Jen Welter may be small of stature, but her big heart and big dreams are knocking down barriers on the football field
If all you knew about Jen Welter were that she is an athlete who made waves in the world of sports and wrote a book about her life, you might guess her success came from winning a tennis Grand Slam or being a USA figure skating champion — or any number of sports in which men and women share the limelight.
Yet, at only 5 feet, 2 inches tall and weighing 130 pounds, Welter made history as the first woman to play running back in men’s professional football and as the first female coach in the National Football League. In her book, “Play Big: Lessons in Being Limitless from the First Woman to Coach in the NFL,” Welter describes how she broke through the glass sideline to realize her dream of playing a game she adores.
Born in Vero Beach to Dr. Peter and Nancy Welter, she grew up devoted to sports. At age 8 she spent countless hours on the tennis courts practicing and competing in tournaments, beating both boys and girls. Passionate, driven and with an indomitable spirit, she says she could do things people twice her size couldn’t do. “I thought big. I was, in my mind, unstoppable.”
But her aspirations of turning professional were crushed when she sought advice from a prominent coach, only to be told she was too small. “It was the first time in my life someone had placed a limit on my dreams,” she writes in her book. “For the first time, doubt crept into my young psyche. Where I used to see open skies, I started to see ceilings.” It was only later that she would question the validity of another’s snap judgment, saying, “Nobody can judge your full potential because in reality, they don’t know the size of your heart. He couldn’t read my attitude. All he saw was my size.”