Even after 12 years of playing tackle football, Tracy Adams wants more.
The 37-year-old Riverbank resident isn't quite ready to hang up the pads, even though a Women's World Championship gold medal would be a nice way to cap her career.
"It's just the challenge of the game," Adams said. "I've never been in a sport that drives me as much as football. All the aggression you can get rid of on the field you have to control off the field, and I'm like two different people — very quiet off the field and emotional when I'm on it."
Being able to flip that emotional switch has helped Adams, a defensive end and wide receiver with the Modesto Maniax, who was a late addition to the Team USA squad that will take on the world in Stockholm, Sweden, in a week-long, six-team tournament that kicks off Saturday.
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The 45-member U.S. team will meet Austria on Sunday and Finland on Thursday in Group A round-robin play. If all goes according to plan the top-seeded Yanks will meet the Group B winner for the title on July 3.
This is the first world women's football championship ever staged. The sport is governed by the International Federation of American Football (IFAF,) which selected and seeded the teams based on how many registered teams and participants are playing the sport in each country.
The 10-year-old Independent Women's Football League (IWFL), has grown to include 1,800 players on 51 teams. The league utilizes a tiered system of relegation, similar to English soccer, and the Maniax are a Tier II team.
Nationwide estimates by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association set the number of American females regularly playing tackle football at more than 120,000.
Adams, who works in Dublin for the Department of Justice, has been playing as long as anybody. The Oakland native started playing tackle football 12 years ago for the Oakland Banshees, then joined the Maniax after she moved to Riverbank.
"I was playing regular pick-up basketball in the Bay Area, and one day someone came along and invited all of us to play flag football," Adams said. "I've been rolling with it since and I still play both tackle and flag.
"I think flag football is a lot harder to play than tackle. On defense you have to be precise to grab the flag and you also have to be more creative with your running. It's much easier to run people over than to grab a flag."
At 5-feet, 7-inches, and 145 pounds, Adams is an unlikely defensive end for the national team.
"I know I'm small package, but I have a huge bite," she said. "I have to prove to people all the time that I can play defensive end — especially the coaches."
A five-day training camp for the team in Austin, Texas, wrapped up on Wednesday, and Adams said she spent the bulk of the training sessions working with the first-team defense. She knows that doesn't guarantee a starting spot in Stockholm, but with three games in six days everybody will see ample action.
Adams wasn't on the team's initial roster, but paid a non-refundable $1,350 up-front fee to be placed on the team's waiting list. The day before the final cutoff date, she was offered a roster spot and instantly had to come up with another $1,350 to be on the team.
"I had to write them a check right away," she said. "I came up with it myself, with some help from my teammates. I made buttons for people for $5 and the rest I did on my own."
The call to join the team came so quickly that Adams didn't even take to the time to research Sweden.
"I know nothing about Sweden and I just want to go there and feel the experience," she said. "I know Swedish meatballs and that's about it."
She also knows the clock is ticking on her football career. Adams figures she has one more year of playing both receiver and defensive end for the Maniax before having to give up the offensive side, and she also still wants to start a family.
"I'm going to play until my legs tell me that's it," Adams said. "I'm too competitive to stop. I'd like to take time off to have kids, but I'll miss the year I need of football and the competition. When I'm done, I know a family will fill that void afterward, and for sure I'll be a Madden player."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.