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For many people in their 60s, playing a professional sport – especially a contact sport – may be a challenge that they cannot handle.

But for Lorna Kearney, neither her age nor her breast cancer diagnosis are a reason to stop her from playing professional football in an all-women organization.

Last month, Kearney, 66, of Akron, made history as the oldest player on the Detroit Prowl, a professional women's football team that is part of the American Women's Football League.

“It was overwhelming,” she said.

Kearney grew up in a military family with six sisters and two brothers and participated in numerous sports throughout her youth.

When Kearney, a retired occupational therapist, moved to Akron with one of her sisters in 2014, she began volunteering at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. As a Green Bay Packers fan, it was a perfect fit for her.

During her time in the Hall of Fame, she met Michael Vitale, the current owner and trainer of the Detroit Prowl,

She said that the trigger for the conversation between them was the many rings he wore on his fingers.

Around 2022, Vitale told Kearney about the idea of ​​creating a professional women's soccer team by 2023.

Kearney was immediately interested in joining. She wasn't worried about her age – she was ready to play.

But in March 2023, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I didn't think I would be here,” she said. “It was that bad.”

Dealing with the diagnosis of breast cancer

After her diagnosis, Kearney underwent surgery to remove the cancerous tumors and radiation therapy.

Kearney said she kept a positive attitude throughout her recovery and treatment, and since she couldn't participate in the Detroit Prowl as soon as planned, she cheered the group on from hospital beds.

“She sent us videos of herself cheering on the team while she received her radiation treatments,” Vitale said.

As Kearney drove to her treatments, all she wanted to do was get healthy so she could go out and play.

Once she fought an infection for four months that almost cost her her life.

“The coach promised me that if I survived, I could make history,” Kearney recalls.

“I promised to bring her into the team last year after she recovered,” Vitale said.

She is now cancer free. She celebrated her first birthday in March.

Ready for a new challenge

On June 29, Kearney actually made history when she became the oldest player to ever play for the Detroit Prowl, according to the team, and possibly the oldest to play tackle football at her age.

The Detroit Prowl are a franchise in its first year of play in the American Women's Football League. The team is comprised of 29 players from Michigan, Ohio and other places in the Midwest who all want to compete at the highest level of women's full tackle football, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Players are selected for the team through a selection process. Most are former athletes who still have a desire to compete. The team is part of the Northern Conference of the AWFL.

Kearney traveled to Detroit and practiced with the team the day before her debut.

Former college football player Antoinette “Toni” Harris interviewed Kearney on the field before the game for the Prowl. According to ESPN, Harris was one of the first female non-kickers on a college football roster and the first to be offered a scholarship.

“I just want to twist a girl’s big butt!” an excited Kearney told Harris during the interview.

During a timeout in a game against the Carolina Queens, the commentator began telling Kearney's story before she was substituted.

“Everyone was very emotional,” Vitale said. “People were crying and cheering when she came in. She worked her ass off for that moment and we were proud to give her that opportunity.”

Kearney positioned herself in a safe position and took down her opponent during the match.

“I got a standing ovation,” Kearney said.

Her teammates wore pink ribbons that day to support her for being a breast cancer survivor, and she also wore bright pink soccer cleats.

Since the game, Kearney said she has no plans to quit or retire. She hopes to be ready and in shape for the July 20 game when the Prowl travel to Houston to face a team there.

Kearney said she wanted to raise awareness of the women's soccer league and encourage women to get early mammography screenings.

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