Last updated: Sep 22, 2007
There are plenty of us who dont think of ourselves as sporty types. Maybe you dont like to sweat, or maybe youve gotten real cozy with your couch. That was the story for these five women until each stumbled onto an unexpected surprise: a new kind of workout that not only got her body in motion but was actually fun, too. Find out how they discovered their fitness passions—and get inspired to explore your own. You just might be a late bloomer, too.


Karen Clark, 49 | Knoxville, Tennessee
Loves: Rowing


Sports were never Karen Clarks thing as a kid. But when, in her early 40s, she couldnt budge a large flowerpot, the computer consultant and married mom of two started to long for muscles. Clark hired a personal trainer and enjoyed the workouts, but was looking for more. Then he had her try a rowing machine, and she liked it enough to sign up for a three-day workshop on the Tennessee River. She came home a changed woman.

“Youre working with a team, and everyones focused on the same goal. The suns coming up over the water. And Im thinking, ‘I want to do this as often as I can,” she says.

Clark now rows three times a week, typically in a shell with eight other women. “When a row goes well, youve pushed yourself beyond what you thought you could do. That is exhilarating,” she says.

Now, not only is Clark able to move her own flowerpots, but shes gone from a size 12 to a size 8. The sport has also brought Clark closer to her daughters, Isabel, 20, and Olivia, 17, who delight in cheering her on. “When your children tell you theyre proud of you, thats great stuff,” she says.


Kathryn Schifferle, 56 | Chico, California
Loves: Fencing

As she lunges and parries in the signature white jacket and metallic vest worn by competitive foil fencers worldwide, Kathy Schifferle still marvels at how, eight years ago, she fell in love with the sport at “the ripe old age,” she says, of 48.

Taking her then-15-year-old daughter to fencing practices, Schifferle became enchanted with the beauty and physicality of the fencers moves. “The upper and lower parts of the body are doing different things—like ballet and boxing—at the same time,” she says.

The marketing consultant was also drawn to the intellectual challenge. “Fencings called physical chess. Its very strategic,” Schifferle says.

She joined her daughters class, which met two to three times a week, and also joined Jenny Craig. A year-and-a-half later, shed lost 70 pounds. She now fences once or twice a week and works out on a treadmill and stair-climber the other days. But shes as proud of her lightning-fast reflexes as she is of her well-defined arms and tight backside. “If I drop a glass—or even if someone else does—I catch it before it hits the floor,” Schifferle says. “I feel amazingly more confident and competent.”
She adds, “Regular exercise was boring. But I laugh a lot when I fence. It could intrigue me for the rest of my life.”

Mary Lou Hoffman, 44 | Lockport, New York
Loves: Cycling


Mary Lou Hoffmans first experience with serious cycling wasnt exactly a successful one. She was 100 pounds overweight, and it took her several hours to make it through a 20-mile bike ride while vacationing in Maine four years ago. That fall, Hoffman dropped 50 pounds on Weight Watchers and wanted to find some kind of fitness activity to help her reach her goal weight. She immediately thought of cycling, not just for its calorie-burning benefits but because she figured she had something to prove. Hoffman started with a Spinning class, then began taking spins on her own silver road bike, easily hitting an impressive 18 miles an hour.

“I couldnt believe how great I felt,” Hoffman says. And shes been hooked ever since, riding around 150 miles a week (not to mention doing a couple of Spinning classes at the gym). At 5 feet 8 inches tall, Hoffman now weighs 178—a 100-pound loss. “Sometimes I look down at my legs and am surprised to see definition where there wasnt any before,” she says.

Hoffmans still 14 pounds from her goal, but she knows shell get there. “I cant believe this is me, that this is my body. Now I see that Im capable of so much more than I ever imagined. Its amazing.”


Liz Erk, 30 | Stoneham, Massachusetts
Loves: Ice hockey

After college, Liz Erk knew she needed to exercise to stay healthy, but nothing motivated her. That changed one evening as she watched womens ice hockey on TV during the 2006 Winter Olympics. During postgame interviews, team members said they had to overcome the perception that hockey was something women just didnt do. “I was told that, too,” Erk says, “But these women, whatever negative feedback they received, they still pursued hockey.”

She had a vision of herself chasing the puck down the ice. But there was one problem: Erk couldnt skate. So when she heard about a beginners ice hockey clinic last September, she signed up. “I was a disaster,” Erk says. “But it was so much fun to zip up and down the ice. It was even fun to fall.”
Pretty soon she was burning up the rink for two hours on Saturday nights—and running or lifting weights four times a week to stay in top shape. Hockey, Erk says, has changed her life. “Before, I was always listening to other peoples fascinating stories. Now Im the person telling stories.”

Pamela C. Brown, 30 | Indianapolis, Indiana
Loves: Kickboxing

Pamela Browns worst high school grade wasnt in some brainiac subject like trigonometry or physics. It was in PE. The now-30-year-old, single college administrator barely passed the class after refusing to suit up. ”I didnt like to sweat,” she says.

Brown started running during her college years to lose weight (prompted by a remark from a tactless ex-boyfriend), but gave it up when she moved to Indianapolis in 2001 and experienced her first brutally cold winter. It wasnt until three years ago, when she walked into a kickboxing class on a whim, that she found a workout she actually looks forward to. The class—turbo kickboxing, a tough, dancelike workout to a hip-hop beat—is a physical escape from day-to-day stresses. “Youre completely in the moment,” she says. “You cant think about your next move. You just do it.”

Now 20 pounds lighter, Brown says her muscles arent her only reward. She hasnt had a cold in years and has loads of energy. “Im more upbeat and confident,” she says. “I can do a lot more than I ever imagined.”


Steal Their Moves
Rowers have strong backs—and you can, too. Paul Rassam, head womens lightweight crew coach at Princeton University, uses this move with his team. Lie on your stomach with arms by your sides, palms facing up, feet together. Looking straight ahead, lift chest, arms, and legs a few inches off the ground. Hold 30 seconds; slowly lower back down. Rest, then repeat. Start with 1 30-second interval, gradually building up to 3 30-second intervals.

Fencers need strong quads to deftly lunge at opponents. Sculpt yours with this move from Iryna Dolgikh, former world-champion fencer and head coach of Cornell Universitys womens fencing team. Stand on your right foot, holding onto a chair back or the wall with your left hand for balance. Raise your left leg in front of you a few inches while slowly squatting as far as is comfortable. Return to standing, switch legs and hands, and repeat. Begin with 2–3 sets of 5 reps per leg, gradually increasing to 10 per leg.


Cyclists need strong glutes for pedal power—and they end up with shapely derrieres. Try this move from Sam Callan, exercise scientist at USA Cycling (the sports national governing body). Lie on your back with your left knee bent and foot flat on the floor. Extend your right leg and raise it to 45 degrees. Pushing slightly with your left leg, squeeze your butt and lift it a few inches off the ground. Hold 2–3 seconds; slowly lower back down. Begin with 2–3 sets of 8 reps per side, gradually increasing to 15 reps per side.

All that skating and passing requires a strong core and builds enviable abs. Get your own with this move from Mark Johnson, head coach of the University of Wisconsins womens hockey team. Sit with legs straight, holding a 5- to 8-pound dumbbell with both hands. Contract abs, lean back, and lift legs so your body forms a V. (Too challenging? Start with feet down.) Rotate to the right and touch dumbbell to the floor; repeat on the left. Try to keep your feet at eye level. Do 3 sets of 20 reps.

Punching gives kickboxers supertoned arms. Get them, too, with this move from John Savidis, martial arts world champ and owner of John Savidis Fitness and Martial Arts. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and right foot slightly farther back than your left. Bring your fists up in front of your face. Extend one arm, hitting up and out with palms down. As you bring that arm back, extend the other. Continue alternating arms, hitting as fast as you can. Begin with 30 seconds; gradually work up to 2 minutes.