Something that has been a unique part of my story is how I have become what I jokingly refer to as an “adult onset athlete” and what I mean by that is that if you told high school me- the me who would try so hard to miss the day in PE where we all had to run a mile and who believed theatre and sports were antithetical to each other that I would one day pay people lots of money to go run many many miles I would have told you that you had gotten lost and traveled to the wrong timeline, you must be talking about some other version of me out in the multiverse (my husband and I have been watching a lot of MCU TV shows and movies recently… can you tell? Anyway, back to the point of this post… I NEVER considered myself an athlete. Until…
I suddenly realized that my definition of what an athlete was had a lot more to do with mindset and day to day actions than having olympic aspirations or being the strongest, fastest, thinnest, most agile and flexible person in my peer group. I had a lot of INTERNAL work I had to do before moving on to the EXTERNAL work of getting fit and finding ways to move my body that bring me joy.
PE trauma: I THINK I used to have an uncomfortably negotiated acceptance about PE in grade school. I didn’t prefer it to the learning from books and making crafts part of the day, but I did genuinely enjoy some units like soccer and dancing with friends. I didn’t love dodge ball but could strategically just make myself as small as possible and not get targeted until a respectable amount of time had passed. I am still haunted by the stupid beeping from the presidential fitness pacer test (anyone else remember that awfulness? I SWEAR that is what made me believe I hated running. ) and I have very specific memories about not being able to climb a rope as high or fast as my classmates- but luckily in elementary school people were generally kind and supportive of people struggling in class and cheered each other on.
It all fell apart in middle school. PE was misery. I dreaded it. I hated the locker room and feeling like I didn’t have time to properly shower and get refocused for the rest of the school day. I was terrible at running “the mile” and it felt awful to have a PE coach accuse me of not trying my hardest when my little enneagram 1 lungs were working as hard as they possibly could given that I had no guidance in how to practice running between mile trials and even our PE classes did not incorporate other running work outside that time. Even worse, I wasn’t an asset to my teams when we had sports units and that led to a LOT of teasing and I had to work harder in that class to get a good grade than in all my honors courses. It was constant stress and I couldn’t wait to be done with PE forever. The teacher mostly seemed annoyed by any of us not gifted with natural or already cultivated athletic ability. I internalized this messaging as physical fitness being either something you had or you didn’t and I didn’t realize it was a skill you could work on and improve for a long long time.
I also had a lot of hangups about stereotypes I had as far as what women did or did not do. I did not think it was very lady like to be covered in sweat or lift heavy weights. Getting even a little sweaty legitimately grossed me out. I was embarrassed by it. I have talked to several other women who feel the same. Now I feel like sweat is something I earned and will warn people that I’m going to be smelly after a long run because that’s the fact of life. I am thrilled that my kids have Luisa from Encanto as an awesome pop culture image and that they will see lots of women around them running and lifting and climbing and playing sports- but I also know that I had some of those influences to and that those examples don’t stop the ingrained societal messages that run deep about expectations.
Motherhood is what changed so much for me. It changed my body from something I tried to just ignore as much as humanly possible to something I was in awe of for doing some amazing stuff. It changed my self imposed limitations about what I could or couldn’t do, what strength I had inside me. It made me realize that I needed to find ways to keep my energy levels up so I could chase after kids and that I needed to find ways to move my body that helped with the added mental strain that parenthood brings. I started yoga as a way to deal with postpartum anxiety. I started running for the same reason. I started distance running because two amazing moms came to my MOPS group and asked us if we would run for Team World Vision to help other moms and young children not have to spend hours each day walking for water. I don’t think I’d have ever agreed to a half marathon without that great big WHY motivating all my training and that has truly changed me.
Even after I had a regular yoga practice and was running more miles in a week than I had in several years combined in the past, I still didn’t think of myself as an athlete for a long long time. I thought I was about to be called out as a huge phony because I still don’t look like what many think of as an “athletic” person- I have received a crazy number of inappropriate comments about not “looking like” a runner. I thought I was going to be shamed for modifications I decided to make (more on this in a future post) or times I realized a Did Not Finish might be the better choice. It wasn’t until I embraced the fact that an athlete’s mindset was very similar to the artist mindset- that you have amazing performances sometimes, but if you don’t commit to the training and the process those amazing performances are going to be a lot less likely to happen and you are not going to be happy with the long stretches of putting in the work. Both athletes and artists have to accept their own limitations and modifications- to work with what they have instead of what they wish they had. Both athletes and artists have to push through a huge deal of discomfort to reach the finish line of their respective goals.
So that’s something unique about me- I now consider myself both an artist and an athlete. And while it has taken me decades to realize not having won an academy award doesn’t make me any less of an artist while never having olympic dreams doesn’t make me any less of an athlete, now that I’ve shifted that mindset I’m ready to embrace both sides of myself.
Do you consider yourself an athlete? Do you identify yourself as a fellow adult-onset athlete? Did you have struggles with any of the issues I mentioned or do you have a different perspective and life experience to bring to the table? Let me know!