Over the course of my life I have mulled over this question continuously, and up until about five years ago I believed that a person was either born an athlete or not. Unfortunately, I felt that I fell under the “not” category. I didn’t grow up playing sports, watching sports, or doing much of anything that would be deemed competitive. Not that I didn’t want these things, it just was not a part of my family culture. Ultimately, by the time I was in high school and could explore activities more freely on my own, I felt that I was too far behind the curve to “make it” (and honestly I probably was). But regardless of all of this, I have always had this competitive athletic fire inside of me. I have daydreamed about making the winning goal of the women’s soccer team at the Olympics, winning the Boston Marathon, being the first woman to dominate football (thank you Rudy), and having my ear bitten off by Mike Tyson (only halfway joking here). Yet I was convinced that because I didn’t truly start my athletic quest until my mid-twenties, that as much as I trained, my “athlete” days were far behind me. Then one day this was challenged.
While I was living in New York and training for my first ultramarathon, the city was having a particularly cold and wet winter. Being from San Diego, I struggled with this probably more so than other native city dwellers. Therefore I did much of my ultra-training inside on the treadmill. One day, after running 26 miles indoors, a man came over and started chatting with me on my cooldown. He didn’t say much (probably because I am not a chatty workout person and he got the hint fairly early on), but he did leave me with, “wow you’re an amazing athlete.” I smiled at him and he walked away. As I was doing my stretching cooldown and thinking more clearly, guilt ran over me. All of these thoughts came popping into my head: “I should have told him I’m not an athlete,” “I was misleading,” “What if he finds me out?” “Was letting him believe I’m an athlete bad karma?” After my workout I went home and over a glass of wine with my sweet friend Catherine, I came “clean” with her about my earlier conversation. Catherine, who was a collegiate athlete, told me that I was being ridiculous; and then and there it was as if a light went on in my head. Everything that I had previously believed about my athletic abilities were challenged. “You mean you would consider me an athlete?”, I asked her. “Sam, yes. Of course yes. You are.”
From that point on something shifted in me. I no longer automatically excluded myself from not only dreaming big but believing my dreams could be realized. I began to run with more ease, be more proud of my accomplishments, and not limit myself based on the falsity that the best years are behind me. Are we born athletes? Yes. We ALL are born athletes. Your athletic capabilities may look far different than mine, but it doesn’t mean that one person has any stake over the title than someone else. Regardless of age, gender, or financial means; there is something inside all of us that wants to be the best that we can be. In my opinion, this is what it means to be an athlete; not comparing my skills to someone else’s, but getting up and pushing myself to do what I previously thought I was incapable of doing. It doesn’t matter if you’re 14 or 70, or if you’ve never worked out in your life. The athletic person inside of you is still there, waiting for some life, to help you become the person you’ve always dreamed about.