By HELENA WU, junior
The finish line was too far away. With a burning ache in my legs, my body protesting against each stride, the meters separating me from brief respite multiplied into torturous fathoms of pain. I wondered incredulously how I could be caught in such misery. I wanted nothing more than to survive the track season, but if every practice was going to result in this inexplicable physical pain in my legs—the very instruments which were supposed to carry me tirelessly through all these miles—I saw no way to continue. I reluctantly withdrew from the season, feeling as though I had forfeited the right to call myself an athlete. I could not have been more wrong. The reality is that being an athlete is not just excelling in a conventional sport; it is exercising in the way that best fits your body. Whether you practice an unconventional sport or shy away from exercise entirely, everyone has the potential to be as talented and awe-inspiring as any varsity captain, professional athlete, or even Olympian.
I am not suggesting that the most popular sports such as basketball, football, wrestling, or track are overrated, but rather that people who do not participate in them tend to underestimate themselves. Whether you abstain from exercise, enjoy skateboarding, or participate in a less popular sport such as cricket, there is no reason to feel unconfident in yourself. In the realm of human movement, every avenue is equally valid. There is a cultural perception that athletes in mainstream sports represent the pinnacle of strength, agility, and plain superhuman physicality. Think about it; sports consist of highly specialized skills and patterns of movement. You need physical fitness to progress, but eventually being in a better condition delivers diminishing returns, and you will need to rely more on specific skill development and experience to improve. The most high-profile athletes are not necessarily the most fit—and for all you athletic underdogs out there, choosing to believe this can prove to be very motivational for the mind. Many different roads lead to the Rome of elite physical performance.
If you have never taken exercise seriously, I strongly suggest you begin. Homo sapiens as it exists today endured harrowing millennia of movement by necessity. We are creatures with complex physiology and an innate inclination to run, jump, throw, carry, and climb. Babies spend months exploring their motor abilities; grasping, kicking, and crawling with steely perseverance. In fact, our brains, the acme of complex biological organization, are largely adapted to thrive on managing movement. Life is simply incomplete without it. Look no further than the sea squirt, a creature which begins its time on this planet sailing around the ocean depths. But once it latches onto a rock to live out its days immobilized, it literally digests its own brain—a costly organ that is no longer useful if it cannot coordinate locomotion—for energy, and it becomes nothing more than a plant. Fortunately, our genes do not program such a process in our own bodies, but a life without regular exercise severely lacks the vigor and fulfillment that is ours by birthright.
Besides, even if we are not fans, virtually all of us are naturally impressed by the grace of gymnasts, the sheer explosive power of quarterbacks, the fierce grit of MMA fighters. As we watch their masterful performances, we are momentarily transported from our bodies into theirs. Every great athlete started at the bottom and actively developed the physical traits he or she currently possesses. The human body is undeniably primed for maximizing its physical abilities. You can do better than reveling in the exploits of athletes—you can actually become one of them.
The ways to get started are thrillingly countless. Ballet, table tennis, archery, kettlebell sport, strongman, Brazilian jiu jitsu, parkour—all of these are fairly less popular sports which hone your physical abilities in unique ways. For people who never thought they would be on their high school or college sports teams, these represent just a tiny sliver of the endless possibilities out there. You are bound to find an activity that motivates you, that makes you feel the rush of being fully alive. It is never too late to start. Some of the greatest athletes of all time, including Jack LaLanne and Bruce Lee did not even play the conventional high school sports. Both of them began training in their teens, and yet both achieved such transcendent physical mastery that their names are permanently etched in history. Another incredible athlete, a British woman named Helen Glover, won a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics in rowing—having only hit the rivers just four years prior.
All of this I learned personally after pain left me on the sidelines of the school track. I instead trekked down a seldom traveled path to fulfill my desire to train like an athlete. The effort is worthwhile for everyone. Movement does not discriminate; it is one of the few egalitarian constants in life. Since your first breath, you have been meant to partake and excel in it—this infinitely versatile expression of life which makes us human.