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What Does It Mean to Be an Athlete?

 Everyone has the ability to be an athlete – not everyone will become one.

In this crazy age of winner-takes-all, valuing awards and trophies above personal achievement, I’m not surprised most people hesitate to identify themselves as an athlete – not from a lack of commitment and dedication, more so the result of our society’s skewed sense of the meaning…

So, what does it mean to be an athlete?

An athlete is someone who puts in the hard graft, the day-to-day physical commitment required to hone his or her skills. It’s the person that long after the season has ended, or the race finished, is already actively working towards improving their capabilities and performance.

An athlete is someone who also has mental integrity, the ability to see things as they really are, while holding themselves accountable for their behavior. It’s the person that imbues the core values of authenticity, team work and sportsmanship. An athlete understands their limitations, works to improve upon them, while also appreciating and respecting the abilities of other athletes.

Being an athlete does not require:
Winning an award
Completing a marathon
Playing team sports
Being elite in your field
Having previous athletic experience

An athlete understands that physically fitness is a journey, a vital component to optimum health. It’s not just about physically training your body to reach your potential; it’s equally about fueling your body with proper nutrition and adequate rest and recovery.

Too often I see comments such as, “No Rest Days” or “No Pain No Gain” flaunted as testimonials to true athleticism. I’m here to tell you it’s not only foolhardy, but also extremely dangerous. Runners who focus solely on the end-result – the mileage accumulated at the end of each week, rather than incremental improvements in their performance. Weightlifters who obsess about muscle mass gains, either through grueling non-stop training sessions or copious amounts of supplements, without concern for the long-term effects on their body. More poignantly, parents who relentlessly push their children to be “the best” by prioritizing winning over the fundamentals of sportsmanship and teamwork.

Winning games, achieving PRs and being recognized for your athletic abilities is commendable and, without a doubt, something to admire and respect; however, it should never be your sole impetus for training. Just as looking good should not be your sole reason for being physically fit.

The heart and soul of an athlete is imbued in their dedication and integrity, their commitment to personal health.

So, whether you’re a busy mom who works out at home, the seasoned runner with numerous race medals, or the local recreational soccer team player, take pride in your athleticism.

You are an athlete. You earned it.

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DR J 2211 – Rachael Jezierski, PhD