Tabitha Belair figured it was time to do something for herself.

She had spent most of her adult life raising two boys. But with Aaron, 21, in the Air Force and Andrew, 16, a sophomore at Cane Bay High School, Belair decided to reconnect with a past love -- ice hockey.

Belair, 41, returned to the rink as a member of the Lady Rays, a women's team based at the Carolina Ice Palace in North Charleston.

"I was a figure skater growing up, but I always wanted to play hockey because my brother played," said Belair, a native of Massena, N.Y. "My father wouldn't let me."

When she was 17, Belair's father relented and she joined the Massena Chicks, a women's team based at the rink. She played a couple of seasons before moving to Syracuse and playing for the Warriors, that city's women's team.

Her hockey career was cut short, however, when she got pregnant with Aaron.

"When you start having kids, the things you like to do get put on the back burner."

In September, Belair and her husband, Steven, agreed it was time for her to get back on the ice. They trudged over to the Ice Palace and bought her $450 worth of equipment.

After 23 years away from the sport, it wasn't easy getting back on the ice.

"My mind is telling me to do one thing, and my body is telling me another," Belair said. But "the more I skate, the better I feel. I'm going to do this the rest of my life."

Lynda Baker, 45, got into the sport later in life. She has been with the team almost since its inception and serves as the Lady Rays captain and principal organizer.

"Keeping the same group together isn't easy," she said. "Some of the girls are in the military or married to someone in the military, so they move."

Sunny Finden, 24, grew up in Farmington, Minn., and had played hockey since she was a child. When she moved to the Lowcountry, Finden, who plays defense for the Lady Rays, thought her hockey career was over.

"I was shocked that they even had a rink in Charleston," Finden said.

Allison Evans, 22, grew up in Florence and would go to Pee Dee Pride hockey games with her mother. After watching a couple of games, she decided she wanted to play.

"I love team sports and I love being a goalie," said Evans, who just graduated from the College of Charleston with a degree in studio arts. "I like pressure situations, and when you're the goalie, everyone is kind of depending on you."

The Lady Rays hone their skills during practices and during games against the Ice Palace's Learn to Play team, a group composed mostly of men just starting out in the sport. They also play women's teams from around the Southeast.

Baker said there is at least one noticeable difference.

"The games against women are a lot rougher."