. First is Willi Cohen, a former competitive dancer and swimmer. Willi came down to help Birmingham Prime in the pits. I had heard about her from my friends in the Atlanta area. Willi was introduced to paintball through her boyfriend Cameron on an agreement, she would play paintball if he would go to one dance class (Yo Cameron, she’s still waiting on your end of the bargain, chief.)
Willi ended up enjoying the rec side of the game but didn’t feel confident in the tournament format. This led to her becoming a gifted “pit boss” but things are changing after this past year. “I loved watching all the air ball players, but I was not confident enough to try for myself, so I did whatever I could to help out the teams at the field, which led me to pitting for the Kennesaw State team and then eventually Birmingham Prime. It was the NXL events this past season that made me decide to actually get on the field and play. Being in the pits and helping out allowed me to see what it truly means to be a team… when I saw teammates pushing each other to be better on and off the field I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”
And think about it, Willi’s background. She was a dancer, lithe on her feet, and a swimmer who has great cardio. Sounds like a great foundation for an excellent paintball player. Bruce Lee use to talk about how, if he could train Fred Astaire for 6 months, he would have him beat any boxer. Footwork is such an integral part of playing paintball and many players don’t understand that.
“In the long run I hope to be a part of a team after I get out school, but honestly I just hope I can prove to myself that I have the ability that if I put the work in and push myself I can accomplish my goals.” Sounds like the attitude required to be a good paintball player. “When we put the mask down we are all equal.” Here here Willi.
The other young lady was Karin Worhle’. Karin had traveled from Germany with her boyfriend Felix who was guesting with Prime for the event. Karin was there to guest with Destiny. I believe Karin is the embodiment of what I am trying to say with this whole blog post. It’s about the skill set not the gender.
Karin has played all over the world. Malaysia, The United States, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, UK, France, Belgium, and she’s not done. Unlike Bea who had a martial arts and cheerleading background, Willi who has a swimming and dancing background, or Taylor who had played softball all her life, Karin wasn’t really into sports at all. She wasn’t even introduced to paintball by a guy. Her friends at her university suggested they all go for her birthday because she was “crazy” and would obviously enjoy this “crazy” game. Little did her friends know it would change her life.
“I constantly try to surround myself with people whose goals and passions are consistent with mine. I became healthier – I stopped smoking, started going to the gym a minimum of 4 times a week (very strictly). Some months ago, I started to work with a personal trainer to improve my fitness and nutrition to the max. Last but not least I got used to car rides – long ones (for e.g. to Paris 1200km) and “short” ones (almost every weekend 500km to practice).” Sounds like someone dedicated to the craft and who knows what it takes to be competative, yes?
With that kind of dedication and drive, you would think she wouldn’t have had a hard time finding a team. Not true.
“… it was not that easy for me. The first team I approached did reject me, because they didn’t want to have women in their team. That’s the first time I had to realize there are apparently men, who definitely doesn’t want women to participate in this sport. However, this didn’t stop me to keep searching and yes – it made me even more eager to play and compete in tournaments. I just had a lot of fun playing, getting to know the different people anywhere in the world. I wanted to improve my skills, learn the game, perform as much as possible and win!”
When you watch Karin play, it is easy to see she knows what she is doing. Speaking with her while walking the field, you can certainly see she has a mind for the strategy of the game as well. I can’t say that about half the guys I meet in paintball.
“I like to be “the killer”, the person who completely changes a game or situation. I also like to be a team mate everybody can rely on and trust on the field. In general, I want my team to be successful and I want to contribute to the max.”
These women all have something in common besides gender. They are dedicated, enjoy the game and want to continuously improve their skills just like every other tournament player should. So next time you see a female baller out there, don’t get complacent or look past her. She’s likely to light you up… especially if it ends up being my daughter. Just sayin’.
Be Water my friends.