Sure, there are medals and podiums, course records and personal records, age group awards and overall awards... Most importantly, there’s the satisfaction of personal achievement. That’s an extraordinary feeling that few things in life can provide us in quite the same way that athletics can.
But what else are we getting out of sports? It’s no secret that, with endurance sports in particular, the spectacular moments are certainly speckled among some really tough moments.
As much as we may love getting out there, we all have those days where we question our sanity to want to work so hard and push ourselves to such extreme limits, without a guarantee of success, and with so many chances for things to go wrong in our performance.
But at the same time, that is part of what makes sport special. It is rare to find something in life that you can feel so passionate about, and willing to invest so much of yourself in, without the conventional reward of a guaranteed return. In sport, there is no end-of-the-week paycheck (at least for the majority of us).
But I am confident that what I have gotten from my participation in athletics throughout my life is invaluable.
Without a doubt, by participating in sports from the time I was very young, I have provided myself with a healthy lifestyle that allows me to be both physically and mentally fit.
But, more than that, I firmly believe that my participation in sports has helped shape my identity as a person. It is as much a part of who I am as any other element in my life.
Being an athlete has taught me so many lessons that are applicable to every other aspect of my life. I have learned the value of truly hard work, and how to understand what that really means.
I have learned the difference between intrinsic motivation — a desire rooted deep in one’s heart — and motivation that is artificial. I have learned how to hold myself accountable, and that I’m the only one who really knows whether I’m pushing to my fullest potential — and the only one who suffers if I’m not.
Because of athletics, I’ve experienced the indescribable satisfaction of achieving a goal, and the bitter disappointment of coming up short — and have learned how to handle both. I’ve learned how to win, and how to lose.
I have gained a sense of confidence and self-awareness that I’m sure I could not have found elsewhere. I’ve discovered an inner strength I might otherwise never have known, that has helped me to overcome adversities both in and outside of sport. I’ve learned the value and importance of “sportsmanship,” crucial in so many situations beyond sport. I’ve formed lasting bonds and friendships.
Thanks to sport, I’ve found a sense of true passion and inspiration — something I think many people go their whole lives without. Mostly importantly, because of my involvement in endurance sports, I’ve given myself the life-long gift of a love for the outdoors and a desire to be active. That is something I am sure will never change.
And I’m confident, too, that others will find these same far-reaching rewards, lessons and values in sport. So, if you haven’t yet, give athletics a try. You just may get far more from the effort than you’d ever expect.
— Kara LaPoint is an elite amateur triathlete competing for LUNA bar, and working up to the pro ranks. She has earned numerous overall amateur podium finishes and age-group wins across distances from Olympic to Ironman, and finished the 2011 season ranked as an All-American nationally among her age group (25-29). Read more about her racing and training at www.karalapoint.wordpress.com. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.