Who Is An Athlete? You (Yep, You!)

Who Is An Athlete? You (Yep, You!)

What is an athlete? Or, really, who is an athlete?

I once met a woman who finished twelve marathons and still did not consider herself a “runner.” I talked to a little girl playing soccer who said she could “never be an athlete” because she cannot run as fast as the boys in her neighborhood. I met a guy who completed 100 century bike rides and then told me that he wasn’t a cyclist, but that he “just wanted to see if it was possible” for him.

For so many, the qualification of “true athlete” is really just an elusive category of exercisers whose qualifications change based upon whatever seems impressive, difficult, or just beyond reach.

I’m writing this on the morning of the 118th running of the Boston Marathon. The best among them, including some of my teammates from Team Novo Nordisk, will finish in about two and a half hours. They are definitely athletes. By contrast, the woman who finished the NYC Marathon in last place had multiple sclerosis and persevered with every single step of a journey harder than most of us can imagine, finishing in 35 hours and 27 minutes. Her dedication is admirable if not heroic. Does that make her an athlete?

Miriam Webster says an athlete is “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility or stamina.”

I think I can do better.

Being an athlete is really a state of mind. It’s about setting measurable goals, and pushing toward them. It’s about owning your health and your body, even when your work schedule is a mess and your child care is making it hard and you have PMS and a thousand other mental roadblocks and you just don’t want to do “it” today, whether the “it” is a run or a walk or a bike ride or an hour at the gym. But you do.

An Athlete is…

An athlete is the teenage girl finding the courage to take a huge risk and try out for the team, even though she is not sure that she is good enough to make it.

An athlete is the new mother, who can barely find the energy to get everything done in the day, going out for a run with her son in the stroller.

An athlete is the little girl who just scored her first goal and feels like she can do anything.

An athlete is the woman nervous at the start of her first race, hands shaking and goosebumps on her arms, carrying a set of aspirations for the day.

An athlete is the young student, training after class and before the start of her shift.

An athlete is the grandmother who decided that it is never too late to learn to surf, climb a mountain, take up dancing.

An athlete is the five year old with pigtails, pedaling her bike to school for the first time.

An athlete is proactive about her health. She is nurturing her body. She is strong and confident and giving it her best shot. She probably looks a lot like you, in fact. And that is totally, awesomely inspiring.

Photo: Women lining up for the start of the Road Race at the Sea Otter Classic 2014

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