What It Means To Be An Athlete

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be an athlete.

Oh sure, I have run a few races, trained (and DNS) for 2 half marathons, completed a triathlon, and can throw some heavy weights around, but does that make me an athlete?

Dictionary.com defines an athlete as “a person trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility, stamina, or strength”.

When I think of an athlete, I think of those sub 20min 5k runners, the talented runners who can run a marathon in nearly 2 hours, those that complete an Ironman, or those guys who deadlift 600lbs.  Sure, when I’ve raced and lifted weights I’ve trained, so I have that in common with my idea of athletes – but my training is nothing compared to their hours of hard work. 

I’m definitely not talented at anything athletic; I have to work my butt off to get the mediocre results I do get.  Some people are just born to run, to lift, to play tennis, or to swim – their genetics, talent, and drive all come together to make the perfect athlete.

So where does that leave the rest of us – the middle-of-the-packers, those of us that put the time in, show up and perform, but still aren’t winning our age groups, or setting new records? Well, if we go by the definition above, then we are definitely athletes.  However, for me it’s easier to attribute the athlete title to others, even those like myself, because I just can’t see myself as an athlete.  And I don’t know that I ever will.

To that extent then I guess being an athlete is more mental than anything – kind of a state of mind.  As long as we put the work in, and train hard, and show up on race day, game day or competition day and show everyone what we’ve got, and we truly BELIEVE we are athletes, then that’s what we are.

I hope that I can get there someday myself.


What is your definition of athlete? Do you consider yourself one?

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14 thoughts on “What It Means To Be An Athlete

  1. YOU are an athlete. If you do something for more than recreation, ATHLETE. If you commit yourself to accomplishing a goal and improving repeatedly, ATHLETE.

    Own it. You are one.

  2. I agree with all of the above but I know that I still have a hard time when someone refers to me as an athlete, like “who? me??” But we all are athletes – we’re in the room, out on the road, in the field day in and day out, committed and dedicated. But I think most importantly, enjoying it.

  3. Great post, Carly! My first inclination was to say that being an athlete means you’re committed, dedicated and working toward a specific goal in a specific pursuit. But the more I think about it, the less I think the word “athlete” is important at all. I had the same battle with calling myself a climber back when I climbed a lot…did it mean I had to climb at a specific level? did it mean I had to excel in all climbing disciplines? As long as you’re getting after it, IMHO, you can call yourself whatever you want :)

  4. I define a true athlete as a fierce competitor, someone with a drive for excellence in their sport, even if they aren’t necessarily the the best out there.
    I consider myself an athlete because I have played sports all of my life, I was never the best out there but was always dedicated and tried my hardest :)

  5. Pingback: Top 10 of the Week - Food, Fitness, and Family

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