Fierce, quick and intimidating are the words that most people would use to describe a professional football player.
But when you first meet Colorado Valkyries defensive back Diane Dwire, those are not the first words that come to mind.
At 5-5, 140-pounds, Diane appears more suited to leading with a smile rather than a facemask. That smile and a pleasant personality serve her well as technical services manager for Montgomery Watson, a company that does environmental consulting and design work for mines and landfills across the country. Her position, which she has held for six years, is hard to describe, but it's certainly a job that requires a very professional appearance and demeanor.
That explains why most airline passengers who sat next to Diane as she traveled to her games last season were definitely caught off guard when she told them she was a professional football player.
"I love the shock value," Diane said. "People are truly shocked when I tell them that I'm a professional football player. But after the initial shock wears off they want to know more about the game and women's professional football in general. It's just a lot of fun."
While her appearance may be a bit deceiving off the field, Diane has earned a reputation as one of the best new defensive backs in the young Women's Professional Football League, Valkyries defensive coordinator Bruce Kiphart said.
Last year, the Colorado team had one of the best defenses in the new league, giving up just 36 points in seven games. Kiphart said Diane was a big part of his defense's aggressive attack.
"She really changes when she puts the helmet on," Kiphart said. "She doesn't seem like it at first, but she is really tough."
Kiphart's defense relied on its line to apply pressure and its backs not to get beat.
His corners were often left alone in the backfield and many times were the final barrier between the opposing team and the end zone. Thankfully for Kiphart, he had Diane and fellow cornerback Tiffany Ehrig in his backfield.
"I think we only had six or seven passes completed on us all season," the coach said.
Kiphart said Diane made a solid impression on the team's coaching staff at one of the first tryouts. She earned her spot quickly and Kiphart said she definitely has the skills to continue playing in the WPFL when play resumes.
Diane said she never really dreamed of becoming a professional football player it just sort of happened.
She graduated from Colorado College in 1990 with a degree in math and moved to Steamboat Springs shortly after her graduation.
"I had just planned to live here for a year, but I fell in love with the place," Diane said.
An athletic tomboy, she grew up playing baseball and football with the neighborhood boys in Southern California She eventually gave those sports up, but was competitive in both soccer and track in high school.
In college, Diane played club hockey and fell in love with the game. Today, when she isn't working, Diane indulges in a variety of athletic endeavors such as skiing, ice hockey and even a little coaching.
"I've always enjoyed playing hockey,'" Diane said. "It's a lot like soccer."
After college, Diane worked in the property management business for several years before landing a job with Terra Matrix a consulting company that was bought by Montgomery Watson. And it was at work where Diane was first introduced to the idea of playing football.
"I went in to ask her if I could have a couple of weekends off to tryout and she just kept asking me about it," co-worker Krista Krauklis said. "She decided to come along and eventually made the Valkyries roster."
Krauklis was cut from the team, but Diane started in all six regular-season games for a team that went 4-2. The Valkyries lost their first game of the season to the Minnesota Vixens and a first-round playoff game to the Houston Energy, 13-0.
"It was kind of a sudden thing," Diane said of playing for the Valkyries. "Everything happened so fast. It still seems like a blur to me."
Krauklis said several women from Steamboat went to the tryouts last summer and it was nice to see someone she knew make the final cut.
"I think it is cool that she did it," Krauklis said. "It's a big adjustment that means rearranging your entire life."
While the WPFL was a sort of surprise dream come true for Diane, it was more of a nightmare for other players and owners in the league. Even before the season began, stories of teams being locked out of practice facilities and not having proper equipment began to surface. Players complained about not being paid the $100 per game they had been promised. Then in November, Colorado Valkyries owner Larry Perry bought out the league's original owner, Terry Sullivan, and his partners and reached into his pocket to make sure the league continued. Eventually the season was abbreviated from 10 games to six. The league did have a postseason which ended in January with the Houston Energy defeating the New England Storm in the championship game, 39-7.
The future of the league is still somewhat in question. Owners promise a bigger better season this year, but details about what's to come are still cloudy.
Despite the fact she wasn't paid for playing, Diane had nothing but praise for the coaching staff and owners of the Colorado Valkyries. A single woman, she said she is optimistic about the future of the league and is considering returning for the next season.
"I think some players may have been disappointed because they went into it with false expectations," Diane said. "I didn't have any expectations, so I wasn't disappointed."
Diane said it also helped that she had great support from her employers at Montgomery Watson. She kept her job and was able to work out of the company's Denver office while she was on the team.
"I never thought I would get rich playing football. I never really expected to get paid to tell you the truth," Diane said. "I just wanted to go out there and be a part of something that is new and fun. I just wanted a chance to play a professional sport."