Author: Rich Adams
In my job I have the pleasure to meet a variety of people. One of the greatest honors I’m often given is that these people share their story with me and I love hearing them. I’ve been regaled with stories of cancer diagnoses, lost loved ones, and frighteningly low self-worth – but in the next breath they share tremendous conclusions - ones of recovery, healing, and the joy of the search for self and the victory in finding it. As people describe to me their fight I feel a tremendous depth of gratitude to them because it makes me feel stronger alongside them.
In many stories newer athletes especially have a question that appears to be sort of universal in the human psyche – “Am I a real athlete?” (usually “athlete” is “runner” or “triathlete” but for the sake of inclusion…). This, of course, is more an extension of a baser question of “Am I worthy of a given title” – I can’t answer that one, it’s on a philosophical level far above my rambling, but that first one – the real athlete – that one I feel qualified to answer.
Now, I’ll admit that having been a runner since I was a kid in the early 90’s, I can’t directly relate to the question itself – I’ve never not been an athlete in some form or another in my own mind – it is as much a part of me as anything. What I can do, though, is approach the question from someone who considers himself an athlete and work to define characteristics that I use hoping it may help you find the definition for yourself. So, let’s start with some questions to sarcastically answer the important question.
What is “real” anyway? What is it to be a “real” runner versus a “fake” runner? How serious does one need to be? Are you “real” if you just enjoy something? If someone else enjoys it more are they “realer”? If I don’t compete, am I less “real”? Is there a measure of “realness”, and if so, is there a “realest” and “least realest” person?
Let’s start with things that have no bearing on if you are a “real” athlete. Spoiler alert – a lot of this has to do with NOT comparing yourself to other athletes.
So if we eliminate all the comparative stats, what’s left to determine if you are a real athlete? Well, I’m a simple man and I like a simple approach from an obvious perspective. Are you a “real” athlete? Let me ask…. do you do athlete things? Be that exercise or nutrition or racing or competing or stressing out about body symmetry (okay, maybe that’s just me) or spending objectively ludicrous amounts of money for things that make you subjectively better at your given event? Well…. than you are, so there, all done. Answer made.
I can hear you rolling your eyes from here, which is pretty impressive considering the delivery system of this as a blog, but the first truth you have to look at if you are asking yourself the question is this: an identifier of an athlete are the common athlete behaviors. Here are mine.
The whole point of this is to remind you that no athlete is measured in miles, reps, finish lines or hours spent. “Real” athletes don’t have a definition and there will likely never be a day when you wake up and say “holy cow, today is the day I'm REAL!!” In the absence of a measure of effort that makes you “real” you end up learning that it’s a function of confidence in yourself for you to declare that you are, in fact, worthy of the title. And as a self-declared expert in the field, I’d wager that if you made it this far you're as “Real” an athlete as there is and I look forward to hearing your story too.