ODU Alumna on Top of Tackle Football World
September 18, 2015
After Okiima Pickett broke her right leg twice in nine months playing tackle football, she had one thought: how soon till I can play again?
"It was a very traumatizing experience," said Pickett, a 2003 graduate of Old Dominion University in computer science. "But I didn't want to be known as the player who broke her leg and quit."
Pickett, who played women's soccer at ODU, is far from quitting the Washington D.C. Divas of the Women's Football Alliance, even though she is 35 years old, has a titanium rod in her shin and screws in her knee and ankle.
A running back nicknamed "Sweet Feet," Pickett is one of the Divas' most experienced veterans with nine seasons under her shoulder pads. And in August, she captured her first championship of the 41-team league when the Divas defeated the Dallas Elite 30-26 in Los Angeles.
Her presence on the roster in 2015 seemed doubtful when Pickett's leg was broken by a tackle during a game late in the 2012 season, and then broken again in the first game of 2013.
"Coming back from injuries like that, you have no idea what to expect," said Pickett, who also works as an information security engineer. "I was thinking my career might be over, wondering if I'd ever have my game back. So for me to be able to play again and contribute to a championship is an awesome feeling."
Pickett did quit once; she stopped playing co-ed soccer near her Maryland home when teammates suggested she take her aggressiveness to the Divas.
The idea intrigued Pickett, who said she asked to try out for her high school football team in Charlottesville but was denied by the coach.
"He said he didn't want me to get hurt," Pickett said. "I said, 'But they won't be able to catch me.'''
Pickett wound up attending community college and was recruited for ODU's soccer team. But with a challenging academic load, as well as a young son to care for, Pickett played just one season before she graduated in the summer of 2003.
Her son is 16 now, and Pickett said she is gratified he's been able to witness the dedication she's put into her comeback.
"Okiima is the ultimate DC Diva," said teammate Kenyetta Grigsby. "I didn't think she'd let the leg injury stop her. She loves football and she loves the Divas, so I knew she'd be back."
Pickett played for Team USA five years ago in the first International Federation of American Football women's world championship, and said she hopes to make the 2017 national team.
"My leg can predict the weather," she joked. "It still aches, and I also had mental hurdles to overcome. I needed to get my confidence back. In my mind, I feel like I limp when I run, although on film you see that I don't."
Grigsby said "Sweet Feet" should not fret.
"She had her leg so wrapped up at the beginning of the season, we called her 'Peg Leg,' '' Grigsby said with a laugh. "But she got her name back by the end."