By: Christina Vipond
It still seems surreal to me that I am a sponsored athlete for the first time in my life at the age of 48. When I tell family or friends, the response is usually something like, “I’m not surprised, you have always been athletic”. I respond by saying “but now I’m an athlete!” This is usually followed with a look that says “what’s the difference?”
Athletic is an adjective meaning physically strong, fit and active.
Athlete is a noun meaning a person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise.
Not really an answer there.
I played softball in high school. As an adult, I played rugby and currently spend the winter season playing hockey. These sports do require some athletic skills, there is definitely some level of physical fitness required to play 3 periods of ice hockey, but I don’t train or practice. I show up at the ice rink one time a week. I competed in a body-building show in 2010. This did require intense training and a strict diet but I didn’t think of myself as an athlete while doing this. Body building was mostly about sticking to a rigid diet and lifting weights for a couple of hours every day.
So back to the question, what is it about racing for Team Athletic Mentors that makes a person go from athletic to an athlete?
One obvious answer is that I have a contract. I committed to fulfilling certain criteria and wearing the team kit that has the names of team sponsors. I don’t have to sign a contract to play hockey, I show up when games are scheduled and if I can’t make it one night, I let the captain know so she can get a sub. Getting a sub is not an option when I sign a contract.
The training is specific as an athlete. I learned with this training where my strengths were and how many weaknesses I needed to improve. I quickly learned how my body felt and reacted to workouts. As a club rider, I would ride everyday so when I was told I had to take days off to rest, I bulked and proudly stated “I don’t need days off”. It didn’t take long before I was grateful for a rest day. I had no idea my legs would be so tired when training as an athlete.
Nutrition is also different as an athlete.. I had to learn what and when to eat food that allowed me to maintain energy, repair muscles, and keep an ideal weight for racing. The diet for body-building was strict but it had a specific purpose: decrease fat, increase muscle mass. This diet was extreme and could only be maintained for a short time. The diet as an athlete, and one who may be doing hours of riding on any given day, has to be sustainable during the training and racing season, which is the entire year.
I also had to be pushed out of my comfort zone and learn the nuances of racing. Braking around corners was okay as a club rider. I didn’t have to ride with other cyclists right next to me. The thought of continuing to ride on single track while someone passed me never crossed my mind, nor did the thought I might actually pass someone on a trail.
How is being an athlete different than being athletic? Athletic means I can do certain physical tasks. Being an athlete requires so much more. The training and nutrition are specific to achieve maximum performance. The education is continuous. Being an athlete requires commitment, dedication, and perseverance. I am honored to be an athlete.