Most fit people identity themselves with a sport or activity.
“I’m a runner.”
“I’m a triathlete.”
“I’m a cyclist.”
“I’m a hiker.”
“I’m a yogi.”
A lot of fitness culture is wrapped up in a shared hobby. You start off just testing something out—you go to a yoga class or you hop on a bike—and before you know it, you are engrained in the social world of your chosen path to fitness. It’s easy to bond with people when you have a shared passion. You chat about gear, races, studios and accomplishments. You swap training horror stories and boast about your biggest success. That back and forth motivates everyone in the community. You feed off of one another to become better, stronger and more passionate about your activity. Before you know it, not only are you a runner, cyclist or yogi, but so are a lot of your friends. The line between what is “exercise” and what is just plain ole “life” fades away. Not to say that being a triathlete or a hiker usurps your entire personality—it doesn’t—but because you can identify and bond with an entire group of the population, your hobby is fortified and validated by the other folks you train with.
In other words, it takes a village.
A lot of people out there are self-motivating, and for that I am eternally jealous. You can push yourself and enjoy yourself and not need to buy the latest hiking boots or hang out at your local yoga studio to feel motivated. But then there are the rest of us. Those of us that desire that sense of community from sport. Not only just desire it, but require it to be successful. We like a newfangled gadget and a good race report. Those are the things that inspire us to get out the door everyday. That’s one of the reasons I think road running races are so popular—thousands of people sharing a fitness experience. Thousands of people needing to get motivation from the outside.
One of the things that appeals to me so much about running is the instant community. You see someone else reading Runner’s World in the airport and suddenly you are like two members of secret club. Even if that club is full of millions of people (which it is), it feels like we know something that everyone else in the terminal is missing out on. We get the joke. And that community comes back up when you’re all alone on the trail. I can be strong and push through the next mile because I had this invisible support group of strangers behind me. We were special. And more importantly, we were special together. Even as perfect strangers.
When you say the powerful words, “I am a ________” something changes. It’s the initiation to the secret club. Somehow, saying those few words changes how you are perceived by your friends, family, peers and most importantly, yourself. It can be really hard to say, “I’m a runner.” Even though I’ve been running for almost two years, have completed quite a few road races, I still have a hard time calling myself a runner.
I honestly feel like true ownership of an activity is the key to becoming and staying fit. And of course, I’m only using limited examples here, but it can be anything. Gymnast, walker, weight lifter, Zumba rockstar, tap dancer, clogger, shoe-shiner, whatever! And in any combination or number (yes, you can be a triathete and a clogger!). The point is that I’m starting to feel like a really successful path to true fitness is finding identity in a fitness community that works for you.
Going to the gym and spending 30 minutes sequestered on the elliptical isn’t enough if you are looking to lead a fit lifestyle. It might help you shed some weight and stay healthy, but is that really all you want out of your body? I know that isn’t enough for me. I want to be an athlete. And I want to strive for the best I can be in something. Not just enough to meet some exercise time quota outlined by the health department.
So what do you do if you haven’t identified with a sport? As much as I dabbled in running, I’m starting to question how much of the actual activity I really liked. Do I really enjoy pounding the pavement? Or does most of my enjoyment of the sport come from the community that surrounds it? Those are questions I’m still answering. But what I do know is that I haven’t identified with a sport. And that, in and of itself makes it hard to take ownership of my personal fitness growth.
So where does that leave me? Honestly, a little lost. I want to identify. I want to find a culture. I want to find my secret club. I want to be an athlete. But I haven’t yet. And I can’t wait for the day I do. For now, I keep trying things until something (or more than one something) sticks.
Do you identify yourself with a sport or activity? Do you think there is some truth to the idea that a community of fit people help propel you?