Competing at the wider receiver position in the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, Megan Jalbert is a picture of determination, perseverance and great athletic ability. Her drive at the position makes her a remarkable competitor for a Regina Riot franchise with championship aspirations.
Having grown up in Saskatchewan, the interest in football was similar to many of her counterparts. Following the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League served as the starting point. In rooting for Saskatchewan’s most popular sports team, Jalbert became devoted to the sport. An accomplished volleyball player and all-around athlete, Jalbert wanted to expand her athletic scope and take to the gridiron.
“It will come as no surprise that my passion for the game grew out of my love for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. My family was not your typical Rider crazed fanatics; we watched a game occasionally when it was on but that was about it. However, for some reason, I became obsessed with the team.”
“I come from a small family with two younger male siblings, yet I (being the only girl) fell in love with the team and the game. Throughout high school I was heavily active and played almost every sport, except football. I had actually thought about pursuing it in grade twelve but I elected to stay with the social norm and continue playing volleyball.”
“Despite this decision, my desire to play the sport was not stifled. I loved being physical and even earned the nickname 'the bulldozer' on my local softball team as I would often take out any girl who dared to stand in my way. As a result, I would say that much of my interest for the sport came from the fact that I could take out my frustrations and tackle someone without getting arrested (laughs).”
Blessed with remarkable athletic ability, the desire to compete in tackle football eventually became a reality. With the WWCFL germinating in 2011, a talent search was underway to find interested athletes. The hunger to compete at such an elite level would eventually be satisfied, although there was some soul searching along the way.
“One day in the spring of 2011, I went for a walk and came across a promotional poster for the Regina Riot. It immediately caught my attention; however, I was in a difficult time in my life and decided to set it on the back burner for the time.”
“For awhile I knew that something was missing in my life but I could not quite figure it out until I realized that I was no longer competitively involved in any kind of physical activity; this was quite a big deal for me, as I had always been competing in sport. I eventually contacted the Riot and they put me on their mailing list. During October 2011, they hosted a fall camp where I was able to suit up for the very first time; I fell in love instantly and have not looked back since.”
The varying ages among the players creates a remarkable mosaic for the WWCFL. Complemented by the fact that many players are also mothers, the budding league allows women remarkable sporting opportunities. With such a diverse range of competitors, it is a great point of pride for Jalbert.
“I love the diversity that the league showcases. Football is such a unique sport in that there is a position for absolutely everyone, and you have to work together as one cohesive unit in order to succeed. The WWCFL provides opportunities for women all across Canada that they would otherwise not have. It's very family oriented; each team is a family in itself as anyone can call on any individual for support and know that she will have a full lineup of ladies ready to help.”
While many teams in pro sports see themselves as families, there is a broader sense of family in the WWCFL. As many of the competitors are also mothers, the experience of their children attending games and meeting players helps to foster a strong sense of community.
“It is also family oriented in the sense that the mothers' children on the team also become the team's children. We all work together to accommodate each other and our families; we love having them around as they also help make up our team.”
Articulate and well-spoken, Jalbert is ambitiously looking towards a long career. Only in her 20s, Jalbert is looking positively at the possibility of competing in her 40s. With several women in the WWCFL currently competing in their 40s, it is a strong motivational factor. NFL legend Jerry Rice played until he was 42 years old after a career that spanned 21 seasons. The Regina Riot may have found their version of Rice in the remarkable Jalbert.
“In terms of the variety of ages, I quite enjoy knowing that I can continue to play for as long as my body will hold up. I started playing when I was 22 and some women are 40-plus. I do not have to give up playing a competitive sport because I aged out, like I have in volleyball. I can look forward to many more years of competition.”
“Furthermore, the older women on the team are excellent role models and provide us with the encouragement and support that we need in order to succeed both on and off the field. The relationships that we develop with each other are priceless; some of my closest friends have come from the Regina Riot and even members of the Saskatoon Valkyries, despite being provincial rivals (I had the pleasure of playing with a handful of them for Team Saskatchewan last year at the women's National Cup).”
As the WWCFL continues to grow, so too will the opportunity to be seen as sporting heroes and gridiron idols. Competing in a sport that is still nascent among many women, the barriers these courageous women are breaking is one that brings with it great admiration and respect. With Jalbert’s status as an athlete, she was asked if she viewed herself as a role model for young girls.
“Absolutely! Growing up, I felt like I did not really have anyone to look up to in many of my sports with the exception of hockey's Hayley Wickenheiser. Now I may never reach that kind of athletic stature, but I still feel as though my being involved as an athlete in a traditional male sport provides young girls with someone to look up to.”
“On a complete side note, one of my fellow teammates (Erin Banbury) and I have actually developed a junior girls tackle football program that we hope to implement. Manitoba has been extremely successful with their program and we believe that there has been enough interest in Saskatchewan that we could certainly make something work.”
In giving back to the community and looking to help groom the next generation of female football heroes, Jalbert is emerging as a hero off the field. As a pioneer for women’s tackle football in the province of Saskatchewan, being involved in the sport’s growth is one that brings with it great reward.
“Being a part of the Regina Riot has been such a great experience as I have been able to watch it grow over the last two years. I remember hearing about them in 2011 and being fascinated by the fact that they were an all women's tackle football team. This idea had never really crossed my mind before! Now I am a part of the team and a part of that growth.”
Since joining the Riot, Jalbert has emerged as a highly competitive, driven athlete with a strong desire to win. Her commitment to succeed brought Jalbert the opportunity to compete on the Saskatchewan provincial women’s football team in 2012. With six of her teammates from the Regina Riot having been named to the Canadian contingent, Jalbert is excited at the quantum leap that the WWCFL has taken.
“Last summer we sent our first provincial team to the National Cup and now six of my teammates will be representing the Canadian National Team in the Women’s Tackle Football Championships in Finland this summer. Within the WWCFL itself, we have already included two expansion teams for the 2013 season. This has all happened within three years! To say that interest in the sport has grown is an understatement. It has taken off!”
With a 35-0 win over the Manitoba Fearless to open the 2013 season, Jalbert is excited at the strong start. As the roster features a new head coach and a former CFL competitor as defensive coordinator, optimism is strong within the Riot organization. Competing in the same conference as the two-time defending champion Saskatoon Valkyries brings with it a strong desire to succeed.
“To have that first win at home this season is HUGE for our team. Last year we did not start out on a good note and therefore had no momentum to ride on. This year the win felt that much better with the new wrinkles that we have incorporated into both of our offensive and defensive systems.”
“The win was also exciting due to the fact that the Fearless had also improved immensely from the 2012 season. Despite the score, we did not win with ease as the Fearless put up quite the fight and challenged us right from the beginning. This win provides us with a wave of momentum that we will certainly be riding into our next game.”
“We are fairly confident that we are not only Saskatoon's strongest competition, but also a threat to dethroning the undefeated two time WWCFL champions. Furthermore, the win showed the 570 fans that were in attendance that we are not powder puff football players. Just ask how powder puff our special teams tackle was on the Fearless' kick returner.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”