What You Did is Who You Are
I know a lot of people who think I’m pretty unusual. I’m a 60+ year old athlete who trains and competes in two disciplines: track and field and powerlifting. Most people are shocked when they learn I compete in just one of them. Competing in two just makes me odd.
All the time I hear, “I could never do that.” Or, “You’re so lucky, to be gifted athletically.” Much younger people shake their heads and say, “That’s amazing.” One morning at 6:00 a.m., on a high school track, as I completed a set of 200 meter repeats, a high school track athlete said, “Hey, Mister. How old are you?” When I told him, he let out a whistle. “That’s awesome.”
It would be easy to get caught up in all this, and don’t think for a minute that I don’t enjoy it somewhat. But the fact is that they have it all wrong. Twenty years ago I smoked too much, probably drank more than I should, and didn’t do anything more physical than mow the lawn. Ten years ago, I worked out on a semi-regular basis, but didn’t do much to push myself. And I was the result of that lifestyle. I was an ex-athlete, an increasingly out-of-shape guy, probably heading toward a multitude of problems.
Around this time, my wife was beginning to run, and she was beginning to want to run the 5K races you see on the weekend. We ran one together, finishing at the same time, and as we cooled down and socialized, the medals began to be handed out. She was shocked to learn that she was the second fastest in her age group and got a medal. Beaming, she said, “I bet you get one too!” After all, we had finished together.
I just laughed. “Look over there,” I said, pointing to a couple of guys whose thighs were about the size of my arms. “They are the same guys who ran cross country in high school. This is their event. It’s not my event.”
“So what’s your event?"
I was a sprinter up through college. I was always fast, but I had not run as hard as I could in years. “They don’t have my event anymore,” I said.
“I bet they do,” she said.
I started doing research, and I found a whole culture, right out in the open: Masters Track and Field. USA Track and Field is one set of opportunities. State Games is another. Senior Games still another. Once I started looking, I found all kinds of opportunities everywhere.
But I could not just start showing up. Either pride or fear wouldn’t let me do that. So I began to train. I began to look for articles and interviews that would point me toward being competitive again. And, after going to a couple of meets as a spectator, I discovered an interest in the multi-events, which people know as decathlon but which, for us folks with day jobs, gets shortened to a pentathlon.
If I was going to be a pentathlete, I was going to have to change a lot of things. In other words, what I had been doing was not going to make me a multieventer. What I did from then on would have to make me into the thing I wanted to be.
This is what I want to say, and do say, to those who are surprised by my athletic pursuits: if you want it, start today. Change your habits. Make a commitment. Stay with it. Nine years after that fateful 5K race, I have state records, national rankings, and a couple of world rankings—not because I am so talented, but because I have made a conscious choice to do the things to make me what I want to be.
I used to say to my students: “Who would you be if you didn’t know who you are?”
There is a challenge implicit in that question. Why aren’t you who you want to be?
Make the choice. Start a new path.