'There will be bruises': Capital Rebels tackle male-dominated world of full-contact football

They were told they were a joke, that they weren't strong enough, that they didn't know enough about the game.

Now Ottawa's Capital Rebels are on a mission to prove women do indeed have a place in the rough and tumble world of tackle football.

"There are people who have doubts about our project, but doubts have never stopped me before, and I won't let them now," said Katrina Paiement, the team's founder and co-coach, who's also a player.

At 24, Paiement is also the youngest member of the squad so far. They've held tryouts and hope to attract more players before exhibition games begin in May.

"It's a chance to get away from family, children and work, and just let off steam. To have fun and do what we've always been told not to do," Paiement said. "It's time to take our place and play the sport we want to play."

Kim Vallière/Radio-Canada

Another player, Sonia Rodi, 45, is a former rugby player who's coached youth football for five years. 

"We start contact slowly and then we'll get more aggressive. We want to show them that it doesn't hurt," said Rodi, whose job will be to teach her teammates how to tackle and avoid injury.

Obviously, there will be bruises. - Katrina Paiement, player, co-coach and founder

"As bad as it sounds, you hit people and it just feels good," said Paiement. "But we're doing it safely." The entire team will attend a concussion seminar, she said.

"Obviously, there will be bruises," said Paiement, who is nursing a few of her own from a recent tryout session. Specialized women's gear with cups and extra padding to protect the chest does exist, but some female players just wear men's shoulder pads.

Kim Vallière/Radio-Canada

Crystal Parsons, 42, caught the football bug following the Ottawa Redblacks. Last summer, the CFL team invited fans to a women's training camp to learn more about the game. Parsons participated, and "something about it got under my skin."

She was the first to sign up to play with the Rebels.

"Tackling makes me feel alive. At my age, I'm near premenopause and you feel like you want to hit things," Parsons said. "I've fallen in love with contact football."

It marks a big change from her high school years, when Parsons considered herself "the artsy kid." But "sometimes in life you gotta get off the sidelines and get in the game," she said.

Louis Christ

The Rebels will have up to two training sessions per week, and hope to play exhibition games starting in May against another women's contact football team, the Montreal Blitz.

"Anyone who's willing to learn is accepted on our team, because we know we're in the early stages," said Paiement, who is looking for more women to join up. Positions will be assigned at the end of March. 

Her dream is to play in a league of six to eight teams from around Montreal and eastern Ontario.

"They have a Western Women's Canadian [Football] League with eight teams. The Maritimes also have [a league]. In the United States, the Women's Football Alliance has 59 teams and over 2,000 players, so I wonder why in Ontario and in Quebec, we have nothing?"

She knows her goal is ambitious, but Paiement said she's determined to prove that football is for everyone.