I often ask why it is that we humans celebrate athletes so much. Pragmatically, they don’t do anything for the ongoing growth of humanity. They serve nobody but themselves. They cost money. They spend a lot of time chasing worthless pieces of tin to hang around their necks. Yet we love them. Why?
Why don’t we celebrate the humble librarian, or the crime fighting policeman or the life saving doctor?
They certainly do more for humanity than a professional athlete, don’t they?
Well, let's find out...
Who represents the doctor? Who does he think of while performing life saving surgery? Who does the librarian think of when she is stacking her books? Who does the policeman imagine he is when he is running down a criminal?
Maybe an athlete?
We think, and this could be seen as elitist yes, but we think that our days are spent living between important moments. Just like an athlete, who spends his/her days working hard between competition days.
Even on competition day, if the preparation and effort through the week is not enough, they miss the moment. The timing is just not quite right.
We're the same, we know it because it is the same feeling.
It is the small moments of perfection. They say that we will know luck when preparation meets opportunity. Call it luck, call it buzz, its all the same feeling. When all the cards seem stacked in our favour, when we just win; it could be at work, it could be negotiating a deal, it could be a conversation with our spouses; we feel this buzz, this sense of oneness, this enchanted effortlessness, and we believe in ourselves.
Not the "positive thinking" crap we're told to do that covers up the negative like a thin veil; but real effortlessness that happens when we've worked so hard for so long that the body finally "gets it," the cynicism drops away for a moment and we're allowed to believe in ourselves. The evidence is there, we feel it. We're "on top of the game", we say. We're "on fire." We believe in ourselves.
We also know what it feels like to fail, we know how hard we worked for every one of our triumphs, we know our friends are opponents and our opponents are friends. We know we’re in a great big game, a game where the stakes are high and the rules are unclear.
And then we watch sport. Or better yet, we watch an athlete in a gym, some crazy person, focused; animalisic in their intent. Driving their body further, harder, faster. Sweat pouring out of them, carnal grunts instead of breathing. Every movement laboured, every second painful.
Exterior pain indicating internal ecstasy. Food, sex, free time, love, family, ambition, sadness and desire for a better world has been shifted to the side. Once an athlete realises they have nothing left in this cold, dark world but themselves, their vessel and their spirit; they dance. The movements perfect. The song of laboured breathing harmonious to their ears. It sings of glory, it sings of victory, it sings of triumph. Loud, barbaric and enchanting all at the same time, the songs plays.
And the body responds.
Heavier, further, faster, lungs burning but spirit soaring.
This is the life of an athlete. This is why everyone should be an athlete. You know what we're talking about because you are an athlete. Every day, you get up and do battle with yourself. You prepare, hone and strengthen your powerful body for the onslaught of human nature. Like a puddle of fresh water in the desert. You work so hard to stay there, because one day someone will need you. Someone will rely on you. Perhaps now?
If you are an athlete, if you have been seen doing crazy physical strengthening that our 8 week athlete course has demanded of you, then you have been that puddle in the desert. If you go out of the house in the cold of winter for a run, then you have been that puddle in the desert. If you've worked out at the gym with such ferocity that you don't even see the mirrors and the pretentious stares, then you've been that puddle in the desert.
A bee never knows that by eating nectar, he pollenates the flower that becomes the giant oak tree that supports the beams of a hospital. He never knows, but a some bee had to pollenate the flower.
You never will know the impact of your commitment. But someone has to do it. We’ve seen communities change from the actions of a single, brave man or woman. People drive past you and look, wonder “what would it be like to be him/her”
That night, they go for a run themselves, 3 weeks later the heart attack they are meant to die of doesn’t happen. You won’t know this, and they will have forgotten the moment they saw you. But this is the way the world works. This is why we need athletes.
No matter what your profession, you are nothing without your inner athlete. This is why doctors, policemen, lawyers, librarians all celebrate athletes. Celebrate you. They see the best of themselves in you. For to be an athlete means you work harder than your profession. You have no days off, there is no comfort zone, you are always being bashed back down by the opposition, let down by your ageing body, and an environment geared toward gluttony, sloth and consumption.
And for that, for putting your head up in the middle of a firestorm, we thank you. We love you.
To be an athlete is to chip away at a block to expose the best that is in you; in so doing, inspire the best in others. So please, continue to fight with yourself every day until you dance effortlessly. You're on the field, playing the game. Give the crowd a spectacle that will have them singing your name.
The final whistle is not the horn of glory. It is in the moments of effortless brilliance that we bring humanity together. Correction. It is your moments of effortless brilliance that you bring humanity together.