Ode to a River
Preparation

What is an Athlete?

Despite the fact that I will be completing my third triathlon in less than a week from today, I have a hard time thinking of myself as an athlete or as an athletic person.  Athletes played sports in high school, maybe even college, and they were good at them.  They do sporty things.  You look at them and say -- hey, she's really athletic.  That's not me. 

As a kid, I got picked last for kickball teams.  I played a mean left bench on my soccer team.  In softball, I played outfield, with the exception of one unfortunate season when I played catcher, and spent most of my time doing cartwheels and singing to myself to stave off the boredom.  Sure, I dabbled in things like gymnastics, but it was never competitive.  I didn't do anything athletic on a consistent basis until I turned 30.  It was that birthday that motivated me to become more active in my life --  I figured that I hadn't done it up to that point, so it was high time I did, as an investment in my physical future.  So that's when I started cycling.  I rented a bike with my brother and his friend, and almost keeled over in my one loop around Central Park.  I think of that day every single time I hit the big hill on the North end of the park. 

Since then, I have cycled literally hundreds, likely thousands of miles, completed several 5k runs, one sprint triathlon, and one Olympic distance triathlon, with one more to come next week.  So why then am I still struggling with the notion that I am athletic?  Because it's not easy for me.  I'm not fast.  I'm not particularly competitive.  I don't want to win.  And it's hard.  Cycling and swimming are easier for me than running, but every time I run -- every single time -- it is hard.  My breathing is labored.  I am slow.  My heart races.  I want to stop.  Some part of me hurts, usually my shoulder, my knees, or sometimes something else.  Running is always hard for me, yet something inside me pushes on, because I know, at the end of it, I'll feel good, like I've accomplished something that's good for me.  Even if I take a walking break, I never allow myself more than 60 seconds. 

I also think that if I can do it, non-athlete that I am, that anyone can do it if they just try.  But that's not the case -- some people don't try -- won't try.  There's something in me that does try.

Maybe I am an athlete after all.  I keep pushing myself.  I want to beat my time from last year.  If I keep saying it, maybe I'll believe it.  I am an athlete -- a triathlete, even!  It's time I started admitting it to myself, getting comfortable with it, and owning it.

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