I remember one day right before my very first Crossfit Open Games, there were tears.
Messy, ugly crying, I am telling you.
It was hard and I felt so awkward and ugly and “why am I here because I am so fat?” and “why am I competing in The Open when I am totally out of my league here????”
I didn’t feel like a “competitor”.
I felt like the lone rhinoceros in a sea of muscular, beautiful, fit unicorns.
And that inner voice, the mean one–saying, “Who do you think you are?”
And then Emily, my personal coach, was talking to me.
Emily has a way with her “inspirational” speeches. Some of my favorites are:
“Hurry and get this round done. Only nine more after this one!”
“There’s no time cap, so you’re good!”
“Well, if you don’t like this, we can do 300 burpees!”
“Almost there. Only 700 more meters!”
And my favorite,
“We can drop the weight or quit if you want.”
Because she knows I will get mad and work harder and finish just to spite those words.
But today was different. She looked at me and she said,
“You know, all athletes have bad days. And all athletes have emotional stuff come up sometimes.”
And I looked down at my rhinoceros self and looked at her and I said,
“I am NOT an athlete.”
And she said with absolute conviction, “Yes you are.”
I don’t remember what else she said to me.
I don’t even remember how I walked to my car, because my left leg was burning and my head was spinning, but I will never forget how I felt when she said
“Yes, Misty, you are an athlete.”
I remember watching the Olympics in 1996. My sisters and I loved gymnastics, even attending the nationals “just for fun.” Our lives stood still when The Magnificent Seven competed for a first time ever Team Gold. I will never, ever forget watching Kerri Strug’s face as she sprinted toward the vault with her injured ankle, completely determined.
Kerri Strug, who had never quite fit in and had suffered some really awful injuries, including torn stomach muscles and severely pulled back muscles after falling off the uneven bars in 1994.
I will never forget watching her stick that vault landing, clinching the gold.
For the team.
I will never forget seeing her and watching her decimate all the limitations.
After all the injuries, all the not quite fitting in–I know she must have heard that voice, “Who do you think you are? Do you even belong?”
And she didn’t just ignore that voice, she destroyed it.
I will never forget so many moments watching the best of humanity played out in sport–with athletes who not only excel physically, but whose sense of love and determination to break barriers and achieve beyond what human beings think was possible momentarily brought the whole world a little closer, a little higher, a little stronger. A little better.
That, to me was an athlete.
And I didn’t see that in myself.
But that day, she saw it in me.
I am trying to do something impossible. And it’s HARD.
Definitely, I haven’t realized physical near perfection yet, and I certainly hadn’t that day, but I was actively training for it.
And I still am.
And, more importantly, I learned something else about myself.
If I am too tired to go on, I try for one more rep. One more calorie. One more second. One more round.
No matter what, I will not make excuses.
I won’t give up and I won’t quit.
You know why?
Because she called me an athlete. And that means something to me.
It means I won’t quit. I won’t stop. For me, barriers are just something I am going to break down.
And as I look around the gym, I know I am not the fastest, strongest, and definitely not the fittest–but these strong, kind, fit, fast and determined people are my friends.
They are my comrades.
They see that although I am on a very different part of the journey, I am still there, walking the path–sometimes crawling–sometimes clawing my way forward–but I am there. Not quitting.
They are my fellow athletes.
They accept me and they help me and they cheer me on because, as true athletes know–it’s all about the team.
Every day. Every week. Every second. Every rep. Never quitting.
True athleticism is something that is borne in the heart.
Are you an athlete?
Because the greatest athletes are not what they are without having that heart.
The heart that says you are not going to quit.
No matter what.
Not just for yourself–but for the team that is the human race.
As athletes, we can make all of humanity greater by defying our own personal limitations and reaching further and higher until we open new frontiers, not just for ourselves, but for humanty. And we can inspire others to do the same.
So, even though I don’t “look” like an athlete–I am beginning to have an athlete’s heart.
And as I keep pushing my boundaries, I hope one day to defy them completely.
I know I will.
I am an athlete.