I moved to New York City in the fall of 1998 to try to find work as a dancer and started kickboxing as a way to stay physically active and boost my confidence. I picked it up quickly because years of ballet, tap and jazz dance training had taught me how to analyze and execute different movements. For about two years, I kickboxed four to six times a week. I stopped when I moved to the Midwest to teach dance. I couldn’t find a place to study.
Over the next 10 years, I lost some of my love for dance because it made me feel bad about my body. That culture places great emphasis on thinness, and I have always been a bit curvy. As a dancer, you must appear very confident onstage, but your belief in yourself gets chipped away by constant rejection. Try standing in a leotard next to a bunch of very slender girls in audition after audition, and tell me how your confidence fares!
I always come back to New York, and when I returned last summer, I started kickboxing classes again because I needed something to help me get out of my career and life funk. (I hadn’t danced professionally for over a year.) From the first class, my instructor recognized that I had experience. I quickly became enamored again because working hard makes me feel good about myself. And after just a month of taking classes three to five days a week, I began making fast progress.
I’ve always had very good kinesthetic awareness—a sense of how my body moves in space—and I can look at someone doing a particular movement and easily figure out how to make my body do it. With kickboxing, I had an additional advantage: My muscles actually remembered the correct positioning for a defensive stance and the basic punches and kicks. My curves were not an issue, and all I had to do was simply trust my body to move quickly. In three months, I was further along than many people who had put in a lot more time than I had, and I attribute that to all my previous experience.
I had no idea how profoundly I’d be transformed by rediscovering kickboxing. Of course, I’m enjoying increased strength and stamina, but I am most excited by deeper changes—wanting to take better care of myself and finally feeling like I am judging my body less and appreciating it more. My self-confidence has increased enormously, and I am more grounded than I’ve ever been. I recently moved away from New York again, this time to New Orleans, but I won’t make the same mistake I did before. This time I will definitely keep kickboxing.
Val Firestein | 43
Larchmont, New York
I love the camaraderie of being on a team. When I was a teenager, I went to a girls’ boarding school in Massachusetts, and I discovered lacrosse there. It’s such a fast-moving sport—that’s what I found so exciting. I also appreciate that lacrosse isn’t a game where just one person becomes the star; for a goal to be scored, everyone has to work together. All through high school I played midfield, which involved a lot of running, and when I found out my college didn’t have a women’s lacrosse team, I started one. Afterward, there was no place where I could play, so I ended up quitting the sport for almost two decades.
Then, a few years ago, I decided to coach my son’s lacrosse team, and one of the parents I met was a 45-year-old guy who played on a men’s team. There was no women’s team that I could find, but I was inspired, and in the spring of 2007 my friend Kate Verni and I founded a women’s team called the Re-LAXers. Our idea was to create a venue for seasoned female players who wanted to return to the game we all loved so much in school. My friend got the equipment while I rounded up the people. To find players, I put up flyers, posted my e-mail address on the U.S. Lacrosse website and talked to parents and coaches at the youth lacrosse games. The team started out with just seven women, ages 35 to 52, scrimmaging on Saturday mornings before our kids woke up. (For a real team, we’d have needed at least 12 people on the field and eight or so on the bench.)