Shy. Sensitive. Careful. Those words were me. And then I found my passion, and my identity, in sports. But what happens when you get injured? Or quit sports? Who are you then, when you can no longer call yourself an “athlete”?
I used to get pissed if someone said: “you are not an athlete”. It was like saying “your name is not Jemima”. It was like denying my entire existence, my whole identity. Because I found myself in sports. I found my courage, my heart and even my soul in those endless hours of pushing myself through hell and heaven. But I also lost myself in sports. I had no clue what I really was outside the track, without the number on my chest, the ball in my hand or the boxing gloves on my hands. And like most other athletes I had to face the day when I thought I would never do competitive sports again. I was no longer an athlete. And at that very moment I felt more ashamed, alone and disappointed in myself than ever before.
The following months were hard. Doing sports “just for fun” was not fun at all. And facing up to the big question: ”Who am I even anymore?” was even less fun. In my case I had started doing competitive sports when I was 7 years old. And to me, it had been a huge source of self-confidence. It was something I was good at and that I enjoyed. It was not only a lifestyle, it was me.
Those months of not being an athlete taught me that it is not healthy to have an identity that consists of only one word: athlete. It is not healthy to love sports more than anything in the world. No matter how passionate you feel about sports humans are still more important, and in my case also Faith. Because sports can take everything from you without giving much back in the long run. And someday competitive sports will come to an end. Someday you will no longer be an “athlete”.
Personally I opened my eyes to new hobbies, doing things I never had time for and met new people. I started really working on myself and questioning what I wanted in life. And I begun letting go of some of the things I had been, as an athlete. I let go of the toughness. Learned how to cry, how to be sensitive again. And I realised that labelling myself as an athlete had cut off many parts of myself that did not fit the “athlete” model. Many parts that had always been me.
Today I am back doing competitive sports. But I am running as a very different person now. I enjoy the journey a 100% and if I don’t make my goals it’s fine. Completely fine. I will give my best but that is enough. I know I might get injured tomorrow or the day before a huge race. But I will love it anyways. I will be happy for the things I got to experience. And I no longer care whether I am an athlete or not. Because I am so much more than that. And so are you.