I have no idea how this comes across to various people I know. Maybe it’s obvious, maybe not. But I am definitely not an athlete.
I know I have tried pretty hard over the past years. I tried pretty hard sometimes as a kid, too. I learned figure skating. I took gymnastics for a couple of years. I took ballet classes, until they told me that my body type would never be able to go en pointe safely. I rode my bike everywhere, although I never learned how to push myself hard enough to keep up with my aunt, the bicycle lady. I did summer swim team for a couple of years. I took tap and belly dancing classes as an adult. I learned how to ski, amazingly well for never having more than one week every couple of years. I took up roller-skating, learned to step-skate with the local masters. Finally, for the last two years or so, I’ve been a runner, and I’ve been doing strength training for the first time in my life.
But I am not an athlete. And I never will be. And that’s okay.
I certainly have a degree of talent. Just like I am good with my hands, I am good with the rest of my body when it involves coordination and dexterity. I learned to ski so quickly, I was on blue slopes and running away from my classes after only a day or two. I got onto skates, and I was stepping out in the middle with the experts as fast as I could build the muscles and stamina. I love dancing; I still wish I had a partner to go out ballroom dancing with, since my husband can’t. (Any takers?)
My body also has an amazingly ability to build strength and endurance. I didn’t know this, really, until I started running and strength training. I had never in my life been able to run a single lap, doing a single push up or sit up. Now I can run for hours and do thirty push-ups and sit-ups a day. These are things that I never thought I would be able to do. I am very proud that my body has these abilities after all, and that I learned how to uncover them.
But I am not an athlete, and I never will be.
I have an image, a belief, that was pounded into my head during my years of government education. It is not a true belief, but one that was reinforced by so much punishment and abuse that it will be very difficult to root out of my subconscious. That belief is that what I think of as the Beautiful People, the thin, athletic people, the jocks and cheerleaders, the popular ones…they were the Right Way to Be. And I am not worthwhile unless I at least try to be like them. Gym class is graven into my memory, in particular one time in fifth or sixth grade when I was literally pushed around the track by the guys in the class because I was too slow, and they couldn’t go in until I was finished.
Ultimately, it was to be like them and my father that I took up running. The idea that it was possible came with my discovery of the whole Couch to 5K movement, but I had given it a try before, when I was younger. It was not truly a desire to do it for myself. The image in my mind was of crossing the finish line and finally being accepted, being okay, being worthwhile.
It was rather devastating when I called my father after my first 5K race, to tell him what I had done, and got a response that seemed more suited to telling him I had cooked a nice dinner.
So I need to do better, right? So I looked at all these other newbie runners online, and decided I, too, could suddenly be a marathoner. Because if running a 5K didn’t get me approval, then that would. Then I would be okay. Then I could sit at the table with the other guys and be an equal.
But I am not an athlete. And I never will be.
My body made this abundantly clear to me this year. The closer I got to the big race, the harder my training got, the more my body tried to make me stop. Pain, pain, pain. I kept going, because it’s only fibro, and that’s what athletes do, right? Too much pain, so I stopped, regrouped, rested, and then took off again. The last few weeks, it wasn’t just pain anymore. It was actual overtraining. I lost my stride, my good form. I started getting slower and slower, even as my heart rate was climbing and my effort seemed monumental. I finally realized that I had to stop, that I was no longer doing anything healthy, but my brain continued to try and find a way around it, find a way to get back into the race.
But now I know. I am not an athlete. And I never will be.
I need to find a way to accept that it’s okay. I need to convince my inner child that They were wrong, that it’s okay not to be one of the Beautiful People, that it’s okay not to be an athlete, that maybe my daddy loves me anyway.
I won’t stop entirely. I do enjoy moving my body in intricate ways, just like I enjoy complicated knitting. It’s a skill, and I love using it. (I was serious about needing a dance partner, or a skating partner!) I will still train for a Warrior Dash this summer, after taking a month or two off to recover. I enjoy having the ability to run, I enjoy having muscles and strength. I don’t know that I will try to tackle anything longer or harder, though. Because I don’t need to.
I am not an athlete.