As much as she missed her playing days with the Sacramento Sirens, it took something extra special to get Walla Walla native Julie Wicher back into a football helmet and shoulder pads.
The opportunity to play for USA Football's 2010 Women's National Team in the sport's first women's world championships this summer in Stockholm, Sweden, did the trick.
"Priceless," is how Wicher described her selection to the U.S. team that will join five other national squads in a weeklong tournament in Stockholm beginning June 27. The other participating countries are Canada, Austria, Finland, Germany and host Sweden.
The 1994 DeSales High School graduate has returned to the gridiron as a Sirens running back this season after a five-year hiatus from the rough-and-tumble world of women's tackle football. She retired following the 2005 season after helping Sacramento to three Independent Women's Football League championships in five years.
And she had no intention of reviving her playing career until she heard about the world championships.
"I found out about it from a friend last October," Wicher said in a recent telephone interview from Roseville, Calif., where she has lived since graduating from San Diego State in 1999. "I decided to look into it and sent an email to the woman who runs the IWFL and asked about tryouts."
As it turns out, tryouts weren't necessary. Wicher was placed on the roster based on her five-year track record.
"The coaches just looked at the stats and game films of people who applied for the team," Wicher said. "I submitted the information and got selected."
With one stipulation. Anyone on the national roster had to be affiliated with a women's pro football team.
Wicher's first plan for fulfilling that obligation was to serve as the Sirens running backs coach. But she was later informed that she needed to be an on-the-field member of the team.
"At first I was going to play in just a couple of games," she said. "But then I decided that if I was going to do it, I better do it 100 percent."
So far, so good.
The Sirens are undefeated halfway through their regular season, including an impressive 27-26 road win over a Los Angeles Amazons team that hadn't lost a game since the 2006 season. Wicher rushed for "around 100 yards" in that game and is satisfied with her overall comeback effort.
"I feel like I'm doing just the same as before as far as my abilities go," Wicher said. "And I don't feel any sorer, although I probably am."
The level of play, she said, has changed.
"There are definitely more athletes out here now," Wicher said. "I'm sure it's the same as the NFL, where players get bigger and faster and stronger. It's the same for women.
"The game is a lot more physical, and I'm experiencing aches and pains that I had not felt before. Maybe it's age. I'm 34 now and the fourth or fifth oldest player on the team, which is a little different. But I'm holding my own."
Wicher, who is listed at 5-foot-4 and 145 pounds, has maintained her fighting weight by playing soccer and softball and by being "religious" in going to the gym five or six days a week.
The world championships will actually be held after the IWFL regular season ends and before the completion of the postseason playoffs, which the Sirens appear headed for.
Players selected to the national team will be flown to Round Rock, Texas, on June 18 for a one-week training camp before heading to Sweden.
"I am sure there will be a lot of on-the-field stuff and a lot of classroom stuff," Wicher said. "It will be a whole new offense for me and a different coaching staff than I am used to. I assume it will be an intense few days trying to build a whole new team."
The national championships will feature two three-team pools, and Team USA is in the same pool with Finland and Austria. The top team from each pool advances to the national championship game, with the other teams battling for the silver and bronze medals.
"Each team gets to play three games," Wicher said. "So it will be pretty much a game every other day."
And while USA Football is handling a lot of the team's costs through corporate sponsorships, individual players are also required to chip in. Wicher is in the process of trying to raise $4,500, her share of the total cost, and anyone wishing to make a contribution in her name can do so my going to the IWFL website - www.iwflsports.com/ssp/travelfund.
"Bottom line, the money seems like a lot but the opportunity is priceless," Wicher said.
And for her, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"When I stopped playing before, I thought I was done," Wicher said. "I never imagined this opportunity would present itself.
"But I've been injured more this year than any other year. I'm 34, and as a running back I am getting up there.
"So regardless of this season and how Team USA does, I am pretty much at the height of what I can accomplish. So I am done."