It started casually enough for Ruth White. Fencing was one of the few Saturday morning courses at the YWCA in Baltimore that had an opening.
She progressed through the fencing ranks, from the YWCA to local clubs and then to regional and national competition. In 1972, White made the U.S. team that went to the Munich Olympics.
In a sport ruled mostly by Europeans, the five-woman American team that included White tied Poland for seventh in team foil. It was the highest finish by a U.S. team since the event was added to the Olympic agenda in 1960.
"It was fun, but the competition was tough," said White, 41, an internist in private practice in Woodland Hills, Calif.
"It's a sport dominated by what were then communist bloc nations. Fencing was their job. I felt that if I had been able to keep going in fencing, I could have been really good. But that was the summer I was getting ready to go to medical school."
A graduate of Baltimore's Western High and New York University, White entered NYU's medical school a few weeks after the Olympics. She has been in California since 1976 and is married to Freddie Hooker, a financial adviser. They have three children.
"Through my fencing, I traveled a lot, and loved the California weather," White said. "I never liked the cold weather in the East."
At NYU, White won two national collegiate titles and was the first American to reach the finals of the Junior World Fencing Championships. In 1971 she was a silver medalist in individual foil in the Pan Am Games and a member of the U.S. foil team that won a gold.
The only female All-American fencer in NYU history, White was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 1989.
Although the details of her Olympic fencing experience are blurred by time ("I didn't know we were seventh, just that we didn't medal"), she does recall the opening ceremonies.
"For me, they were the highlight, because they were moving," she said. "I liked the ambience -- the torches, the birds being let loose. It was more moving to see it live than to watch it now on TV."
As for the competition itself, White said, "It just wasn't our turn."