SCHOOLCRAFT, Mich. — To her teammates, Heather Anderson is known as 'H-Train.' The sound of a train plays over the speakers sometimes when she's one the field. But come late June, her teammates may be calling her 'champ.'
In February, she was named to the U.S. national team as a starting running back for the 2017 women’s world championship.
“I think there still moments that I’m processing it,” said Anderson who’s a fullback with the West Michigan Mayhem. “You know its, it’s the epitome of women’s football to step on the field and do this. So it's awesome.”
Anderson found out she made the cut via email, while eating ice cream with her partner. She immediately freaked out. The two-day tryouts in January were hard.
“It was tough competition,” said Anderson who traveled with a few other teammates to the tryouts in Orlando. “In the running back group alone I think we had about 18, 19 running backs trying out for positions.”
There were 170 women trying out for 45 roster spots. All of the women competed regularly in the Woman’s Football Alliance, a league that's comprised of 60 teams including the Mayhem.
“I mean some of the best athletes were on the field that day,” said Anderson. “It was just awesome because as you looked around you’re just like ‘I’m surrounded by some of the best women’s football players in the United States.’”
And they’re tough too Anderson said. She compared the level of competition to that of the NCAA and said it’s just as hard-hitting as men’s football.
“With women’s football it’s no different than mens’ football,” said Anderson who’s been playing for 12 years. “We say women’s football but the reality is it’s football and anyone that cares about football you’re going to see that same caring, that same drive every single time we step on the field.”
What makes it special, she said, is that no one gets paid for their efforts. Not the players, nor the coaches. Many women are juggling motherhood, full-time jobs and other commitments just to make even a single game happen. The sacrifice, she said, has created a sisterhood that she feels with the Mayhem and felt at the tryouts.
“You look around and you’re just like these are the best women in the game today on the field with me,” said Anderson wiping away a tear. “And whether I made the team or not you know it was just that opportunity of saying I’m stepping on the field with the best there are.”
The Mayhem's season begins April 8 in Schoolcraft and ends in June. Later that month she'll fly out to Vancouver for the International Federation of American Football Women’s World Championship and practice with the a team a full week before the games begin. She ready to take on teams like Australia, Mexico and Finland to grab the gold. And more so, she's ready to take women's tackle football to the next level of recognition.
“Our goal is to win,” said Anderson. “We’re out there battling every single time we have the ball, every time we’re on defense to get to that next step. And we’re not just battling there. We’re battling with the world in a sense to show them that we deserve to be there.