A few weeks ago, I went to the local track to run. Sometimes I prefer the track to the pavement. It’s a little softer on the joints, and as I’m easing back into running these days, that’s a welcome thing.
However, on this particular day I had unknowingly picked a time to run when a good number of college athletes were practicing on the turf and track. Not ideal. It caused me to freeze momentarily in a “fight or flight” moment as I weighed my options.
Two years ago, I would have turned around and bolted for my car, too afraid of the glances, the snickers, the stares I was sure would be directed my way if I ran in front of REAL ATHLETES. That girl can’t run. Look how slow she is. Why do her arms move that way? She has such terrible form. What a joke. She shouldn’t be here.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am no athlete, and I certainly didn’t feel like one in front of a contingent of the Tabor track team.
As I stood there and pondered whether to leave or stay, something changed inside of me. There was room for me on the track, too. I could let go of my pride and do the hard thing. I could be brave.
So I walked down those steps and started jogging around the outside lane. Never mind the group doing drills on the turf, or the pair of what appeared to be sprinters, comparatively speaking, practicing in the lanes to my left.
There was something freeing about being out there with the athletes. Instead of putting myself down or critiquing myself, I recognized that I was a runner, too. I may not be as fast or as athletic, but I was doing what I could. I was putting in work, just like everyone else. And that was enough.
I could, at the same time, recognize greatness in the athletes around me, while at the same time celebrate my own successes. I didn’t need to be intimidated, and the achievements of others did not have to threaten me. They had nothing to gain by criticizing me, and I had nothing to gain by worrying what they were thinking of me.
I may not consider myself an “athlete,” but what if I did? I run and lift weights and do what I can to keep in shape. While I don’t compete, I fight my own battles of insecurity and fear. Therefore I am a competitor. Maybe there’s a tiny bit of athlete in me after all.
I’m reminded of the scene in the movie “Black Panther” where T’Challa visits the ancestral plane. Kneeling before his father, T’Challa voices the doubt in his head, questioning his ability to carry out the task ahead of him. In a poignant scene, his father speaks life-giving words. “Stand up. You are a king.”
Those words didn’t change T’Challa’s identity, but they gave him the courage to get up and move forward.
What if, instead of labeling ourselves by our failures and shortcomings, we spoke life-giving words about who we are. We act in accordance with who we think we are. Therefore, I am brave. I am fearless. I am a runner. I am an overcomer. I am a child of God.
The temptation is to let shame guide the labels we give ourselves. We critique and compare ourselves to others. This is a “bolt from the track” way of thinking; a debilitating, fearful way of living.
Could we instead focus on our own race in front of us, give ourselves grace and celebrate that we’re out there running at all—while recognizing that same greatness in others? We’d all win if we did that.
Janae Rempel, former sports editor at the Free Press, is on staff with Christian Leader magazine. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.