When You Are Not An Athlete

As a freshman in high school, I became a stat keeper for our Frosh and JV basketball teams. I loved the energy of those basketball games.  I loved the bus rides to and from away games.  These experiences gave me a sense for the camaraderie that comes with being part of a team.  I never played sports as a kid, so keeping stats taught me the intricacies of the game and showed me how everyone must work together for the good of the whole.

After I’d been a stat keeper for two years, the JV basketball coach, who was also the coach of our track team, asked me to help him keep stats at track meets. The atmosphere at a track meet is electric. The only people sitting still are in the stands. Everyone else is constantly on the move. Hurdles are being positioned on the track, or being removed. Jumpers are dashing toward their pit. Runners are stretching or loading into the blocks. Multi-event athletes are moving between different sections of the track or field, stretching or sprinting or checking out their competition.

I remember watching these athletes in awe.  I was always on the sidelines, looking at the thin runners and strong throwers and wishing I could be an athlete like them.  I could tell that track and field athletes were intimately in tune with their bodies. I, on the other hand, was not. I hated my body and tried to think about it as little as possible. I hid it under baggy clothes, hid it by staying at the edge of crowds, hid it by sitting up as straight as possible - never feeling comfortable in any position. 

I remember running the mile in junior high. We had to leave our little school track to run around the park next door.  There was a sense of freedom that tantalized me, yet was just out of my reach because I was shamed for being the last one to cross the finish line every time. As I grew older, and larger, I could barely manage the 10-minute walk from my college apartment to campus. It was a hilly town, with lots of stairs on our beautiful campus nestled in a forest. I was breathing heavy and sweating every time, and so embarrassed to be in this state when my best friend – a star on the basketball team – could bound up the stairs two at a time and be smiling at the top.

After I graduated from college, I joined a gym and got a personal trainer. He was the first person to teach me about the science of losing weight. He taught me the right mix of strength training and cardio, and I lost so much weight that my friends from college almost didn’t recognize me.  I gained most of that weight back, however, after having a miscarriage just a year after marrying my college sweetheart.

I tackled the weight loss train again after our first baby was two years old. A news segment for the Susan G. Komen 5K caught my eye, and I was determined to run that race the next year. In the following weeks, I got new gym clothes and running shoes and started working out.  Over the next six months, I focused on working out regularly and getting back to healthy eating habits.  Then, I started jogging on the treadmill.  That summer, I moved to outdoor runs.  When race day finally arrived, I had a knot in the pit of my stomach.  I wasn't nervous about the actual distance though. It was YEARS of anticipation settling in.  I remembered those junior high days of being the last person across the finish line, most often walking, never believing I could be a runner. And here I was, running an entire three miles with no stopping!

After the runner’s high of finishing that race, I signed up for a 10K. Then a half marathon.  I was on top of the world after finishing 13 miles.  I knew I could accomplish whatever I set my mind to.  Sure enough, once I set my sights on working for Nike, I landed a position only eight weeks after throwing my hat into the ring.

Working for Nike is amazing. The company’s mission states that “if you have a body, you’re an athlete” which is in direct opposition to the way I thought of myself in high school. I envied lots of athletes while I was a stat keeper, feeling so ashamed of myself and believing I was on the outside the "athlete" club. But Nike doesn’t put those limits on us. The heart and soul of Nike is a legendary track coach named Bill Bowerman, who absolutely believed that anyone with a body was an athlete.

Last week, I got to visit the place where Bill Bowerman – and Nike – got started.  Nike sent me on a Heritage Tour of Eugene, Oregon – otherwise known as TrackTown, USA – and gave me a ticket to the 2016 US Olympic Track & Field trials. I sat in the stands of Hayward Field, watching America’s best track and field athletes as they vied for a place on this year’s Olympic team. It was the largest, most magnificent track meet I’d ever been to, with the same electric energy I remembered from my days as a stat keeper.  

In those benches of Hayward Field, watching the likes of Allyson Felix and Galen Rupp punch their tickets to Rio, I realized that my experiences as a stat keeper weren’t supposed to be filled with shame. They were preparing me for Nike – a company founded on a track field, based on the principle that there’s an athlete in each one of us. 

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