Monday, April 21, 2014

What is an athlete?

What is an athlete? Or, really, who is an athlete?

Lining up a few weeks ago with some strong women!
I once met a woman who finished twelve marathons, and still did not consider herself a “runner.” I talked to a little girl playing soccer who said she could “never be an athlete” because she cannot run as fast as the boys in her neighborhood. I met a guy who completed 100 century[i] bike rides and then told me that he wasn’t a cyclist, but that he “just wanted to see if it was possible” for him. 

For so many, the qualification of “true athlete” is really just an elusive category of exercisers whose qualifications change based upon whatever seems impressive, difficult, or just beyond reach. 

I’m writing this on the morning of the 118th running of the Boston Marathon. The best among them, including some of my teammates from Team Novo Nordisk, will finish in about two and a half hours. They are definitely athletes. By contrast, the woman who finished the NYC Marathon in last place had multiple sclerosis and persevered with every single step of a journey harder than most of us can imagine, finishing in 35 hours and 27 minutes. Her dedication is admirable if not heroic. Does that make her an athlete?

Miriam Webster says an athlete is “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina”. 
One of my favorite shots from last season. Definitely athletes.

I think I can do better. 

Being an athlete is really a state of mind. It’s about setting measurable goals, and pushing toward them. It’s about owning your health and your body, even when your work schedule is a mess and your child care is making it hard and you have PMS and a thousand other mental roadblocks and you just don’t want to do “it” today, whether the “it” is a run or a walk or a bike ride or an hour at the gym. But you do. 
No age discrimination.

An athlete is the teenage girl finding the courage to take a huge risk and try out for the team, even though she is not sure that she is good enough to make it. 

An athlete is the new mother, who can barely find the energy to get everything done in the day, going out for a run with her son in the stroller.

An athlete is the little girl who just scored her first goal and feels like she can do anything.

An athlete is the woman nervous at the start of her first race, hands shaking and goosebumps on her arms, carrying a set of aspirations for the day.

An athlete is the young student, training after class and before the start of her shift.

An athlete is the grandmother who decided that it is never too late to learn to surf, climb a mountain, take up dancing.

An athlete is the five year old with pigtails, pedaling her bike to school for the first time.

An athlete is proactive about her health. She is nurturing her body. She is strong and confident and giving it her best shot. She probably looks a lot like you, in fact. And that is totally, awesomely inspiring.

[i] A century ride is a bicycle ride of 100 miles (160.9 km) or more within 12 hours.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tomorrow is my tenth wedding anniversary. It is also World Autism Awareness Day. That, in my life, is befitting.

Having autism, Henry had to learn how to give and receive different emotions. This, for so many of us, is intuitive...or I thought so. But in the process of discovering my son, I realized how little I knew about love. Henry has been my most gentle teacher.

My marriage to my husband nearly dissolved in the first six months of our union. We struggled with one another and battled through the challenges of combining households and lives as if we were fighting for breath itself. Ultimately, we were too very independent people who could only meet in the middle so far without combustion. To this day, we live together with a distance between us that is hard for many to understand but, over the last decade, it has come to be space in which our lives can take shape and our marriage can be at rest. It's where we press against each other only so far before we melt into the same sheet of skin.

When Henry came into the world with autism at his side, I had to love him just because. I had to understand that his future was uncertain...but with that, I realized the uncertainty for us all. I suddenly couldn't afford to love someone because of what they might do in life, or who they might be, or even because they might love me back. In eight years of living, Henry has never uttered the words I hear my daughter speak nearly every day: "I love you, mom." 
I had to love him because loving was enough.

And then I had to teach him what that love actually is. Is it a tone or an action? And what if tone means nothing to you? What if touch makes you anxious? 
In my life, love has often been the predictability of routine. It has been embodied in silence. It has endured heartbreak and misunderstanding and frustration. It has been holding hands with a weeping child who cannot explain why he is crying. It has been screaming at my husband in exhaustion, and watching him smile peacefully back. It has been patience and calm at times, and then it has been determined and strong when required. 
When I think back on the last ten years, I realize it has been a journey to the person I was meant to be. I'm grateful to the two men who brought me here.