We counted the steps aloud, losing our breath but smiling the entire time. Sarah and I decided to explore as much of the Canyon Ste-Anne in Quebec as possible during our lunch stop, and that included crossing the pedestrian bridge — the highest one of its kind in Quebec — and hustling to climb down, and back, as much of the area surrounding the 74-meter high waterfall. We called this portion of the trip getting in touch with our inner athlete.
This marked the first time I ever came close to acknowledging, publicly, that I not only wanted to be an athlete, but that somewhere, inside of me, I already was an athlete. At this time, I was two years out of college and spending one of my first vacations as an adult helping my high school French teacher chaperone her semi-annual field trip to Quebec City. I had moved toward healthy eating and fitness, but was still years away from fully letting my inner athlete out to play — to train and race and find joy in physical challenges and competition. But here is what I believe: I was always an athlete. The difference was whether I believed that statement or not.
There was great discussion the other day on the Facebook page for Women Talk Sports, asking if a “female athlete” and “active woman” were the same person. Strong opinions said no, that female athletes train to compete and focus on achieving quantifiable results. Active, it seemed, was a lifestyle choice, presented (perhaps unintentionally) with a bit of disdain. While respecting the opinions and understanding the points of my fellow female athletes, the discussion made me uncomfortable.
If I had listened to this type of conversation during my formative adult athletic years, there’s a good chance that after my disastrous foray into open water swimming, I would have bagged the whole idea of being an athlete, losing out on the opportunities presented by my 70.3 races and the Esprit Iron Distance. There is a good chance I would decided that I was best served being “active” and not exploring my own athletic identity because clearly, I wasn’t quite reaching this particular definition of a female athlete.
Is there a difference between a female athlete and an active female?
The answer, I believe, lies in each one of us.
It doesn’t matter how someone else defines an athlete. It doesn’t matter how they might split hairs between athlete and active, between sport and activity. That definition is perfectly valid — for them.
What matters is I see myself, the definitions I choose to apply to our my life. Who do I want to be? What does being an athlete mean to me? How does that look and feel in my life? The doing follows the being. Showing up as my best self allows the opportunities for action to flow from there.
Definitions can be snags. We define ourselves with labels (athlete, artist, scientist. We define ourselves with judgement (poor math skills, good organization). We define ourselves with self-deprecation and comparisons. In my humble opinion, we do ourselves a disservice when we try to pinpoint definitions. I don’t want to limit myself. I want to expand my possibilities, grow my definition of myself, regardless of conventional wisdom. There is a universe of possibility inside of me. Sometimes, I just need to sit with it and allow it to be heard.
My inner athlete taught me that.