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Hitting their stride

Women are realizing that it's not too late to have a crack at something they've always wanted to try.

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Seeing a rower cut through the water one morning off the Long Island shore, she decided she wanted to try it, too.

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"Learning to row at midlife wasn't easy," she says. "Going down to the dock where everyone was good but me - it was hard being a doofus!"

She says that her husband was not supportive and that he felt her new passion for life on the river took her away from mothering and homemaking duties.

This resistance only spurred her on. She mastered the rhythm of her oars, survived lung-burning workouts, and discovered a physical side of herself that is, as she puts it, "outside of a gender context." Hall says she drew on this newfound strength to help her face her unhappy marriage.

Three years later, she won the gold at the World Masters games and filed for divorce.

Now on calmer waters, Hall has written a book about her experience, "Drawn to the Rhythm," launched a website, and started workshops for midlife women yearning to discover untapped talents. She still rows - and wins. If she has any regret, it's that she didn't start earlier.

"Women who have benefited from Title IX are pouring into the bottom of my category [at races]," says Hall. "It's just fabulous to see these women ... they are such pros."

Soccer moms on the pitch

When the US Women's Soccer Team won the World Cup in 1999, the world wasn't just watching the action on the field; it was also watching the excitement of the ponytailed set in the stands. But the girls in the crowd weren't the only ones dreaming of becoming soccer stars. Those "soccer moms" who drove their kids to the game were having visions of their own.

Since the mid-1990s, increasing numbers of women over 30 have been learning how to dribble. Leagues have sprung up across the US. Over-40 and over-50 women's soccer teams are also becoming more common. Now, instead of just serving as soccer chauffeurs, these women find themselves competing with their husbands and children for time on the pitch.

Having had only cheerleading opportunities in high school, Bonnie Blanchfield developed an almost insatiable hunger for wanting to play sports. Nearly seven years ago, Ms. Blanchfield, a 43-year-old healthcare consultant, was standing on the sidelines of her 5-year-old daughter's soccer practice chatting with a group of parents. She found herself remarking, "I wish there was a team for moms."

There was. After learning about a league for women over 30 in her town of Silver Spring, Md., she networked with other moms to form a new team, had uniforms made, and found a sponsor. The Red Strikers were serious about learning the sport, and they recruited Blanchfield's husband to coach for the first few seasons. Some players even signed up for clinics.

"When we first started, we lost every game," she says. "But in three years we won our division." Her team decided to stay in the lowest-ranking division to keep the focus on fun.

Blanchfield says her husband and two children now take their turns on the sidelines to cheer her on.

"It's good for them to see me play," she says. "At one point, my son and daughter and I were all on teams at the same time. It was soccer all day on Saturdays."

An expansive soccer network also proved valuable for meeting new friends when the Blanchfields relocated to Weston, Mass., last year.

Like Hall, Blanchfield wishes she had been able to develop skills earlier, especially now that she has observed younger, more-talented players in her league.

Julie Foudy, captain of the San Diego Spirit professional team in the Women's United Soccer Association, says she hears from women "almost every day" who are watching their daughters participate in sports and wishing that they had been given the same opportunities.

But Ms. Foudy thinks that shouldn't stop the women from tying on their own cleats.

"[New soccer players] do need to get the basics: passing, shooting, trapping," she advises. "A lot of them don't have serious coaching, but if they can find a coach, I don't think it's ever too late to learn."

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