Winning the race - and others' respect

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When I was in elementary school, athletic opportunities for girls were just becoming a reality - at least for those who were physically gifted.

The rest of us became known as girly girls - a term that commanded no respect - and once you had that label, it was never coming off. Those of us who weren't jocks always felt slightly inferior, even if we didn't admit it.

So the recent trend of women taking up sports later in life (see story) is exciting. It means that for many of us, we finally have a chance to erase the label.

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I can still remember my one shining moment in fifth-grade gym class. Back then, I was very petite and thin. "China doll" was how people described me - and teased me.

One day, the gym teacher took our class outside to run races around the perimeter of the school.

As my group took off, the other two runners - a boy and a girl - pulled ahead quickly. I could hear "China doll, you're gonna lose" from the kids who usually taunted me.

We rounded the first corner, and I was dead last. The others were sprinting and had from the start, but I held back until turn No. 2.

By the third corner I was several yards ahead of them, and by the time I reached the finish line, my competitors were nowhere in sight.

The gym teacher, quite shocked by the outcome, gave me a hug. I can still remember how good that victory felt. For a day at least the "little doll" impressed everyone - including herself - and people wondered if maybe there was more to her than porcelain after all.

That's the feeling many of today's mature women are experiencing for the first time. Discovering a hidden athletic side is very liberating, because it means there's more to you than anyone has ever known.

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