Why I Am Not an Athlete

I’ve been listening to Mark McClusky’s book Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science is Creating a new Generation of Superathletes and What We Can Learn From Them.  The title is unwieldy, but it’s actually really interesting.  This is the first book that has made me care even a little bit about golf, which is remarkable enough in itself.  There’s so much that is interesting to me about how small changes make a huge impact.

But the book is also frustrating in ways that have nothing to do with the book itself.  McClusky makes it pretty clear early on that elite athletes are not like the rest of us.  They’re kind of freaks, and their weird genetic gifts are not something that normal people can achieve by just taking their vitamins and knowing which muscle groups to train.  Still, I feel like I’m not even really the “weekend warrior” type no matter how much I work out.

I like working out, but I also suck at it.  For every time I feel like I’m just a little bit of a badass for doing a 10 mile run, I do something dumb like sprain my ankle walking to the car. That’s a true story, and it is a huge source of frustration for me right now.  You know the saying “Time heals all wounds”?  Well, it turns out that a badly sprained ankle takes a lot of time.  It was getting better, and then I do something small like rotate my foot a tad too much and it is tweaked again.

I can work out.  I can get into better shape. I can lift weights.  But, I am still not graceful in the way that naturally gifted athletes are.  There are times–like now, when I wish that I could run–when it seems dumb that I exercise at all.  Sure, it lessens my stress levels and it’s good for me, but continuing to do something that I am always going to kind of suck at seems stupid.  Hell, I walked into a door twice in the last month.  Why am I not constantly sitting on cushions wrapped in bubble wrap?

But maybe that’s the problem with sitting on the sidelines.  When I’m able to work out, I can see improvement even if they are small in comparison to the woman who went from never having been on a rowing time to winning the gold medal in rowing, they are tangible.  The last bike ride I did, I rode for an hour, practiced a few new skills, and felt super proud of what I’d done.  When I can’t work out, I’m only left to brood about the fact that I injured myself walking to the car.

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