As the excitement of football season sparks across the country, graduate student Chi Peng fondly reminisces on her experience playing the sport professionally.

In 2012, she had an opportunity to join the New York Sharks, which was once the longest-operating women’s tackle football team across the globe after nearly two decades in existence. (The team played its final season in 2018.)

Growing up in New York, Peng started playing football with her father and friends at a young age. She wanted to play professionally, but at the time, she said there were not a lot of opportunities for women to pursue it.

“I just decided that I wanted to do something fun, something for me,” she said. So she went to a Sharks tryout, and they decided to let her play with them for the summer. “It was the first time I ever actually put on the full helmet and pads and everything. I really enjoyed it. It was amazing.”

Peng traveled with the team and practiced with them three times per week. She played running back and wide receiver. The team “became like family.”

Peng does not play professional football anymore. But she does play in recreational leagues in Lexington, Ky., while she pursues her PhD in the University of Kentucky College of Medicine Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences.

As an athlete, Peng does not shy away from a challenge and understands the value of teamwork. She knows that groundbreaking research cannot be most effective without a team of clinicians and scientists working together to bring solutions to the patient’s bedside. When she completes her PhD, she wants to serve as a liaison to help make these connections possible.

Amid a demanding yet noble educational venture, Peng said watching football and playing recreationally both help her relieve stress.

“During the week, you have to be able to handle a lot of challenges and obstacles,” she said. “But through football, I’m able to let out that frustration and just enjoy my time. It’s the only place I feel like I don’t think about all my worries.”