According to Webster’s dictionary, an athlete is a person who is trained in exercises, sports or games requiring physical strength, agility or stamina.
What I love about this definition is that it doesn’t come with judgement, comparison against others or require you to be the best, the way we typically think of Olympic athletes. Regardless of any natural abilities, everyone starts at the bottom as a beginner athlete and needs to learn and develop their skill.
But unfortunately we don’t always think that way. We live in world were are are constantly bombarded with messages and ideals that trigger us to compare ourselves to one another. It happens at work, the way we consume material objects, who has the bigger house and especially within the beauty culture. This constant notion to compare and one-up the Jones is exhausting and unhealthy. And it can go the other way causing us to think we will never be as good, so why bother trying anything new.
When I started racing triathlon, it took me a long time to get over my guilt and shame that I was slow because I was overweight. And inside, I knew I would be so much faster if I just lost weight.
Cycling was my best sport of all 3 and by the time I got off the bike I was in the middle of the pack. But would lose so much time on the run portion and usually crossed the finish line close to last or last altogether. I hated having the security car or the guy on the bike following me to ensure that I finished. In my head I was constantly playing the same negative script “she’s last because she’s overweight. And she’s keeping me from ending my shift“. Now I know this was complete B.S., somebody has to be last and it was just my insecurities playing into my FEAR (false evidence appearing as real).
It took me a few races (and several conversations with my coach) to see with clarity that even if it was true, who cares. Brene Brown has this wonderful quote “I carry a small sheet of paper in my wallet that has written on it the names of people whose opinions of me, matter. To be on that list, you have to love me for my strengths and struggles. You have to know that I’m trying to be Wholehearted, but I still cuss too much, flip people off under the steering wheel, and have both Lawrence Welk and Metallica on my iPod.” What I took from this quote was that I was caring way too much what others thought. I’m so happy to be off that path and have applied that insight across all areas of my life as best I can.
So regardless of where I placed in my race, all of my actions reflected those of an athlete. I concisely trainined in all 3 discilipnes (swim, bike and run/walk), had the courage to toe the line, compete against myself and successfully cross the finish line.
So how do you know if you have an inner athlete? Well I found mine in my ego. I do not recommend this approach, but at the time I was on a “shock and awe” mission to prove to people that just because I had a plus size body didn’t mean I fit the stereotypical fat, lazy and unmotivated person. I think the desire to be an athlete, to live an athletic lifestyle comes from the heart. I’ve you’ve ever felt a twinge while watching the Olympics on TV, listening to a friend talk about their charity bike-a-thon experience, attended a dance performance and wished you could move like that, then you my friend have an inner athlete waiting to come out.
You don’t need to wait to lose weight to be an athlete. The consistency with which you pursue your goals for the pure enjoyment of accomplishing a race, event or defined milestone, with no expectation or pressure on weight loss, is what it’s all about. I tell you this because you will gain. You’ll gain confidence, skill level and increased self esteem in accomplishing something positive and productive.
Finding your inner athlete is a process, that takes self awareness. I find having a race or event to train for is a great way to start off because you are focused and working towards something. The habit of regularly training will become second nature so that when you don’t have a race or event, your healthy behaviours stay in tact.
If you know what kind of athlete you want to be, then get to it. If not, I recommend getting a journal and writing about your experiences and feelings over the next 3 months, while trying some or all of the suggestions below to see what resonates with you:
- Spectate an event or race, and notice if you’d like to do what the participants are doing
- Volunteer at an event (maybe one you’ve spectated and peaked your interest). Does being closer to the action increase your desire?
- Talk to other athletes (of all shapes and sizes). Find out what their training is like, how often, types of workouts, what do they like about it. There’s a difference between participating in individual sports and team sports.
- Talk to different trainers and coaches. When making a major transformation, a good support system is needed.
- Take notice of what scares you a little, but excites you as well. This is good, because you are drawn to something outside of your comfort zone. Embrace it. Take action, define a goal and put it into motion.
Remember, you don’t need to wait to lose weight to be an athlete. Your weight, shape and size do not minimize any accomplishments or effort that you put in. A hard workout is a workout. A complete race is a completed race. Keep this in mind when you hear a fellow athlete say “good for you”. They know what it takes to be committed, toe the starting line and cross the finish line. Of course there will be those that say it out of judgement, and I believe it comes from a place of good intentions but negative impact. I remember watching a video of Will Wheaton responding to a little girl’s question of “Were you called a nerd, and if so, how did you deal with it?.” Even though the topic is different, the response is applicable. “The kind and best reaction is to pity them.” Their judgemental comments are a reflection of them and their beliefs, they know nothing about you.
I like being an athlete because if gives positive purpose to the healthy choices I make each day. As I’ve said before, losing weight is a personal decision between you and your health practitioner. Maybe you need to, maybe you don’t. And even if you do, the athletic lifestyle may help you as long as you don’t approach your goal as thinking you need to fix yourself as the media has shown us. Think of it as improving yourself, because we are all on a journey.
I know I’m a great person regardless of my weight. Do you feel the same way about yourself? I hope so. If you’re not there yet, it’s ok, you’ll get there with every healthy action and decision that you make for you, and no one else.