What Makes One an Athlete?

My favorite comedian, Mitch Hedberg, once joked that if he discovered he had athlete’s foot, he’d say, “That’s not my f***ing foot!”  I never considered myself an athlete as a kid.  I didn’t fit with that group of kids in school, despite playing some softball in middle school.  I am a bad team player and I much preferred doing Tae Kwon Do to playing a team sport.  As an only child, I learned early to rely on myself and I am too stuck in my own ways to work well with others.  I hated group projects in school.  I’m off-track, but, to my point, I was not an athlete before in my life.

Last month, I bought a Whoop fitness tracker.  The initial set up asked what kind of athlete I am for my profile.  I was annoyed that there was no option below casual athlete.  I marked this box, but it made me wonder.  Am I an athlete now?

I’ve been actively working out for over a year now, since February 2019.  I have lost over 60 pounds and gained muscles I didn’t know existed.  I can deadlift 200 pounds and run and do things I’d never dreamed were possible a few years ago.  I recently bought two knee sleeves for hyper extension issues and these are a game-changer.  I find myself pushing harder and longer.  After months of stagnation, my workouts have increased in intensity and frequency.  I find solace in my local gym, something that continues to baffle me.  I’ve made workouts routine.  But does all of this make me an athlete?

I’ve dwelled on this question and I’ve found an answer.  Although it may sound cliché, one is only an athlete if one has an athlete’s mindset.  I am still learning the limits of my body, but I have drive and commitment to be better every time I set in the gym.  I often think back to an embarrassing moment during my first day when my trainer was assessing my skills, or lack thereof.  I became stuck in an awkward position while attempting a bodyweight squat and had to fall over to get myself out of it.  I was deeply annoyed with my body and frustrated, but now I am not ashamed of that moment.  It was the start of my journey and now I can not only squat easily, I can deep squat with weight.  I’m learning so much about what my body can do.  I’m only limited by my mindset.  But with an athlete’s mindset, there are no limits.

Self-Talk and Mental Health

Over the past year (2019), I’ve been working hard to change how I talk to myself mentally.  My biggest hurdle was my inner voice.  It often tells me to give up and let it go.  But during the last few months, I’ve noticed a change of tone and dialogue.  Instead of “Give up; it’s okay,” I hear, “I’ve got this; you can do it!”  This makes me push myself for one more rep, one more minute, one more whatever.

This change has altered my mindset completely.  I don’t just give up and quit when faced with a challenge; I try to keep going until I’m satisfied, or I can go no more physically.  It has created new mental discipline I’ve never had before in my life.  The only time I remember pushing myself physically is when I did Tae Kwon Do as a preteen, almost two decades ago.

My new mindset has had such a positive effect on my mental health.  I tend to be acutely aware of my mood and mental wellbeing, since I’ve dealt with bipolar disorder and anxiety since I was 15 years old.  Over the past few months, I’ve noticed a general smoothing out of the swings I typically experience.  My highs are less severe, and my lows are less devastating.  My bounce-back time has also become shorter, from depressed to stable in only a day or two.  That’s not to say that my mental illness is gone; it is just less intense.

I crave the mental boost brought on by a good workout.  It helps carry me through my day, especially during long dark winter days.  That said, I know winter and January in particular will test my newfound mental stability.  The holidays make early winter more palatable, but after New Year’s Day, it is one long laborious wait until spring.  It usually takes an immense toll on my mental and physical health.

I need to keep telling myself, “You’ve got this!”