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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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Across the United States, a new generation of female athletes is breaking barriers. But these ponytailed jocks are not in high school or college. They're the moms who previously cheered from the sidelines. They're the women who never had the opportunity to join a team or test their physical limits - until now.

Many mature women are realizing that it's not too late to finally have a crack at something they've always wanted to try. Others, who participated in athletics when younger, are making a commitment not to give up sports even though raising a family or pursuing a career demands much of their time.

Swimming, rowing, and soccer are high among the sports that are feeling the influence of expanding numbers of female athletes over 35.

"We're seeing the first generation of women who had the chance to play sports [in school] enter their 40s," says Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation. "They are Title IX babies. They know what it means to be in shape, feel strong ... and [they] are wanting to continue their physical activity."

Since Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments Act was passed, the effects of the law have reached far beyond school playing fields. "Younger women simply don't realize the opportunities they have had," is the comment often repeated by women over 40. To many of this group, growing up athletic meant ill-fitting gym clothes, cheerleading for the boys' team, or being told that looking strong wasn't attractive.

Today, the more than 2.9 million high school girls involved in sports have become role models for the ages.

Ode to chlorine

Emily White says swimming has changed her life. Ms. White, who looks 10 years younger than her 49 years, joined a Boston masters swim team three years ago. For two decades, she had performed modern dance, a gentler form of dance that focuses on self-expression rather than on leaps and lifts. She never liked to work out. In fact, she disdained feeling "out of breath" for more than a few minutes.

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