This is a letter for all of us who don’t quite know what to call ourselves after sports.

Athlete: (noun) a person trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility, stamina, or strength; a participant in a sport, exercise, or game requiring physical skill.

Dear definition,

I think society tells us that since we no longer step onto the field or the court three to four times a week for practice or a game, no longer done a uniform, and no longer differentiate between preseason, in season, and off season, that we are no longer athletes. Case in point: I was sitting at the kitchen table discussing my sister’s latest soccer game when she spoke up and said, “What do you know? You’re not an athlete. You don’t play anymore.” I was shocked at how much those few words hurt me and gave me an identity crisis. Who was I now that I am only exercising for fun and not for a game or a tournament?

No. I don’t play anymore. I finished my last soccer season almost two years ago. No. I can’t play a full soccer match and come back ready to practice the next day. No. I’m not in game shape anymore. But just because I retired my cleats, doesn’t mean I stopped knowing everything I ever learned, stopped loving the game, and stopped being an athlete.

“Some people say I have an attitude— maybe I do… but I think you have to. You have to believe in yourself when no one else does— that makes you a winner right there.” – Venus Williams

After sports, my conclusion is that “athlete” is not just a title that comes with being on a team, playing a sport, and competing against others. It’s a mindset, an emotion that becomes a part of you, ingrained in your personality, in your soul.

It’s motivation— to be successful in all aspects of life, to do what needs to be done: working to make the grades, to make money, to make dreams happen. It’s dedication— to give 110 percent every day, to break out of your comfort zone, to make yourself better. It’s commitment— to studies, to goals, to ambitions. It’s passion and desire— for the game, for life, but also for food and sleep.

“There may be more people that have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.” – Derek Jeter

Even though we may not wear a uniform and we may not step onto the field or court as much anymore, you can tell we are still athletes. We still have our muscles from years of training. We still have our bumps, our bruises, our scars from battles won. We still have our love and appreciation for athletics. And, we still have the intense mental discipline and focus that comes with being a part of a team or organization that unites for a common goal— to push ourselves to our furthest limits just because we can, and then come back the next day and push even further.

So definitions, please don’t insult us by thinking because we decided to pursue other aspects of life besides sports that we stopped being athletes. I could go on, but it think this sums it up:

Once an athlete, always an athlete.

Published by Anne Long