Five things that make you a better athlete

Spring has sprung in Ohio. The hibernation has ended. The outdoors has come back to life with hikers, runners and cyclists. I am an avid fan of the outdoors and have been enjoying my share of these activities. People watching in one of my favorite pastimes as I run or cycle. 

People come in all shapes and sizes, ages, physical abilities and disabilities. I marvel in how many people are out, about and active. Not so long ago, I ever imagined so many people enjoying an evening in the parks and trails as opposed to sitting on the couch in front of the TV or laptop.

Over the past six years, I changed my mindset on the importance of being physically active. With this newfound mindset, I began to be more observant on how those who are not-so-fit and not-so-“normal” are treated differently. I see it on the trails, in 5Ks and in many athletic organizations.

I put together the following list of things that make a better athlete. They come from my observations and experiences. I would like to think that we all do these five simple things. I just ask that you remember them the next time you are out for a run or bike ride.

  1. Judge others by their actions and not appearance.
    For years I had forged a mental picture of what an athlete was: slim, tall, agile and good looking. It was a flawed picture. Today, I recognize that an athlete is defined by the actions they take and not by their appearance. No matter what their shape or size, the folks you walk or run with have opted to add activity into their life. Research shows the benefits of walking for at least 30 minutes a day greatly improves our health.
  2. Winning is not measured by speed and endurance.
    On one of my first cycling charity rides I came across an overweight cyclist. I thought, “How is this guy ever going to make it to the finish line?” I was sorely mistaken. He finished well before I crossed that line. I learned that I was basing his abilities on his weight. I did not factor in his mental and physical abilities. The true winners in any event are not those who claim the medals and prize money but those who run for their pride, dignity and self-accomplishment.
  3. Read the book and not just the cover.
    We all have heard the saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” We need to think about this when we are tempted to judge other people. Every one of us has story under our covers. The overweight runner may have already lost 200 pounds. The slow cyclist may be recovering from a debilitating disease. The unsteady hiker may be rebuilding her cancer weakened body. Always assume the individual is striving to do their best under their given circumstances.
  4. We all need some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
    Respect is the ability to see and celebrate the value in ourselves and others. Respect is offering a helping hand to others. Respect is recognizing that we all are different and valuing that difference. Respect is encouraging others and going out of our way to help them meet their needs.  I respect everyone I pass along the way. They could have chosen the couch but have chosen the bike or running shoes instead.
  5. Pay it forward to make a difference.
    I find myself in a more active life and choose to pay it forward by encouraging others to follow my path. I know that others’ paths likely take another shape. The reward that makes me happiest is seeing others I know complete their first 5K, ride a bike for the first time in 20 years or find themselves on a trail they never knew existed. You may not be aware that fellow walkers, runner or cyclists are watching your progress to motivate them to be fit. This is real life paying it forward.
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