I was one of these people. I had half a season where I tried to run track in 9th grade. I think I did it because even back then I had a deep desire to just run. The coach put me in the mile and 2-mile race. At our first meet I PR-ed the mile and was still so far behind the other runners they had already started another race by the time I finished. When I twisted my ankle and decided to drop out for the rest of the season, I really think my coach breathed a deep sigh of relief. Growing up and even into college I identified myself as a lot of things: the smart kid, the band nerd, the honors student, the goody-two-shoes, but athlete was never one of them.
I ran my first 5K 9 years ago and after that my perspective started to change. I started racing triathlons and longer running races including a half-marathon the next summer and a local 10-miler that all the "real" runners do in Syracuse. All this time, though, I just considered myself a mommy who did a few races, but I did start to wonder if maybe I was an athlete too. Maybe I was a "real" runner and a "real" triathlete.
In September of 2008 I decided to do my first olympic distance tri. At the beginning of the training season I bought a RoadID and there is a spot on it where you can put a motto or a mantra. I thought a lot about what I would put there. What was it that I wanted to remind myself of? What would help me in those hard moments? For me, it was a phrase I wasn't quite sure I believed: "I am an athlete."
Everywhere I rode and ran that summer my wrist reminded me of something that my head and heart had not quite accepted just yet. I wanted to believe it. I wanted to feel it, but I just wasn't there yet. For me it was kind of like trying on clothes that I hadn't bought yet. I was wearing them, but I didn't own them yet.
During that olympic distance tri that fall, I wore my RoadID. Not because I was worried that someone would need to identify me if I fell over dead from the effort, but because I needed to remind myself yet again, that I was an athlete. During the run, I remember I looked down at my watch and realized I was going to finish well under my time goal and it was at that moment that I became an athlete in my heart. I actually started crying it was so moving to me (then I realized it's hard to run another 3 miles while you are crying, so I stopped.) I looked at my wrist and saw truth. I am an athlete.
Being an athlete is not about how fast you go or how much you train or how often you win. Being an athlete has nothing to do with how long of a triathlon you have completed or if you have done a marathon or an ultra. Being an athlete doesn't have anything to do with how big your watch is or how fancy your workout clothes are or what kind of bike you have.
Being an athlete is about what you believe about yourself in your heart. It is about the way you see your strength when you look in the mirror even though what you see is not perfect. It is about looking at that race photo and recognizing that even if you think look terrible, you are strong and beautiful and you are doing it!
I am an athlete.
Sometimes you have to try it on for a while before you really start to own it. I call all of the people I coach "my athletes." A lot of them identify with that, and some of them are still getting there. For those of us who didn't grow up as athletes, we have to practice at being an athlete for a while before you realize that you have been one all along!
I have a new RoadID these days, but it still reminds me daily of what I know: I am an athlete.