Mari-Rae Sopper, 35, was a lawyer in Washington whose love of athletics and teaching finally won the day. She'd just quit the law to become the women's gymnastics coach at UC Santa Barbara. That's why she was aboard Flight 77.
Unmarried and originally from the Chicago area, she had coached gymnastics at the U.S. Naval Academy, where she was an attorney with the judge advocate general. She also coached at the Colorado Gymnastics Institute and at a Junior Olympics center in Dallas. Her would-be colleagues in Santa Barbara hardly knew her, other than as an enthusiastic voice on the phone and a highly recommended coach.
"Her background in dance and choreography, her education, plus her many years of coaching . . . should bring a new and exciting dimension to our women's program," a university press release said last month.
Law colleagues at the firm of Schmeltzer, Aptaker and Shepard applauded the way she pursued her dream, said managing director Tom Esslinger: "She decided she wasn't happy being a lawyer and decided to do something she was happy with, and we supported her."
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