Monday, June 4, 2007


For some time, I've hesitated to use athletic labels to define myself.

Inevitably in various conversations, someone will say/ask, "So, you're a runner, right?" or "So, you're a triathlete, right?" It's hard to know exactly how to answer. I run, I ride, I swim, I play. Usually, my response is something like, "Well...yes. I run/ride/do triathlons..."

For many people, there's comfort in knowing just exactly what type of sport they enjoy most. I have many friends who eagerly, happily, and confidently say "I'm a runner" or, "I'm an ultrarunner."

I feel uncomfortable with such labels, feeling as if they limit my potential as an athlete, and to some extent, as a human. I realize the pitfalls of such an attitude--"jack of all trades, master of none."

But allow me a few examples.

Michael Jordan was best known as the premier "dunker" in the NBA during his career, right? No. That's just how his career started. As the years went by, Jordan's game evolved from king of the slam dunk to outside shooter, great defender, and overall team leader. Today, when we talk about his career, we discuss his well-rounded game.

Example #2: Lee Iaccoca will forever be known as the man who saved Chrysler...right? Well, that's just part of his story. Rewind the tape a bit further and you'll find that he was the pivotal force behind the development and marketing of the legendary FORD Mustang.

Example "C": American distance running star Lynn Jennings was best known for her incredible streak of 3 consecutive World Cross Country titles in the early 1990s. And once again...that's just scratching the surface of her career. Often lost behind the highlight reel of those 3 storied victories are an Olympic Bronze medal in the 10,000 ('92, Barcelona) and an eye-popping thirty nine national running titles during her long career.

My point? What if Michael Jordan had been content to accept the label of "Dunkman" and play out his NBA career perfecting his above-the-rim game? What if Lee Iaccoca had retired from Ford, happy with his contribution to industry, and had never taken up the challenge presented to him in 1980s Detroit? What if Lynn Jennings listened to the media and focused solely on her career as a cross-country runner, never again to set foot on the track after her first few big c.c. victories?

Am I exaggerating the power of labeling oneself? I understand the positives of self-identity. Your parents told you: "Just do your best. If you're going to be an accountant, be the best accountant you can be. If you're going to be a ditch-digger, be the best damn ditch-digger you can be. Wear the label with pride.

As for my athletic pursuits, I simply choose to eschew the labels, preferring instead to keep my options open. An ultrarunner today. A bike racer tomorrow. And maybe a basketball player or car designer next week.


olga said...

And so good for you:)

Welcome to the Blogland, Desert Fish!

olga said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Backofpack said...

Olga is sending people your way! Welcome.

I teach parenting classes and one of the things we talk about is the labels we give our children - even the positive ones. They can be very limiting to children - "Mom says I'm the musical one" can be turned around in a child's mind to "I'm only good at music". And it also sends a message to siblings - he's the musical one, so I must not be musical. Anyway, your post makes sense to me - even though I've labeled myself with my blog name!

Donald said...

Hi there. Welcome to blogland. Be whatever you want to be, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Good luck at Badwater!