What does it mean to be an athlete?

Webster’s dictionary defines an athlete as a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina. “Trained or skilled in exercises” also sounds a lot like my career as a physical therapist, describing at least part of what I do on a daily basis. 

One vestige of my CrossFit days that I continue to carry with me is their interpretation of this definition. If you are working out in a CrossFit box, you are an athlete. If you are showing up and doing the work, you are earning that title. I really enjoyed this about CrossFit culture, and I took it with me to my running. 

At the end of a snatch lift.

The above photo was taken during a CrossFit Open workout a few years ago. I chose it because I love how strong and focused I look. Sometimes you don’t feel this way in the process, but if you see yourself objectively, sometimes you can gain a new perspective on what you have accomplished in your fitness journey. 

Some people may argue that only those who compete at serious levels deserve to call themselves athletes, as if winning medals is the only measure of success in sports. But when we apply this description to the average person participating in fitness journeys, that participant begins to look at themselves differently. 

I showed my husband a picture of a few of our runners crossing the finish line of the Richmond Marathon last weekend: our final runners. He just kind of shook his head and said, “If it takes them that long, then what’s the point?” The point, it seems, is what he’s missing. The adventure that is the marathon takes months of dedication and training. I don’t care how slow you are. If you did the work, and you finished and earned that medal, you are an athlete. Marathon training is serious business. 

Just an average runner, helping other amateur athletes do great things… photo courtesy of Bill Draper

I’m an average runner. I always will be. Does this fact make me not an athlete? Not in my eyes. When I shifted my mindset to this, I started taking better care of my body. I prioritize sleep and nutrition. I cross train. I work on recovery and mobility. I don’t think, “Well, I’m not worthy of doing these things because I’m not running races in the Olympics.” I’m an athlete because I’m doing these things despite the fact that my body may not ever look as impressive as an elite athlete’s. It’s still serving me well, and I continue to amaze myself at times at what I’ve accomplished despite my averageness. I also know I’m doing the best I can to protect my health.

So if you are an amateur athlete like me, don’t sell yourself short by denying your status. Change your mindset. You are a runner, CrossFitter, yogi, weightlifter, or whatever fitness endeavor floats your boat. You are an athlete. Treat your body well. Even if the only real competition is with yourself. 


Do you participate in sports and fitness activities as an adult? Do you ever think about your status as an athlete? Do you feel different about your fitness endeavors if you view yourself this way? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Published by annecreates

I am a physical therapist, wife, mom, runner, artist, and vegan. I'm passionate about helping others find wellness, speaking about the human experience, and in fighting for social justice. Assistant Coach for the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team. Current ambassador for: Boco Gear, SaltStick, SPIbelt, Goodr, Noxgear, and Switch4Good.

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