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RIAL CUMMINGS: Wallwork living out her dream Kaipo Wallwork, a former state champion shot putter and discus thrower at Missoula Hellgate, plans to play offensive guard for the Hawaii Legends when the Women's American Football League season begins this fall. Wallwork was in Missoula recently to play rugby in the annual Maggotfest. Photo by MICHAEL GALLACHER/Missoulian Kaipolani Wallwork has a smile that can light up a room, and as she recounts her rugby adventures at this year's Missoula Maggotfest, the wattage is so bright you need shades. "Yeah, I got a little cut on my chin, and I took a pretty good shot to the shin, and here," she holds up her arm, "you can see the teeth marks." Then the smile grows even wider. "But you should've seen the other gals." In the rich laughter that follows, you know why Kaipo Wallwork is proud to be a football pioneer; why she's bubbling with enthusiasm, at age 32, to strap on a helmet and dive into the fray. To hear her tell it, she was born to be an offensive guard, and no accident of gender can derail her destiny. If things go right - and, admittedly, plenty could go wrong - Wallwork will play this fall for the Hawaii Legends of the fledgling Women's American Football League. She'll keep her day job, as the assistant physical education director at a YMCA near Honolulu, while fulfilling a lifelong dream against teams from such exotic locales as Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles. As Wallwork grew up in Missoula, turning into a state champion shot putter and discus thrower, starring on a state runner-up volleyball team for Missoula Hellgate, thumping on taller basketball foes as a "physical" power forward, and relishing the no-pads combat of rugby, she harbored a secret regret: not giving organized football a try. "I wanted to play Little Griz football, but I didn't do it," Wallwork said. "Here it is, 20 years later, and I still think about that, wish I had done it. Even at Hellgate, I thought about going out (for football). But I was having success in basketball and volleyball. I was so much the tomboy, but I also wanted to be accepted. There was still a line there I wasn't ready to step across." And today? "All the doors are opening. Women run the marathon now, they pole vault. Women play hockey. Women are boxing. Why not play football?" Wallwork, who competed collegiately in track at Washington and the University of Montana, moved to Hawaii three years ago, wanting to experience the place that nurtured her parents, Bruce and Susan. Kaipo heard about tryouts for a women's football team two years ago, and is among a nucleus of 20 die-hards who have kept the team going, although games have been few and far between. "We come from all kinds of athletic backgrounds," Wallwork said. "A lot of us are coaches, or involved in fitness training. Some come from the military. Many of us played rugby, or flag football, or competed in martial arts, extreme sports. It's just a neat blend of people." Kaipo's charisma and love of fitness are a reflection of her father, who came to Missoula to play football for UM, then stayed to run a gym, coach high school football, serve as a strength coach for the Grizzlies and become a personal trainer with a loyal clientele. Kaipo wears jersey No. 70, the same one Bruce wore for the Griz. "When I first started, I must have called him four or five times a week, telling him about plays and (blocking) schemes, asking him questions, receiving encouragement," Wallwork said. "He came out from the mainland to watch our first game. "I'll never forget that. Looking up to see him cheering for me. It was perfect. I still kind of choke up when I think about it." The 5-foot-8, 220-pound Wallwork says her biggest challenge has been honing the footwork and technical skills of her position. "Gradually, we've become more sophisticated," Wallwork said. "We run a lot of fun stuff now, cross blocks, counters, traps. I love it when I get the chance to pull. You're out there, leading the play, and somebody's gonna get flattened." Although there's no guarantee that her football will find a niche with the paying public, or develop into something more than a demanding hobby, Wallwork says she feels fortunate. "You know, I've had little girls come up to me and tell me they want to play football too," she said. "And I've been able to tell them, 'Good for you, you can do it.' It's the coolest thing to be able say that." Rial Cummings can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-5255.
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