I have never thought of myself as an athlete. Balls have never been friends of mine and neither have team sports. They sounds fun, but in reality I am paralyzed with anxiety at the thought of playing a sport with peers.
My first experience with team sports was playing for the Cardinals when I was five. Softball wasn’t doing much for me so I decided to spice things us by bringing my pink cassette player loaded with a Tiffany’s tape to practice. Once I hit play it took all of 20 seconds for the coach (my dad) to figure out what the heck was going on and turn it off. The more striking memory though is of the coach (again my dad) throwing an underhand pitch to me and the ball hitting me in the face. I hated softball and didn’t make it past preseason. I moved right into soccer and played for the Purple Blazers in kindergarten. Technically it was a coed team, but there were only two girls and I was one of them. The rest of the team was a group of guys that I ended up going to school with through high school. While I actually made it through the season, I spent most of my time picking flowers and making sure my purple satin bow hadn’t fallen out of my hair every time I came in contact with the ball. This seemed hilarious to my ex-team mates and I heard about it all through high school. Speaking of high school, I played water polo for about ½ a season my sophomore year. It turned out that I was a decent swimmer and my coach put me in as the sprinter. This was the first time that I actually felt semi-good at something athletic. For some reason or another I didn’t make it through the whole season. You may have noticed by now that my parents really didn’t make me follow through with much.
That was the end of my team sports saga. It was enough to make me super insecure with any sort of organized sport – beach volleyball or impromptu game of catch…not that I have ever played an impromptu game of catch in my life.
In spite of all of this, I have always been a pretty active gal. Running was my go to, but I dabbled in swimming, snowboarding, and all that 24HourFitness had to offer. Exercise has always been a staple in my life to keep me balanced and sane.
About six years ago I started going to a spin class during my lunch-break with my coworkers. The instructor was one of those awesome Power Pack sort of people – legit, dedicated and inspiring. Her classes were a physical, mental and spiritual experience for me and I’m sure you’ll hear more about that spin room. She loaded the 60-minute workouts with awesome speed and resistance drills that challenged me in a whole new way. In every class she would say, “You are an athlete” and she would talk to us about “training” and “performance”. She coached us in many valuable ways, but “You are an athlete” always stuck out to me. I would leave class thinking, “Seriously? Really? She just has no idea. I work so hard and sweat like a fool, but am no athlete.” I cannot tell you exactly when, but her athlete mantra started to sink in. I felt strong. I felt powerful. I felt like I wasn’t any less strong or powerful or hardworking than any other person in her class. I owned the label of “athlete” when I was in her class. After a while I began owning the label of “athlete” outside of her class too.
This perspective has transformed the way I approach my potential, my conditioning and my expectations. I fully expect to do well. I fully expect to be capable. I fully expect to perform alongside my peers. It is amazing how that shift in perspective has taken my performance to a new level. Identifying myself as an athlete has given me the freedom to try new things, participate alongside others and test my abilities.
This past spring, I ran a series of trail races together with #funfitfriends. The series was supposed to give us runners something to keep us training during those cold Southern California winter months. None took it very seriously and we didn’t do anything beyond our usual workout routines to prepare for the 5 mile race with approx. 800 feet elevation gain. The first race was in March. We all ran at our own paces and I genuinely enjoyed the experience of running with others in a semi-competitive environment. Talk about progress! I felt strong on the 2 mile climb and rather exhilarated throughout the rest of course. At the finish I immediately took a selfie and sent it to my husband.
After the race, a guy told me he tried to pass me during the last mile but just couldn’t. I cannot tell you how good, proud and athletic that made me feel. Turns out I was the 6th place female finisher! YES!! In April, the same group of friends ran the same trail race. Again, I approached it expecting to have fun and do well. I ran with one of my best friends who is an incredible runner. I admitted to her that I wanted to finish in under 42 minutes…it felt so vulnerable to actually say out loud what I was hoping to accomplish. I could tell our pace was faster than my previous race. I shaved two minutes off my March time and came in under my goal. Again, YES!! I pushed myself so hard that I threw up at the finish line – umm, the only people I know who do that are athletes and Biggest Loser contestants.
I am an athlete. I train. I perform. I am fast. I am an athlete.