Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sports Talk: What is an athlete?

As a correspondent sports writer for The Casey County News, I write an weekly editorial column for the publication. Published Apr. 2 , 2014.  
There are many ways to define an athlete and there are many types of athletes when you think of them in terms of sports, but at the heart of it, what is an athlete? I learned my own lesson in this last weekend when I participated in the Run The Bluegrass event in Lexington.

The fairly new half marathon event is a celebration of spring in Kentucky and my sister is the assistant race director so my husband and I decided this year we would partake in the event by simply doing the seven mile run they offer. I wanted to do the race for a couple of reasons:
   (1) To get myself back into running shape after having had my first baby. 

   (2) To support my sister first hand and see the end result of her hard work.

Unfortunately, with this winter's weather (and now having a babe to keep up with) my training did not exactly go according to plan and even the seven miles was a lot more than my body was technically ready to handle.

On top of being unprepared for the mileage, Saturday's poor weather was a major disappointment. However, waiting in our corral to get to the start line and very cold from the intense wind and the spitting rain (still unsure I could even complete the 7 miles!), I realized I was really unphased by the weather. I'd seen worse. Much worse. And it wasn't like there was an option to bail.

As an athlete you know that when it's time to compete, the things you can't control--like weather--might as well be a side note. It could be worse--and everyone around you, whether you see them as competition or teammates, is dealing with the same conditions. On top of that, you have prepared accomplish the particular feat and a little rain and cold will not stop you.

What is an athlete? Someone who doesn't back down from the challenge they have prepared themselves for, despite the conditions.
 So even though I got over the wet and cold, I still was unsure of how I could do seven miles I had not trained for; but I am blessed to have spent 11 years of my life training and competing and even more than that running in general. My legs were able to find their easy pace, settle in and stick it out. I remember even in my earliest track practices as a 6th grader running around the CCMS gym, if we were doing a 10 minute run for a cool down, I never walked. I found a way to keep going.

What is an athlete? Someone who battles through the obstacles to complete the task they set out for.

But my own accomplishments on Saturday were nothing compared to many of those racing that day. Especially one of Casey's finest, Amy Barlow.

photo courtesy of Amy Barlow
My memories of Amy go way back to being a youngster who admired the Lady Rebel star. Not did I look up to her for her skills as a basketball player who led the team to its first 12th Region Championship, but for the kind, humble, soft-spoken role model she was to those of us up and coming in Casey sports. She encouraged us and helped people like myself get on our own track to becoming true athletes. I remember later watching Amy play at Centre College during her collegiate career.

It's an understatement to say Amy's had her setbacks as an athlete. (And she is the first to praise God for the miracles and blessings he has showered her and her family with through the past several years.) Yet, Saturday I truly came to appreciate that the athlete in Amy cannot be extinguished.

My husband happened to spot Amy before the race began on Saturday so we joined the fellow Casey County crew--Marty Shackleford, Ellen Allen and Ashley Estes--for some pre race pep talk and commiseration over the poor weather. Amy and the others were running the full 13.1 miles. (Yeah, we felt like slackers...)

I have seen Amy at most of the local 5Ks I have covered over the last few years but on Saturday she completed a half marathon--something only a select group of people can lay claim to. Heck--I've been a runner for most of my life and I have only done one half marathon.

While I have always known Amy to be a very hard working and dedicated individual, I realized something else after she completed Saturday's run--in the wind, rain and cold. (And I will note that the weather turned worse around the time I finished my seven miles, so Amy was running in the worst of it.) Amy is an athlete through and through. When her basketball playing days ended, most people in Amy's shoes would have been ecstatic to simply be alive. And don't get me wrong. I know Amy is that, but she has found a way to let that athlete in her live on. She may no longer compete on a court where there is a scoreboard and she's attempting to outdo the opponent. The competition of a runner is oneself and sometimes facing that opponent is even tougher.

I learned long ago that Amy was someone to admire for the person she was, but many of us also admired her for the athlete she was. All of us still admire her for the person she is and what she has endured, but last weekend I realized the athlete in Amy is still thriving and is still worthy of much admiration. Young or old, any athlete should aspire to her level of dedication and work ethic in order to compete at their best and come out on top.

What is an athlete? Someone who loves to put in the work that it takes to be a competitor--even if the competition is oneself.

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