Why would a woman with a slipped disk, arthritis, bursitis of the shoulder, a bad knee and a recently broken tailbone play hockey?

"I must admit I wondered if I was crazy," said Linda Baker, a left wing for the Washington Red Coats women's hockey team, who has the above ailments. "On the other hand, I really don't have any injuries, just a few physical disabilities."

Baker, 37, says that, for her, ice hockey is a form of recreation.

"I'm not the kind of person to sit around and twiddle my thumbs," she said. "I'm not that old, but when you're a woman of 37, with a family, time seems to be slipping away. I figured if I am going to do sports, now is the time I had been looking for something in the way of participatory sports (there weren't that many for women when I was in college) and the opportunity to play hockey came at the right time."

She started playing hockey two years ago.

At that time, Baker ran into Marilyn Schnibbe, one of the founders of the Red Coats, who was looking for skaters. "Even though I hadn't skated in 15 years, maybe she saw some potential. She was persuasive. The more I thought about it, the more terrific it sounded."

Although ice hockey has the image of a rough sport for men, it's really not that unusual for women to play, said Baker.

"It looks a lot worse to the spectator than it really is. It's a fast game but you're protected by equipment, so falling or being smashed into the boards really doesn't hurt.

"You know, I watch the Caps play, and I feel like I want to start jogging to improve my wind, or to practice hitting the puck around my living room."

To improve her hockey, Baker has played pick-up games, attended a hockey cunic and practices every Sunday night from 10:15 to 11:30 along with the rest of the team.

"I happen to like playing late at night because, as a mother of two, it means that I don't have to get a baby-sitter," she said.