Given this past weekend’s events, I wanted to assess my own commitment to this sport and what it means to me. For without meaning, it serves no purpose. Certainly there’s the aspect of being the best, but there’s something deeper that makes me, and arguably every athlete out there competing, strive for more day in and day out. In this assessment, I wanted to point out for whom track and field is meant, and conversely, for whom it is not.
Let’s start with the list of those not meant for track and field. I’d like to keep this list short, as I believe this sport is generally all-inclusive. Anytime you see a tall, lanky athlete compete in the same vicinity as a 250lb plus athlete, you can be certain you’ll see plenty of diversity across the field. Nonetheless, there are some characteristics that simply have no place in T&F.
We’ll start with the faint of heart. Anyone who has ever competed in, or spectated at a track and field meet, realizes the amount of excitement in the air and overall thrill that comes with competing. The field often consists of topnotch athletes, while overly anxious parents cheer on their athlete. As one mother from my college days would scream, “Make your mama proud!”, it’s easy to see the flood of emotions that can occur at any moment. It takes a strong heart to support a T&F athlete, and an even stronger heart to lay it all out there for everyone to see.
Next is the obvious: cheats of any form. This is a sport built on integrity-both on and off the field of play. There are plenty of athletes who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals. Unfortunately, some will go to illegal means to reach those goals. Aiding to your abilities beyond the simple process of pure hearted training is a disgrace to the sport and everyone you compete with. Such cheats are not always caught, yet they taint the integrity of the sport all the same. Other forms of cheating occur outside the field of play, such as rule-bending politics, corrupting the sport at an even deeper level.
This weekend, the word “passion” was used a bit overzealously. I can appreciate being passionate and wanting to achieve a goal or help someone else achieve that goal, but when it’s at the expense of breaking regulations to achieve it, then it falls too quickly into political corruption. This sport should be the purest of all sports. Let’s be honest, we simply run, jump and throw arbitrary distances to see who’s better on the day. So why burden it with the fuss of political nonsense that can go on behind closed curtains? It’s already beautiful in its simplicity. There are governing bodies that are meant to uphold such rules and regulations, but when shady activity occurs on their watch, it leads to a whole lot of mistrust and fear. Neither of which can be allowed in track and field.
On the plus side, I must mention for whom track and field belongs, as I find strength in my own reasoning for participating in this sport. I’m sure all athletes can attest to why they became involved, or what drives them to succeed in this sport. But I feel it’s necessary to point out a few characteristics that every T&F athlete must posses to compete in and truly appreciate the sport of track and field.
The first one is simple: those with a desire to discover their best. We don’t all compete in the same event. That’s why we find the event(s) in which we perform best. From there, lies the challenge of discovering the best we can do within it. As a friend of mine discussed with me once, “I want to discover what exactly the best is of what I do best.” To me, there’s not a simpler explanation to describe the motivation behind just about every T&F athlete.
Those who wish to see the absolute awe-inspiring strength of the human spirit within themselves and others. At times you will be down; you will be out. But something within yourself will make you challenge everything you know about your physical limits, and will help you rise above it. I’m not certain that any athlete could fully describe the feeling they encounter when they reach new heights, but each of us can pinpoint the exact emotional response when we see other athletes have a breakout performance. I have a signed poster of Kim Conley’s reaction to making the Olympic Team in 2012 to motivate me towards my own goals. I believe the entire nation of T&F athletes felt, to some extent, the same level of excitement she had in her eyes when she reached what most of us dream of.
Those who view a loss as potential for growth. Whether it’s a setback such as injury, or not performing to your standard, you’ll have a few losses. Don’t focus on the loss at hand, but rather on the areas where the greatest potential for improvement lies. The ultimate goal for us all, in a general context, is to be better than what we were yesterday, which requires constant growth.
Those who seek to improve ethics in the sport. Just as athletes seek constant growth, we must ask the same growth to occur within the ethics of our sport, from each athlete and even more so from the governing body responsible for upholding regulations put forth for everyone competing. An athlete must perform to the standards set forth by such organizations as USATF, and we must in turn ask for continual improvements of ethics within the organization itself across all events.
For the survivors. This one can be two-fold. Any number of workouts can put you through the wringer and spit you out the other end. However, you come out of it stronger and more willing to take on anything, come next practice. The other aspect involves life itself. Just as we push ourselves in practice, we’re tossed curve balls every now and then that can push us to a breaking point beyond exhaustion, yet somehow we come out of it knowing and believing, “I will fight, I can survive this.” Each athlete has his/her own unique backgrounds. The more we realize what each of us has overcome, the greater our cause becomes, within ourselves and within our community.
For the humbled. Failures come more often than successes, but it’s a matter of how many times you’re willing to get back up and keep fighting the internal battle of bettering yourself as an athlete. Certainly there are egos to deal with, but each time I’ve accomplished a large goal, I’ve been more humbled in the moment as I reflect on all the small, and not so small, things that have led me to my success. Take a look at any athlete as they reach their desired mark and watch who they look up to in the stands as soon as they cross that threshold. I guarantee their gaze bolts towards their biggest fans, whether it’s their parents, siblings, spouses, etc., we know who to thank for reaching such heights.
The list for whom T&F belongs, is too vast to expand on in a single blog. But if you consider yourself to fit within the category of a track and field enthusiast, then I invite you to partake in this sport with me, as we continue to grow and learn from it, while striving to attain something greater than any one athlete can accomplish on his/her own. For none of us own the right to compete at this level, whatever that may be for you, we worked hard for the opportunity to showcase it. And just as we have had support along the way to get here, it is our responsibility to ensure that this sport maintains its integrity, and continue to lend it our support so that we continue to grow as a community.