As I was pedaling along the grass this morning recovering from a set of barrier dismounts/mounts, this very thought floated through my brain: What Makes an Athlete? I’m not sure where this question/idea came from. Perhaps from some recent events that have happened in my life recently (all good stuff that I can tell you about soon enough!). Anyway, never one to shy away from a potentially controversial or unanswerable question, I thought I’d try to answer my own question… What Makes an Athlete?
There is the standard, athletes come in all shapes, sizes, and abilities. But for my purposes, I’m going to write about elite athletes. What Makes an Elite Athlete?
Passion. Drive. Skill. Tenacity. Support. Luck.
These are the attributes/factors that in my opinion make an elite athlete. No elite athletes are born overnight. It might seem that this is the case, but typically if you dig a bit deeper and start talking to or really paying attention to the athlete, you’ll learn pretty quickly that “overnight sensation” really is not a reality. This is a comforting piece of knowledge. It is an incredible combination of attributes along with some luck with knowing/meeting the right people.
Passion. Every single person has a passion for something. For elite athletes this by-and-large is their sport. If there is an elite athlete who is not passionate about their sport, then I truly do feel sorry for this person. There are to many sacrifices, tough decisions, and low moments to not be fully passionate and consumed with one’s sport. I can’t prove that passion is a key component. But if I look at myself as an example, I do believe that my passion has brought me a long way. I’m not naturally talented. I have a basic level of athletic skill that gifts me with being pretty good at most sports (except basketball and volleyball…). But to get to the elite level, it has taken a lot of digging deep, really asking myself what I want, and making the tough sacrifices to get to this level. There are days when I don’t want to train – the weather is rotten, my legs are tired, or I’d really just rather flake out on the couch. But I still train. I have this thing inside me that makes me want to get out and do the work-out, sweat it out, go through the tough moments because I know this all results in progress. Passion.
Drive. Ask any elite athlete, even a World Champion – chances are this athlete still has goals and dreams to accomplish in his/her sport. Every elite athlete wants more. To break the world record again. To win the race more easily. To hit the highest of highs. This is drive. To accept that where I am right now is good, but I really want to be at that next level. And then when I reach that level, to aim for the next level. To truly believe that there are no limits. This makes me approach my training with a special focus. There is no backing off on intervals or even skipping a recovery ride. These rides and efforts need to be done so I can get where I want to be. Complacency is not an option. Drive.
Skill. Each elite athlete demonstrates some basic skill and ability in his/her chosen sport at the outset. This usually results in early success. Thereby sparking the passion and drive to push harder and move forward. This is an attribute that I grapple with often. I know I have skills. I sometimes though overlook them because I like to believe that anyone can set goals and achieve them. But I suppose the difference is that for some, their skills are a limiter. For me, well I have a big engine, the ability to push myself and ignore that ache in my legs, and well I’m developing some pretty good technical skills as well. All elite athletes need to refine their skills as the goals and dreams get higher. This is a good thing. Skill.
Tenacity. Lets be honest, there are lots of setbacks and lows on the road to achieving elite athlete goals and dreams. There are naysayers. There are doubters. There are injuries. There is sickness. There are lots and lots of reasons to not pursue athletic dreams. I know. I’ve run through them more times than I like to admit. But darn it, I’ve set goals and I’m going to accomplish them. There is no quit. There are times when my head falls off. But I’m a different athlete now. I’ve got confidence. I’ve got the inner fire to keep me floating about the obstacles. Tenacity.
Support. No elite athlete has made it alone. This simply is not possible. From the parents who drove to hockey games. To the coach who spent the extra time. To the sponsors who believe in the athlete enough to provide product, money, and assistance. I for one could not do this alone. My biggest supporter is Marc. He is my number one fan. He motivates me to better – everyday. He spends his days at an office so I can focus on my training and work only part-time. He makes it possible. Of course I have an overwhelming number of sponsors who really make the dreams come true. I’m so well supported with bikes, clothing, helmets, glasses, nutrition, money, coaching, shoes, wheels – you name it – it is covered. So overwhelming. Support.
Luck. Yes, luck. It takes a little bit and sometimes a lot of luck to get to an elite level. The pieces have to fall into place just perfectly. Training has to go well. Sickness and injury have to be avoided. Races and competitions have to work out just the way you picture them. You have to meet the correct people who can help out and believe in you. This has been my situation. I’ve been so very lucky to have such an amazing confluence of events/circumstances and people in my life. Without these, I wouldn’t be able to train, race, and recover at such a high level. I always say I’m super lucky. And I truly believe it. Luck.
What Makes an Elite Athlete?
Passion. Drive. Skill. Tenacity. Support. Luck.
Going for it. Can’t stop me now. Look Mom – no brakes!. Ulcerative Colitis be damned. Marc and my Sponsors. Thank-you So Very Much.