What’s an Athlete?

Google’s definition of what an athlete is says so much, don’t you think?

What's an athlete?

Proficient and skilled are a matter of opinion, but the Latin/Greek roots are pretty clear and the definition I’d been working with since I was on the tennis and gymnastic teams in high school (and briefly swimming and track, but those are stories for another day.)

A race is a competition, and I enter races all the time, but I don’t expect to win any prize other than an obligatory “yay, you finished!” medal and brunch afterwards. Maybe one day I’ll get an AG prize in a small race, but I’m not holding my breath.

Lately, I’ve been hearing the message, “if you move, you’re an athlete” or hearing recreational runners like myself calling themselves athletes. Maybe it’s part of the old me I haven’t let go yet, but I didn’t consider myself an athlete.

But last week, I went to the Under Armour I Will What I Want launch.

I saw that epic Misty Copeland ad you may have seen once or twice by now, and we heard the CEO, Kevin Plank, talk. He wants to change the way women think of themselves as athletes — if you go to Pilates, if you do ballet, if you do yoga, if you do triathlons, you’re an athlete. (He also, obviously, wants to sell clothes, but I still like the emphasis he’s taking on women’s athleticism.)

Sitting in a big room full of reporters, with Misty on stage watching her own ad, I got the chills and still do watching it. Lindsey Vonn and Kelly O’Hara are two other badass female athletes part of this I Will What I Want campaign.

They’re not ready to take no for an answer. Lindsey Vonn said she wants to be the best skiier of all time. Misty Copeland said she wanted to be the first African-American lead of a ballet. I don’t believe these women are taking no for an answer, and I think we recreational athletes can do the same.

I won’t lie that that slogan crossed my mind a few times during the tri. I wanted to finish, and I will, I told myself.

What do you want that you will make happen? What do you consider the definition of athlete? Do you consider yourself an athlete?

12 comments on “What’s an Athlete?

  1. meredith @ The Cookie ChRUNicles

    I think my high school gym teacher would argue that there is no way I would ever become someone referred to as an athlete(especially a runner) but at some point over the last bunch of years, I do believe I can be called one. Athlete sounds like too technical of a word to describe me although I really shouldn’t think like that. I do call myself a runner though and that title makes me proud.

  2. Shawna

    i like these “food for thought” posts and the questions you raise about what defines an athlete. it’s something i’ve thought a lot about as well, as i’ve always been very “athletic” in terms of my build, my ability to play most sports semi-well recreationally, and my love for anything athletic/active/outdoorsy/body-in-motion sort of stuff. however, i dabbled in lots of sports/teams throughout my life but never stuck with one as seriously as i have with running, and that’s been for my own personal health and wellness and sanity and pure love for that part of my life — and people who know i run will ask me all the time if i’ve always been an athlete, and i never quiiiiite know how to answer that, either. will i make it to the Olympics for running? heck no. is it an integral part of my life that i couldn’t imagine living without? heck yes. so am i an athlete, then? i’d say yes. we define ourselves by what we believe is true about ourselves, whether we run on the west side highway or on TV. i like the idea of athletes coming in all shapes and forms and ability levels, united by our passion and our determination to stick with it. okay now that i wrote a novel…haha good post.

  3. Katie

    I am most definitely not skilled! I use the term “active” much more. Mainly because these things are still hobbies for me. But some people need that empowerment of “athlete” and that’s great too!

  4. Kim

    Once I finished my first sprint triathlon I was so proud that I could call myself “a triathlete”. 2 down and another coming up in a month, my goal isn’t to win anything, mostly to just not be last, but I’m doing it. I train for it, I finish it, I do it. If I’m a Triathlete, I think that definitely qualifies me as an athlete as well.

  5. Katie @ Talk Less, Say More

    I’ve actually written posts on this topic as I DO consider myself an athlete. It took me many years to get there but I do, just like it took me years to consider myself a runner, but I do. I might not be a COMPETING athlete but I’m pushing myself everyday to be stronger, faster and fitter than I was yesterday and that counts in my book!

  6. Fiona

    That’s the fist time I’ve seen that commercial. I like it.

    I had an english teacher in high school who told me I’d never make it to university. I squashed his expectations by not only going but graduating with my degree. Blowing through other people’s expectations always feels good.

  7. Kelly

    Hi Theodora! Long time reader, first time commenter. I work for Under Armour and I’m so glad you like our new campaign. We are all athletes! Keep up the great blogging!

  8. Ashley

    I am by NO means naturally athletic, and I have a husband who just oozes athleticism without effort. Doesn’t make me any less of an athlete 🙂

  9. joelle @ on a pink typewriter

    I am LOVE this hashtag and recently tweeted Under Armour to tell them so. 🙂 I never, ever felt like an athlete as a kid, and it really wasn’t until I started running regularly and then running races that I really started to embrace the classification.

  10. Virginia

    What’s funny is that I never considered myself an athlete. I struggled with my weight for many years before I got married. After I got married, I decided to take weight loss very seriously. It was only until then that I was able to cut a lot of my fat and actually look more like my idealized self.

    Even to this day, I still don’t consider myself an athlete despite my amazing transformation. This was an interesting read 🙂


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