The Sport That Changed Everything

Some sports are life-changing.

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Babs Ryan

Racing down mountains on skis taught Ryan to slow down. She had been a recreational skier, so when friends suggested she try ski racing, Ryan’s reaction was "Okay, I’m willing to embarrass myself at least once." And she did, racing down that first grand slalom course with her ski poles to guide her. She had a blast, until someone told her, "You’re not supposed to use your poles." Still, Ryan was hooked. "Feedback in ski racing is immediate," she says. "Every tiny move makes a tremendous difference. Push in your toe to turn. Slide hips forward for speed. I loved it from that first race." Then, in February 2007, Ryan had a bad crash, snapping her knee in an injury that required surgery and months of painful rehab. Still, she ski raced again the first chance she got-it happened to be during a business trip in Dubai-and today she’s racing again. Oddly, it was high-speed ski racing and her accident that taught Ryan how to slow down. "I’d always done everything to excess before," she says. "I worked until I was ready to drop. If I went out rollerblading I would do it until I got shin splints. The big lesson I learned from ski racing is to listen to my body and stop before I’m at the breaking point. I don’t need to be first, I’m happy to finish the race in third place"
Rick Drew

Lori Basch

Chasing a hockey puck led to a new entrepreneurial career At 37, eager to distract herself from the pain of her ongoing divorce, Lori Basch put on a pair of in-line skates, helmet with face guard, shoulder pads, knee pads and a girdle, and joined a co-ed hockey team. "Once you’re chasing that puck-black biscuit in hokey lingo-you forget you are even on skates," she says. "Hockey is the ultimate equalizer because sitting on the beach with your teammates no one talks about your personal life, what you do for a living or how old you are. They only know if you play left wing or defense." Ten years later, Basch has turned her passion into a profitable enterprise. After playing in a local hockey tournament, she wanted a souvenir t-shirt, but there were none in women’s sizes. To fill the gap, Basch launched Rinky, a hockey apparel company for female players and fans. She sponsors the Stick it to Cancer Tournament, a hockey fundraiser for breast cancer with over 70 teams of women in the U.S. and Canada, raising over $250,000 so far. "What I love most of all," she says, "is traveling the country as a vendor at hokey tournaments from Alaska to Maine, talking and breathing a sport that has changed my life."

Bonnie Russell

Russell had first thought about sailing during a Lamaze class when the coach suggested everyone imagine herself someplace relaxing. She pictured herself on a sailboat. Over the next several years, she volunteered as a crewmember, and then, after a gap of a dozen years, took up sailing again two years ago when a colleague mentioned they were short crew for an upcoming race. Russell has been racing two or three times a week ever since. "The very first time I stepped on a boat, I felt totally in sync," she says. "I have an intuitive feel for how things should work on water." A few months ago, she was folding sails, when a thought hit her "like a lightning bolt," she says. The sail material-washable and durable-would work perfectly as an ecological alternative to canvas or paper shopping bags. She has since launched a line, WayCoolTotes in partnership with a sail maker (they make the bags from the material left over from cutting the sails). "I don’t know why no one thought of this before," she says. "It must be because most women don’t sail and most men don’t grocery shop." She’s not surprised, though, that the spark came to her after a race. "Sailing blows away the cobwebs," she says. "It’s a great way to clear your mind." For more stories, read I Got Fit —And Changed My Life

Brent Steineckert

Donna DeMaio

Mixed martial arts helps a finance executive leap to the top of her field As president of MetLife Bank, Donna DeMaio is one of the most successful women in banking. And she credits some of that success to taking up mixed martial arts six years ago, when she was 42. She’d been watching her son practice for almost a year and, "struck by the discipline and purpose that these students had," she decided to speak to the sensei. "My personality type is if I do something, I’m going to want to do it all the way," she says. Her question for the instructor: would she be able, at her age, to earn a black belt? She did, training from 8 to 10 PM several nights a week, and another several hours on weekends. "It became cult like," she admits. "I had a husband, a job and two kids, but I wanted to be in studio all the time." At 46, DeMaio earned her black belt in the full-contact combat sport. She also moved from public accounting to banking, and in 2005 she was appointed president at MetLife Bank. "Martial arts really sharpened my ability to stay focused and get through a difficult task," she says. "It taught me that with perseverance and patience, you could get any job done. I came to MetLife as a CFO and when I was promoted to president, I asked myself, can I do this? And, I felt, yes, I can." DeMaio says that the confidence she gained from martial arts has allowed her to take "rational risks," moving the bank in a new direction. Marital arts has also made her a more patient mentor. "A huge part of martial-arts training is helping others who are coming through the ranks," she says. For DeMaio that has meant everything from showing more interest in lower-level employees to becoming involved in Habitat for Humanity and micro lending for women’s business ventures.

Janet Hayward

Rowing brought her a new circle of friends, a tighter bod, and the courage to find love online Janet Hayward always attended her young daughter’s swim meets, cheering Jessica along. Now, decades later, it’s Jessica who’s cheering on her mother as she competes in crew races against men and women half her age. Hayward had tried countless types of exercise, and never stuck to them, until a colleague mentioned that she was part of a rowing association. "I love being on the water and I love the idea of being on a team," Hayward says. The next day she attended her first rowing clinic. That was three years ago. Today, Hayward rows three times a week, regularly competes in master races on the west coast, and, she says, "I’m stronger and more alert that ever, I’ve lost 15 pounds and my hearing, which was pretty bad a year-and-half ago, is fine now. Rowing tunes up your whole system. It gave me something to focus on outside of work [Hayward is a bank manager] and I’ve met some great people." Rowing also gave Hayward the courage to try online dating ("I felt more confidence about my body," she says, "and I also had something that was very easy for me to talk about.").

Jessica Hayward

First Published Fri, 2009-08-14 10:14

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