What, Me? An Athlete?

Elisabeth Akinwale

For the past three years, I have spent considerable time, energy, and money on gym memberships, personal training, fitness classes, and equipment to improve my physical, mental, and emotional health.  I’ve dropped 60 pounds and gained enormous amounts of energy. My knowledge of the human body is a hundred times better than it used to be.  And yet, until recently, there was a word that I had a lot of trouble associating with. A word that I am hearing more people use in reference to me for the first time in my life: Athlete.

Throughout the first 35 years of my life, I cannot recall anyone ever calling me an athlete.  Although I played soccer for a couple of years and took dance classes throughout much of elementary and high school, I was always more of a bookworm and choir girl.  While other kids were playing in volleyball tournaments, soccer games, and track meets, I was taking voice lessons, serving as an officer in the honor society, and participating in the quiz bowl team.  The only class I could never manage to crack an A in was gym class, which I hated with the fire of ten thousand suns.  As an adult in my 20s and early 30s, I had the very occasional flirtation with physical activity, but never enjoyed it at all. When I would get an itch to try and drop weight – I’ve been heavy since my last couple years of college – I always found it much easier to just focus on my food intake than it was to add exercise.

As a CrossFitter, I find myself consistently surrounded with ridiculously fit people who can do amazing things with their bodies.  The coaches at CrossFit boxes tend to call the participants in their classes athletes, which seems appropriate for the Sarahs, Melissas, Coltons, and Kennys in my world at CrossFit On Track, but I never felt it applied to me.  I’ve even protested using the term athlete on me with several people – the swimming coach I work with occasionally, a few of my fellow CrossFitters at the box, and a couple of CrossFit coaches, including my own coach. Most of them insist that the term does indeed apply to me, so I did what any good bookworm does – I went online to find a definition.

Merriam-Webster defines the word athlete as follows: “A person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.”

Upon first reading, this definition sounded very lofty to me, and I was quite sure I didn’t meet the criteria.  But in addition to being a bookworm, I’m very analytical so I decided to break the definition down into pieces for a closer look.

“A person” – well, I’m definitely a person. Check.

“who is trained or skilled” – I can’t really claim to be very skilled – there are so many things that I can’t even begin to do. But I do think I’m trained….I spend time training several times a week in Pilates and CrossFit and sometimes other things.  Check.

“In exercises, sports, or games” – I’m not much of a team sports person – I don’t play soccer or basketball or softball.  But CrossFit has games and even though I’ve never done a competition, I probably could do a scaled division in the future if I keep getting better.  And I DEFINITELY train in exercises.  Countless exercises ranging from cleans, snatches, squats, and ring rows to a multitude of tricks on the Pilates Reformer.  Check.

“Requiring strength, agility, or stamina” – I’m no Elisabeth Akinwale (CrossFit Games competitor shown above), but my strength is improving. My agility isn’t great but I can do dot drills without killing myself, and living through the Filthy Fifty is all the proof I think I need that I’m training in a way that requires stamina.  Check, check, and check.

Ok, so according to the dictionary, I’m an athlete.  But even after looking at that analysis, I didn’t really feel like it until a local CrossFit competition.  A local box held a team competition the last Saturday in December, and I volunteered to be a judge.  I had the privilege of meeting an athlete I’ll call Eva who has been doing CrossFit for about 3 months and was competing in the scaled division, which means she and her team would be adjusting some of the harder skills to fit their experience and fitness levels.  For example, instead of doing handstand pushups, the scaled competitors did hand-release pushups on the floor and instead of doing burpee pullups, they did burpee box jumps. Eva is about 5 years older than me, outweighed me by about 25 pounds, and not only was she new to CrossFit but she also hadn’t really been active at all prior to joining her box.  And yet here she was, proudly participating in her first competition, doing burpees into step ups and pushups from her knees, and beaming as her coach referred to her as one of his hardest working new athletes.  In that moment, there was no question in my mind that Eva is definitely an athlete.  And also in that moment, when I realized that I probably could have done even better in the competition than Eva if I hadn’t chosen to judge instead, I realized that yup, I’m an athlete too.

I don’t really know what it means to be an athlete because it’s such a new revelation, but I’m looking forward to figuring it out.

I am an athlete.


3 responses to “What, Me? An Athlete?

  1. Thank you for believing in what I said to you the first time I taught. You are doing an amazing job. Keep it up, you will inspire other athletes.


    • Thanks, Dennis. I get told fairly often that I’m inspirational somehow. Mostly I just feel like a regular girl and am not sure how I inspire, but I do my best for myself an other people. Just like a good trainer I know. 🙂


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