"Well, you have no symptoms and since you are an athlete, I am not concerned."
I didn't hear much of what the cardiologist had to say after that. It was, in fact, the very first time I had ever had anyone refer to me as "an athlete". It was so notable, that I felt a slight wind thrust forward in my throat as my vocal cords prepared to correct the mistake. I kept my mouth shut, however.
During my physical last month, my heart rate was notably low. I was referred to a cardiologist to have a few diagnostics done. After reviewing the results, and a medical and family history, the doctor explained to me that it is not the heart rate number, in and of itself, that is of concern but rather it's relation to other factors, such as symptoms, none of which I presented with abnormally, thankfully.
In an effort to ward off some darker moods this winter, (and get out of the pandemic prison that was my bedroom), I upped my exercise game. I started running more and farther outdoors than I typically would and supplementing that with workouts from YouTube.
Today, it makes sense that some of my vitals might be affected. But, thwarting me into the category of "athlete" was not something I ever considered.
Notoriously "unathletic", uncoordinated and driven by old-school definitions of what I thought athleticism meant, (largely defined by old world gym curriculums that focused more on sports than health and wellness), I concluded that I was just not gifted with any sort of ability. My sister, on the other hand, was. The difference was hard to ignore. Furthermore, I assumed it was best left as it was, being too frustrating for anyone else who would have to endure my attempts (teammates or otherwise).
I made peace with it, if not for temporary bouts of envy during the work picnic, family backyard game or shared embarrassing anecdote from my youth.
From it's Greek lineage, the most pure reference to the word "athlete" is with respect to one who competes. A recent inquiry (read "Google") does broaden the definition to allow for "people with a high level of dedication, skill and fitness". Is that me? I like to qualify my journeys along the canal near my home more as "interpretive running". Dedication, sure. But skill...fitness?
I am always very careful to not qualify myself as any one thing (other than a parent). I have been running for a long time and I know really dedicated runners. I am not one of them. Therefore, you never see me posting my running mileage, pace or requisite selfie (though it is inspiring when others do). That is at least partially the reason. I'm also keenly aware of my fear of being held accountable for something that one day that may not be the case the next.
So, out of respect (and a healthy dose of self-doubt), I find myself conditioning my response to what I participate in based on what I believe to be true - what it takes to be a "real" runner or athlete, what it means to be a "full time" comic or musician and the like.
Recently, during a 4-day leadership conference I was selected to attend for work, I was in a breakout room when we were asked what our commitment should be as a leader in the organization. I was the one who confessed, "to be honest, I'm struggling with whether I'm even really a leader in the first place" - not the thing you probably want to admit in front of work colleagues. But it was true. I take words seriously. Leadership. Courage. Athlete. There must be some sort of standard.
At the same time, I don't have to self-sabotage myself by categorizing all the things I try to do or accomplish as not being worthy of some sort of proclamation, even if it is through the silent voice in my head or the audible one coming from a doctor. There is a balance between humility and pride and the two are not mutually exclusive.
Two weeks ago, I signed up for a lottery to win a spot in the 10-mile Philadelphia Broad Street Run in October. I never win anything (except Pictionary from time to time), but last Wednesday the email came through and I was selected. I know this is no coincidence. The email couldn't be clearer. I am listed as a "runner", right there in black and white.
I'm still not sure if I would call myself an athlete but I'm not just a spectator, either.
Until next time,