Monday, September 12, 2011

Am I an athlete?

Because I’m old and nostalgic, I reached for the dusty dictionary I keep within arm’s reach of my desk:

ath-lete (ath-leet)  n.  a person trained to compete in contests involving physical agility, stamina or strength; a trained competitor in a sport, exercise, or game requiring physical skill.

and because I’m not completely technologically inept, I also referenced

ath•lete  [ath-leet] 
a person trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility, stamina, or strength; a participant in a sport, exercise, or game requiring physical skill.

I’ve seen this term bandied about recently, even by myself, but never in reference to myself.  I don’t consider myself an athlete.  Never have.

I played organized sports as a kid, swimming, soccer, baseball, etc.  By the time I reached high school those days were behind me, save for the occasional pick-up game with friends.

30 years later I find myself accomplishing things physically that I never dreamed possible. Does that make me an athlete?

I train.  I train hard.  4 to 5 days a week.  Speed work, hills, long runs, tempo runs, progression runs.  I put in the miles.  I improve.  Does that make me an athlete?

I enter contests.  I’ve even won a few awards.  Does that make me an athlete?

At what point do you become an athlete?  Is it when you enter your first competition? How about your 10th?

Could it be earlier than that?   Maybe it’s when you first start measuring your performance, striving to improve.

Is it a state of mind or something quantifiable?

I think it’s words like “skilled” and “gifted” that appear in the definitions that give me pause.  Those are the qualities of an athlete that I believe I lack.  A friend of mine recently pointed out that people like us are not “genetically endowed” with the qualities necessary to easily compete with those so gifted.


At least he didn’t shatter my dreams completely.  He qualified his comment with this:

. . . unless you want to hire a professional coach and do nothing else but train all day in a feeble attempt to improve your aerobic capacity beyond its natural limit.

Feeble?  Did he really have to say feeble?

He has a point though.  Skills are achievable with training, dedication and hard work.  Skills are still within my grasp.

Gifts, on the other hand, are by definition given.  “Genetically endowed,” as my friend would say.  Gifts are not a guarantee of success, but when combined with the work ethic required to hone skills . . . great things are achievable.

In my mind, that is the stuff of athletes.

I have been privileged during the course of my feeble quest for running skill to run with true athletes and the experience has always been inspiring.


  1. I had this experience when showing up early at a race one time. The race director asked “Are you here to volunteer or are you an athlete?” I stumbled for an answer and I’m still not sure I know.

  2. In my eyes you are totally an athlete! I, too, find that I get thrown off by the "gifted" part. That would make me feel like no, I just TRY to be an athlete. Gifted is so NOT what I am when it comes to sports!

  3. The fact that you trained, you believed, you tried, you finished the race, that is what, in my opinion, makes you an "athlete".

  4. The fact that you trained, you competed against your own and others doubts, you tried and you ultimately finished the race. That is what, in my opinion, makes you an "athlete". If you look hard enough, its there somewhere in the definition.