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Inspiration can come in many different forms.

For Leonardo da Vinci, it was a paying customer's enigmatic smile. For comedian Jim Carey, it was his unemployed father's ability to keep his family laughing even as they lived out of their car. In a small Belgian town in December, 1944, where thousands of American soldiers sat cold, hungry, nearly frozen, and surrounded by desperate enemy troops, it was their commander's one-word answer to the German general's demands for surrender.

And for one 8-year-old girl, it was being struck by a car.

Philadelphia has a long and distinguished history of supporting professional sports teams. The first one was the Philadelphia Quakers baseball team founded in 1883. Professional football came in the form of the Philadelphia Yellow Jackets in 1924, followed by professional hockey in 1930 and basketball in 1946.

Philadelphia is also the home of professional boxing, and can claim former world middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins as a native son. Former heavyweight champion "Smokin' Joe" Frazier has lived there most of his life.

But the most famous boxer associated with Philadelphia never lived there. In fact, he never existed at all.

Everyone knows the story of Rocky Balboa, the down-and-out boxer looking for his one shot to make it big. It is a great story, one of human triumph over impossible odds; an everyday man's struggle to prove his worth that has served as inspiration for amateur athletes since the first movie was released in 1976. Say what you will about the sequels, it is still a great story. Who hasn't listened to the familiar trumpet fanfare and felt their own pulse quicken just a little bit?

On November 6, 2009, a Miami runningback named Kiki Toombs was running amok through the Philadelphia defense. She was matched, score for score, by Philadelphia's own runner, Tyrah Lusby. Lusby would rack up huge yardage before the Miami defense could surround and stop her, but mostly the only thing stopping her was the end zone. Then Miami would get the ball and it was Toombs' turn to score. By the end of the night, Toombs would rush for just over 150 yards on a field that only measured 50.

For Philadelphia, if there was one bright side to the Lusby/Toombs show, it was that they had managed to keep Miami's best receiver, Tina Caccavale, silent for most of the game. And if there was one bright spot in the Philadelphia defense, it was Jaime Diamond.

The impact of the car against her body had left her with a broken foot, six fractured ribs, whiplash, a concussion, a chipped tooth, and a severe abrasion that went from the back of her right knee all the way up to her right shoulder. Dizziness and nightmares persisted for years; her developing mind suffering from what an adult would recognize as post-traumatic stress disorder aggravated by the damage to her brain.

As she recovered, she realized just how close to death she had come; that she had been given a second chance at life. And she would not let it go to waste.

In high school she competed in most of the major varsity sports available to girls. Softball, basketball, soccer, and swimming kept her busy all year round. There was no such thing as an off-season in the Diamond household. Jaime had something to prove.

At 5-feet, 1-inch, Jaime Diamond does not have the physical stature that most major college coaches actively recruit. College scholarship offers weren't filling up her mailbox. She hoped that she could play softball at Rutgers, but it didn't work out.

Her career in competitive athletics was over. Like Rocky, she thought she was cleaning out her locker for good. She thought she was done.

But then, 21 years after her accident, she got one last shot. Philadelphia was getting another professional sports team and it was looking for players. Rocky had his Apollo Creed, and now Jaime had the LFL.

She jumped at the chance. She drove five hours to go to try-outs. She did the drills. She worked hard and got in the best shape of her life. At training camp she was outperforming women 9 years her junior. She not only made the team, she became a starting cornerback. And then she earned a spot on the offense as well.

Jaime Diamond had something to prove, and she wanted prove that she could play professional tackle football.

Her team lost that game against Miami when a late-game holding penalty set Philadelphia back on their own side of the field, giving Miami an opportunity to regroup and insert Kiki Toombs - yes, that Kiki Toombs - as a middle linebacker to track Lusby in the backfield. Toombs fought through a block to stop Lusby short of a first down. Miami got the ball back and went on to win.

Diamond had given all she had to give, but it wasn't enough. She had played her heart out and lost.

Rocky didn't win his first bout, either.

But he did prove to himself that he could do something that nobody else had done. In the movie, he proved he could go twelve rounds against a heavily-favored opponent.

Jaime Diamond does that every game. She has to. She has something to prove. She is proving that small girls can play football. Watch her line up at the corner and you can almost hear that familiar trumpet fanfare. Your pulse will quicken just a little bit.

Welcome to the All-Whigham team, Jaime.

Long live sport.

I'd like to thank Jaime for taking a chance and letting me write her story.  This article originally appeared last December, as the first in a series.  I re-wrote it slightly to tailor it specifically for the "Fans of the LFL" blog.  Watch this space for upcoming installments.

 

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