After starring in soccer and track at Dulaney, then at Syracuse, Ida Bernstein was seeking a new challenge.
A friend told her about women's rugby.
"I was always a very aggressive soccer player, so rugby was the perfect fit," said Bernstein, who lives in Cockeysville and is taking graduate courses at UMBC.
Bernstein, 25, is in Dubai this week playing for the U.S. Women's National Rugby team in the first Women's World Cup, representing her country in a sport unfamiliar to most Americans.
The game is rugby 7's, a variation of the traditional sport, in which seven players, rather than the standard 15, take the field for each team. The periods are seven minutes long with one-minute halftimes. Spectators watch a furiously paced game with abundant scoring, deceptively fast athletes and the physicality of traditional rugby.
"I saw the sport for the first time and I was amazed by how fast it was played," said Bernstein's mother, Wendy Bozel. "I saw Ida carry the ball in one hand and throw a girl to the ground with the other."
Bernstein got off to an inauspicious start in the new sport.
In her first game for Syracuse's club team, Bernstein tore her anterior cruciate ligament, an injury requiring surgery. After rehabilitating her knee for months, Bernstein finally received clearance from her doctors, but for soccer only. Rugby was too dangerous to play after major surgery and her doctors informed her soccer was a better fit.
This suggestion was not well received by Bernstein, who changed the wording of the doctor's note. Anyone who read the memo would believe Bernstein had been cleared for sports, "including soccer." Bernstein eventually came clean on the deception, but only after she had already been named an All-American for her efforts on the rugby field.
Bernstein's family was not thrilled to see her give up the sports she had played her entire life, and the knee injury only strengthened their doubts about Bernstein's emerging rugby career. But Bernstein, 5 feet 9, is an ideal rugby wing, using her speed to help her team stretch the field.
"My family was really against it at first, because I tore my ACL in the first game," she said. "Now that they see the opportunities I have, they are very supportive of me."
Bernstein had been training with the U.S. team in Little Rock, Ark., before leaving to face the world's premier teams. And, though the United States might not be favored, Bernstein and her teammates exude confidence, especially after taking England, one of the world's marquee teams, to overtime Feb.14.
Even though Bernstein's short-term goal is a World Cup title, she still recognizes her place in the emerging sport. She hopes she can help create awareness and interest about the sport among young girls, just as her predecessors made women's soccer enticing for her.
"Growing up, I looked up to players like Michelle Akers who were pioneers in the women's soccer World Cup," Bernstein said. "They had to pave the way for women in their sport, and that is a sentiment we all share on this women's rugby team."