Talking to my high school self about athleticism would’ve have given me an awkward smile, tugging at the collar of my American Eagle shirt stolen from my younger brother (because it was cool and tighter than my clothes) and quickly retreating to the empty side of the cafeteria to eat alone. Obviously, you could say I was one of the cool kids. Despite running track and securing a spot on the varsity cross country team my first year competing, I did not consider myself athletic. Definitely not. No amount of clocking 5-something minute miles was going to change that. My bony knees could not compete with muscular frames of the wrestling team or the cult of Texas football. They were the standard for athleticism, so how could I be? Who was I to compare myself to those boys who so clearly were apart of the jock crowd? And please, don’t ever throw a football in my direction – I won’t catch it.
Today, living in New York with a job that requires me to be present in the fitness community, I am just now accepting that I may be athletic. No matter the number of jump squats, or muscle-ups I perform, I still struggle to accept my ability and place in an athletic community.
This notion of athleticism, a feeling of competence in sport is not a formula; sorry to say for those OCD among us. I am certain athleticism for my grandma is very different from that of Usain Bolt. One could argue as proficiency grows, so does this gauge of what is “athletic” for the individual. So what does it mean to be athletic for each of us? Perhaps, a sense of being, confidence in our success and failures, or possibly the cohesion of a community of do-ers, no matter skill level. And, framing this, just maybe, a lack of comparison.
“Instead of comparing myself to different men on Instagram, it’s a constant process to remind myself of my place in this community – of my ability to carve out my own corner and strive to be better for me.”
Joyce Carol Oates, in On Boxing, describes a boxer as always fighting their “shadow-self” – a concept I try to mirror in all sports. Specifically, when shadowboxing you are always fighting the person in the mirror, dodging and throwing punches as they reach towards you from the other you – the “past you” that you fight. To me, reminding myself of competency, dismissing a fear of comparison and just jumping in makes me feel extremely athletic, and capable to stake my place in a community of athletes.
It’s always you versus you, despite the other opponent or the buff guy in the gym next to you. Instead of comparing myself to different men on Instagram, it’s a constant process to remind myself of my place in this community – of my ability to carve out my own corner and strive to be better for me.
Be your own athlete, however that looks, wherever you need to start. And slowly chip away at your personal betterment while reaching back and lifting up other champions along your journey. Honestly, that’s the “jock crowd” I’d like to join.