61-year-old Laura Barton Prepares for World Cup Field Hockey Tryouts
by Chase McCleary, Rocky Mountain PBS. February 2, 2024.
This article was originally published by Rocky Mountain PBS on February 2, 2024. Click here to view the original article.
SALIDA, Colo. — Laura Barton, a 61-year-old Salida woman with a field hockey career spanning more than half a century, is preparing to try out in March for a spot on the U.S. Masters over-60 field hockey team.
If successful, this would be Barton’s second time as a starter for the Masters team. She first made the over-55 squad in 2022 and traveled to South Africa to compete in the Cape Town World Masters Hockey World Cup.
“When I made the U.S. Masters team… it changed my life,” said Barton. “Yeah, I’ve been playing forever, but this kind of changed the way I looked at everything.”
Barton first picked up a field hockey stick in the sixth grade. As a girl growing up in Ewing, New Jersey, she had limited options when it came to sports.
“There was really nothing for girls to play back when I was in sixth grade. So it was field hockey or nothing,” said Barton.
Barton went on to play four years of Division III field hockey at Moravian College in Pennsylvania, and then continued on various adult teams along the East Coast, including in Philadelphia and Delaware.
Salida’s beautiful scenery and outdoors-lifestyle pulled Barton and her husband west, and while the mountain trails fulfilled her athletic lifestyle, she found there to be a distinct lack of field hockey not only in Salida, but in the state of Colorado as a whole.
“People have been saying, ‘Wow, you play field hockey? What’s field hockey?’” said Barton. “A friend of mine, she goes, ‘Do you play hockey ball?’”
While many Colorado high schools have competitive field hockey teams, there are currently no men’s or women’s field hockey programs at any Colorado universities (excluding intramurals and club teams).
Barton took a brief field hockey hiatus while trying to find other playing opportunities, during which she developed a love for hiking and mountain biking. She also rediscovered an old passion: oil painting.
Barton graduated from Moravian College with a degree in fine art. She primarily paints “en plein air” (painting outdoors as opposed to in a studio) which she said strengthened her connection to nature and the natural world.
Among her quickly growing home gallery are numerous animal-themed pieces: mountain goats, ravens, and eagles. The animal’s bold profiles, defined by strong brushstrokes, reflect Barton’s mindset and presence on the field.
The “brief hiatus” ended up lasting about twelve years. Barton continued playing casually on her own or with her partner, Chris Vely (a retired rugby player), though she never participated in any organized games or even casual practices.
But an email from an old teammate informing her about the upcoming U.S. Masters tryouts pulled Barton back into the competitive field hockey world.
U.S. Masters Field Hockey includes numerous competitive Men’s and Women’s field hockey teams geared towards players ages 35 and older. Beginning with over-35 (O-35), the age brackets increase incrementally by five (O-40, O-45…) all the way to O-70 for women and O-80 for men.
The Masters teams, which are endorsed by USA Field Hockey, compete in tournaments across the globe. In 2024, there will be indoor tournaments in Nottingham, England, and outdoor tournaments in Cape Town, South Africa, and Auckland, New Zealand.
Barton had long been aware of the U.S. Masters team, though because tryouts are typically held somewhere along the east coast, she had never considered attending.
When Barton first learned that the 2022 U.S. Masters tryouts were going to be in Wilmington, Delaware, she wrote it off as another missed opportunity.
However, when her Pennsylvania-based mother-in-law unexpectedly fell ill, Barton found an opportunity to both care for family and still make it to the training.
She competed through a frigid February weekend filled with challenging drills and intense skills tests, some of which left Barton feeling dispirited and skeptical about her chances.
Barton found herself competing alongside old teammates — and old rivals — from her earlier days playing in Philadelphia and Delaware. These reunions made the tryouts worthwhile, regardless of the result, she said.
“I didn’t even really care if I made the team at that point, because I’d seen all these different people I hadn’t seen in years,” said Barton. “It was a blast.”
Barton left tryouts with a smile, and a starting spot as well.
Her U.S. Masters O-60 held monthly trainings throughout the summer in preparation for the 2022 Cape Town World Masters Hockey World Cup in South Africa. Over time, she developed newfound friendships with her teammates, as well as a renewed love for the sport.
The team finished seventh out of eleven, a result Barton waived off as new-team jitters.
“We continue to play together, and so I think we’re just getting stronger and stronger,” said Barton.
Between World Cups, the O-60 group functions as a club team. They played in Italy last summer and continue to train together whenever possible, both in-person and virtually.
Linda Kreiser, captain of the O-65 team, hosts bi-monthly Zoom training for anyone looking to stay sharp while staying connected.
Players call in from Florida to California to Maine to New York to do field-hockey specific aerobics, stretches, and even at-home stick work.
“It can be kind of funny to see people dribbling around in their living rooms,” said Barton.
Barton has since connected with Saturday A.M., a field hockey club based outside of Philadelphia, and plays with the team whenever possible as well.
Looking back on five decades of field hockey, Barton said the sport still feels the same.
“I can’t believe I’m 61. I mean, how did I get here?” she said. “I still think of myself as 40.”
Barton credited her time on the Masters team for keeping her young. The coming tryouts and the support of her teammates hold her accountable for staying healthy and staying active.
“I think, ‘OK, I have to get my run in today, or maybe I shouldn’t have that piece of cake,” said Barton.
She sometimes worries about getting sidelined by anything from a mountain bike accident to a simple street curb injury. But until then, she plans on playing for as long as possible.
To those who question her age and her abilities, Barton says check the roster.
“They’re like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe you did it!’” said Barton. “They’re inspired.”
And to those questioning their own abilities to continue playing the sports they love, Barton’s advice is simple:
“Just go for it. You’re going to be a better person for it, and you’re going to be thrilled you tried!”