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The only vote that counts

During the second mile of the Buffalo Marathon on Sunday I heard my name called from someone in the race.

I looked to my right.

It was Carolyn.

I hadn't seen Carolyn in some time. We swam together last year but scheduling made it easier (and more consistent) for me to swim in the mornings rather than the evenings. I had no idea she was running the marathon. She looked great and we hung together for a while. I pulled ahead and then noticed she finished about 10 minutes ahead of me.

I was so happy for her.

When we met, she told me that she started coming to swim lessons because she just always wanted to be an athlete.

I nicknamed her "rock star" because she was amazing in the water. At least to me.

Since then she's completed a triathlon and now a marathon. And I'm so proud to know her.

And so proud to see her become the athlete she always dreamed of.

It got me thinking about how we define ourselves. Which was a good thing. Because every once in a while I get an email that pretty much questions my entire existence. Like this one which showed up in my inbox the other day from a gentleman:

Okay.  Is your little experiment over yet?  To any observer, astute or otherwise (head in the sand included) you are not an athlete.
How many Amy Moritz's are there writing blogs about their mediocre training runs?  Now, how many get paid for it?  
11:32 mile pace?  This is as pedestrian as your 49 minutes for a 750 meter swim.
Anything worth doing is worth doing well.  And as soon as you finished your first season as a "competitive athlete" you express pie-in-the-sky dreams of a half-Ironman and maybe an Ironman.  No doubt you'd get the tattoo on your calf like all the others.  Hey look at my corporate symbol on my body.  Yeah, it's owned by the world triathlon corporation.  I'm getting the Pepsi logo next week.
You insult athletes by completely side-stepping the learning curve.
Not to mention, everybody with a mid life crisis these days is turning to multi-sport to right their ship.   
Based on your results you have no functional strength.  I'm curious what your dry-land consists of.  Like most wanna-bes, you'll state with great conviction that you work your "core" a few times per week. 
Now, I could go point-by-point here and make some corrections, like noting that I've never seriously entertained the notion of doing an Ironman nor have I ever thought about getting a logo inked on my body. Or that while I write and blog about my experiences as a triathlete I also write about a variety of other topics which include, but are not limited to, things like collegiate sports and professional tennis.
I could defend my 5:02 marathon finish or explain my slow swim in my very first triathlon or give a detailed description of my functional strength training.
But that's not really the point.
Because it's not about what this fella thinks about what I do or who I am. It doesn't matter how he defines who is and who is not an athlete.
What matters is how I define it for myself.
Yesterday, I heard Stanford women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer address students at Buffalo Seminary. She talked a bit about being authentic, knowing who you are and what you stand for.
What matters is not how the world sees you but how you see yourself.
Because you decide who you are -- and if you want that to be what someone else decides, you are just giving your power away.
Am I ever going to win a marathon? Probably not.
Does that mean I'm not an athlete? Not in my book.
To me, the person who trains for months to run their first 5K and finishes in 40 minutes is still an athlete -- if he or she chooses to believe that.
One of the most powerful things about my training has been gaining a greater understanding of who I am -- of facing my fears and those dark places we all have but really, really want to ignore. It's been about deciding who has a vote in defining who and what I am.
And I've come to the rather stern conclusion that there is only vote.
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