How to Discover your Inner Athlete

I exercise almost every day. It kind of comes with the territory of being an Olympian who’s married into the world of fitness, but I pretty sure that’s not why I do it. I exercise every day because it makes me happy. Like, I actually mostly enjoy exercise in the moment.  People will tell me, “ah, exercise is so hard, it takes so much willpower.” But once you make it a solid habit of it in your life, once you create some positive structure around exercise, you don’t even have to think about it.

Exercise is just something you do – like eating or sleeping. At times it takes a bit of willpower to tear myself away from my computer or my book, or the fact that I am cuddling the world’s most amazing pooch, but I do it.  I know that exercise will feel okay at the time, it will feel pretty good afterwards and will absolutely positively affect my frame of mind from day to day. I view the benefits as being three dimensional in terms of time and space.  It’s good now, it’s great when you finish, and it’s profound over time.

I have a friend who claims she hates exercise.  I find this kind of funny, because it’s kind of like saying you hate food.  Surely there are some foods you like. You hate all food?  Maybe the Stairmaster isn’t her thing (is it anyone’s thing?), but what about dancing, or walking along the beach, or playing golf with a friend?  You hate all of it?  Many of us decided a long time ago whether we are athletes. In fact, I see that lots of people divide the world into the athletic and the non-athletic. You people are the jocks, and then there are the rest of us. I guess that’s a pretty good excuse to write off all physical activity.  But, again I find this curious because these are merely mental constructs that we have created to find a way of defining our relationship to ourselves and the world. 

If I land on the athlete side, which, since I did compete in four Olympics, logic would say I am athletic.  But here’s the thing, I suck at a lot of sports -- I mean a lot.  I take a long time to learn a new sport, I don’t have stellar hand-eye coordination, and a lot of sports like rugby, wrestling, and lacrosse, just plain scare me.  I am better at those more repetitive sports like running, or rowing, or x-country skiing, where you get to do the same thing over and over again. I engage and explore countless other sports though, because limiting myself to a handful just doesn’t make sense.  I learned to downhill ski in my late forties.  I fell off the chair lift a record five times in the first season, and now I can ski black diamonds.  It’s not pretty, but I get down the hill.  My husband and I are figuring out a dancing coach so that we can channel our big bodies and big enthusiasm into something that might look a little better on the dance floor.  I have heard it said that the number one way to keep your mental faculties is to engage in new physical activities because they build the left brain right brain connections. With a close relative battling Alzheimer’s, I think this may also be an investment in the future.

You are far more intelligent, confident, and physically able than your High School self; or at least the self that you hold in your outdated image of yourself. The majority of my friends don’t consider themselves athletes, and yet most of them are far more able to pick up a new activity than I am.  These boxes we put ourselves into can be incredibly limiting.  The idea that we are not athletic can keep us from the gym –- stopping us from lifting the weights we need to lift in order to prevent osteoporosis. Those High School flashbacks of being hopeless in basketball can prevent us from joining a women’s tennis league today. It’s frustrating that so many of us give these terrible memories of High School sports so much power.  Here’s a newsflash. Most of us felt terrible about ourselves in High School!  If High School was the peak of your popularity or athletic prowess, you are the minority.  Most of us, despite possibly excelling at a sport or activity, have an outdated image of ourselves as clumsy, weak, and uncoordinated. If this old idea of your athletic talent is preventing you from embracing all the fun and benefits of physical activity and sport, I would challenge you to let it go.  Take a risk and try something new. 

In my rowing days, I dreaded weight lifting.  I didn’t think I was particularly good it but viewed it as a necessary evil.  Now, I love it.  I have so much fun lifting weights and experiencing my body becoming a little more coordinated and stronger as the season progresses.  I love having strong arms and a powerful back. I love knowing that I am more able to lift groceries and the 22kg dog food out of the car, because I hit the gym a couple times a week.  Opening ourselves up to the benefits of moving our bodies, we may be surprised at the layers of benefit we experience. We may even discover we are indeed, athletes.