An Athlete By Any Other Name

A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend who was trying to convince me to sign up for my first triathlon with her. As I hesitated, considering my ability to prepare, she said, “Don’t worry. You’re in great shape. You can do it. Besides you’re an athlete.”

I was struck by that description. I think of athletes as people who excel at sports and bring home accolades for their athletic endeavors. They are the first ones picked for teams at gym and their names are emblazoned on school banners recording their feats. I was never one of those people. As a child, I didn’t excel in sports. I was known more for my academic achievements than my athletic pursuits.

As an adult, I took up running. That led to other pursuits in weight lifting, cycling and swimming. I do them all on occasion. But does that make me an athlete?

According to Webster’s, an athlete is a person who is trained in or good at sports, games, or exercises that require physical skill and strength. That definition suggests that one needs to excel to be considered an athlete. But then I remembered something I read in Runner’s World’s column. The writer said that being a runner was based on nothing more than an active pursuit of running, regardless of distance, pace or frequency. Based on that, I’m definitely a runner. Sometimes I run a lot. Sometimes I go a couple of weeks without running. But I always go back to it, remembering how good I feel after it. Does that make me an athlete?

I’ve run a mud-run, a few half-marathons and an ultra runners’ relay race. Each year, I looked for a new opportunity. Now I realize that it is that drive to do something new, to reach new heights and to challenge myself physically that makes me an athlete.

When I ran my first half marathon, I wore a pair of hemp gloves that read, “It’s not how fast you go. It’s that you go.” They were intended to be throwaway gloves to use at the beginning of the race when it was cold, but I have never gotten rid of them. They remind me that athletes are not just the stars of their sport. They are the individuals who find time on weekends and before or after work to physically push to new heights and challenge themselves to do better.

I started my journey to be an athlete to prove to myself that I could do it. Then it became about living a healthier lifestyle and setting an example for my daughters. Today I run, swim and bike for me. My athleticism has shown me what I’m capable of – both on a course and in life in general. It has given me greater confidence to try new pursuits and it has opened my heart to unconditionally support others doing the same.  I’m thrilled anytime someone starts this journey – and I hope they get as much out of it as I do.

As for my first triathlon, I started my training. I don’t know how it will go, but I’ve received lots of encouragement so far. And I will have my gloves to remind that it’s not how fast I go…

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7 thoughts on “An Athlete By Any Other Name

  1. Nice post, Patty. I’ve given the word athlete much thought too, especially when I hear commentators on TV describe players on an NBA team or NFL team during one of these games. I originally thought, Aren’t all the players athletes? Not necessarily. I think being athletic means you’re coordinated enough to tap into this ability to help when you’re trying to steal a basketball from an opponent or when a football is bobbling out of your stretched-out hands while you’re in mid-air, somehow you figure out how to recover it before hitting the ground.

    • Good point Derek. And it shows just that — you never know what you are capable of until you need to draw upon an unknown resource inside you. Catching the hail-Mary passes is a good example.

  2. Awesome post, Patty. And I’ve always thought of you as athletic (far more than me, anyway). I don’t think of myself as an athlete but I have surprised myself with my running over the past several years and my recent first half-marathon. Best of luck on the triathlon – I have no doubt you will do great.

    • Thanks Sylvia. It’s amazing what we can accomplish if we put our minds to it. I have found that running and other endurance efforts have shown me what I’m capable of!

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