Athlete. There it was, courtesy of my web designer, parked right under my professional byline in the first draft of her design for the site you are reading right now. My reaction? I can’t say that. I don’t win anything.
I am a member of the group that’s affectionately called in the running world the “midpackers.” (Unless you’re an Olympian, that’s basically all of us, truth be told.) I was a plodder for a good long time, trying to stay at least a little active through college and my twenties. Then at some point I more or less stopped running completely as I got heavier and heavier due to all kinds of work and life stress in my mid-thirties. Running just wasn’t fun anymore.
Then in 2008, right after returning from the Beijing Olympics, the recession hit full force. After months of pretty terrifying unemployment, the opportunity arose to co-author the outdoor fitness manual Fit by Naturefor the Mountaineers Books. It felt like a massive hint from the universe (after all, how can you be unfit and write a book with “Fit” right there in the title?). I got back into fitness, started running again, and (most importantly) finally learned how to eat well. I lost the extra weight. I kept running.
For a little while I was good with a small “g”: a few age-group awards at tiny community road races, a pretty nice marathon in Sacramento right before I turned 40. Then I got married, got pregnant, couldn’t run at all during my pregnancy, lost every ounce of my conditioning, and plodded back to where I am today, two years into parenthood: racing 5K’s at sub-10-minute mile pace while I’m on the comeback trail. There are still about ten pregnancy pounds hanging around my midsection, so I’m very much a work in progress.
But if you’ve read my personal essays or heard me speak, you know that embracing running again after my forty-pound weight loss almost ten years ago was a major turning point in my life.
Here’s what I know: in the United States, we idolize those among us who are preternaturally talented in athletic pursuits. They are celebrities, stars, the chosen few. They’re usually young and it seems like the whole world is theirs for the taking.
I was never one of the chosen few. I had chubby legs and couldn’t run fast and once took a huge, embarrassing fall while playing, of all things, Duck Duck Goose with a group of high school friends. I got grass stuck in my braces, it was such a bad fall. The other girls laughed. I tried to laugh too, but here I am, writing about it thirty-two years later.
But here’s what did happen. I stayed in the game. I ran my first mile when I was twelve years old, and even then I knew I kind of liked it. Long-distance running was interesting. It was a project, something to aspire to, something to challenge myself with. What I’ve learned in decades of running is that there is no such thing as phoning it in. Running performances go as our training goes. If we do the work, we get results.
That’s as far into my personal sports history as I’ll go on my professional blog. (If you’d like more inspiration on getting into the fitness game, please visit my fitness and science blog Every48 that delves into that topic much more deeply.) Here, though, I just want to say that I believe an athlete is somebody who has chosen to stay in the race. If you’re in the game, awake, aware, and doing everything you can to do what you want to be doing in whatever sport or activity you’ve chosen, you can call yourself an athlete.
Author. Speaker. Athlete. I’m here to claim all three monikers as part of my professional story. They’re all a part of who I am, how I got to this point in life, and why you found me here. Welcome-I hope you’ll stick around, and maybe even keep in touch.