The Milken Institute School of Public Health professor recently represented the U.S. in a field hockey tournament for athletes over age 60.
By Kristen Mitchell
Loretta DiPietro, a professor of exercise and nutrition sciences at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, does more than just champion the importance of physical activity. She lives it.
Dr. DiPietro was one of 16 players on a team representing the United States at the week-long Grand Masters Hockey European Cup in Brasschaat, Belgium. A lifelong field hockey fan and player, she played the midfield position alongside other players over the age of 60. It was the first time the United States sent an over-60 masters team to compete abroad, and the U.S. team took home the gold.
“You may be fighting to the death in a game, but then afterwards you are socializing together watching other games,” she said. “That was a real highlight for me, just seeing other women my age playing really strong field hockey.”
Dr. DiPietro started playing field hockey in 1967— five years before Title IX was passed. It was one of the few organized sports available to middle school girls. She continued to play through high school, college and for club teams throughout her adult life. The skills she learned playing the game — perseverance, teamwork and how to deal with failure—have all been important to her professional life.
Dr. DiPietro joined Milken Institute SPH in 2008 and served as chair of the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences from 2008 to 2017. Her research focuses on the physiological benefits of physical activity. In February, she published a study that found the combination of excess weight and obesity and an inactive lifestyle represents a powerful joint risk factor for mobility loss after age 60.
Dr. DiPietro’s life as an athlete inspired her to study the importance of physical activity. She credits an elementary school gym teacher and his emphasis on lifelong movement for sparking her interest in sports at a time when many mothers were concerned that too much exercise would cause young girls to look “manly.”
Through field hockey and regular high-intensity cardio and strength training, Dr. DiPietro still stays active. In order to prepare for the European Cup, she also started practicing regularly with a group of college field hockey players in Connecticut this past spring.
“I’ve always kept up playing field hockey but wanted to step it up,” she said. “Chasing after 20 year olds ups your game a little bit.”
Women’s sports have come a long way since she was a young girl, Dr. DiPietro said. When she played field hockey in college, players had to wash their own uniforms and women’s sports were rarely shown on TV. This summer, the world watched as the U.S. women’s national soccer team won its fourth World Cup.
“It’s important for young girls to see that women can be strong, can be aggressive, can fight back and be all those things that up until now have been considered unfeminine or not womanly,” she said. “That yes, you can be a woman and do those things and be successful, and then celebrate your success.”
The fight for parity in sports, however, is far from over. The U.S. women’s national soccer team is fighting for equal pay, a battle that girls all over the world are watching unfold, Dr. DiPietro said. The team was also coached by a woman, a vital female role model many young athletes often do not have.
Dr. DiPietro hopes that increased representation of women athletes and coaches inspires the next generation to aspire for success in sports. As for herself, Dr. DiPietro plans to participate in a masters tournament with a team of athletes over the age of 45 later this month and is looking forward to competing in the masters World Cup in September 2020.