Katie Romano proves naysayers wrong

When Chicago Force cornerback Katie Romano steals a look to the sidelines for her team's next play, it's not a coach she's searching for. It's Colleen Fahrner -- Romano's sign language interpreter. As if being the smallest player on her team, at 5-foot-2, 118 pounds, weren't challenging enough, Romano is also deaf.

Courtesy of Katie Romano

Katie Romano gets instructions from her interpreter, Colleen Fahrner, during a Chicago Force game.

The Gallaudet University graduate came to Chicago in 2010 from the DC Divas, where she played cornerback and kicker when they won the 2006 national women's football championship. Now the 25-year-old Chicago native is representing her hometown team and thriving on the excitement and camaraderie of professional football.

It's a sport her marathon-running mom initially refused to let her tackle out of fear of injury, but times have changed.

"I thought she was crazy!" said Barb McGovern, Romano's mother. "She was such a teeny little thing. But she's always had a lot of drive. I love watching her play. She's small, but whatever she gets, she can give right back. She's [going] 100 percent all the time"

Women first began playing the male-dominated sport in the 1960s; today, 63 teams belong to the Women's Football Alliance, the world's largest football league. There are 11 national championships, a gold-medal-winning Team USA, 1,250 community events and three Hall of Fame inductions.

"The sport is growing at a record pace," said Lisa King, the WFA director of operations.

Besides blanketing opposing receivers and making interceptions, Romano gets her thrills from proving naysayers wrong, especially those who question a deaf player's ability to compete.

"I don't let my deafness stop me from anything," Romano said. "I'll do whatever it takes to help my team win."

During practice, the Force stick to the same drill order so Romano knows what's coming. Her coaches and teammates know how to sign pass, huddle and one play, shark. Her interpreter signs the coach's pep talk and instructions, or the coaches talk to directly to Romano and she reads their lips.

In reality, Romano has managed to turn her deafness into an asset on the field.

"I think most deaf people are more alert all the time because we depend on our eyes to 'hear.' So I always have my eyes open and can catch the action quickly," she said.

Romano's average week includes three hour-long sessions with a personal trainer, three-hour Tuesday and Thursday practices and Saturday games. Away from the field, Romano spends time with her partner, Casandra Cattouse, and Cattouse's daughter, a 6-year-old budding soccer star named Nevaeh. Cattouse, a Force teammate, took the season off to recover from a knee injury.

In addition to her football career, Romano is also a member of the USA Deaf National Women's soccer team. The squad is on a quest for a third gold at the 2013 Deaflympics in Athens, Greece.

As for the popular critique that ladies are too fragile to set foot on the field, Romano chooses not to hear it. Last year, a knee to the back during practice landed her in the ER with a debilitating hematoma (when blood collects beneath the skin) that prevented her from walking normally for three weeks and took six months to fully recover from.

"Truth be told, it's women who have a higher pain tolerance and a better concept of what it means to be a team player," Romano said. "I hate when people say I can't do this or that. And I love proving people wrong."

Visit the Women's Football Alliance on the web to find a game near you.

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