If you have read any of my writing before, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I am fat. I’m not as fat as I was when I started writing for Feministe, but I’m fatter than I was this time last year (yay, pre-menopause! That was a fun birthday present). So, still fat.
I am also an athlete.
It’s taken me quite some time to be able to say that without qualification. Without minimizing my accomplishments. Without making exceptions or excuses for why I’m not an athlete.
Because I’m fat. So I can’t be an athlete, because athletes are thin and cut, right? When the strongest woman in America can’t get sponsorships because she doesn’t look like Lolo Jones, and the second-strongest woman in America makes defensive jokes about her body (and when every article about her mentions her weight more prominently than how much weight she can lift — which may be more than her professional-football-player brother can — and idiots make jokes about her size), is it any wonder a fat, middle-aged woman might have a hard time claiming the name?
I am currently training for the NYC Marathon in November. I’m slow. I don’t expect to finish in much less than five and a half hours. But I can run (or, rather, run/walk) 12 miles. I did that last week. Next week, I’ll do 14. I’d be doing more, but I had to take a couple weeks off for a fractured pinky toe.
I’ve had two conversations in the past year or so where I was brought up short and forced to confront my non-acceptance of the title “athlete.” The first was a little over a year ago, when I was being prepped for surgery. I’d been training for a half marathon at the time, and had gotten dehydrated on my 11-mile run (hello, new dry climate!). That pushed a latent bile-stone condition into being symptomatic, and I had to have emergency surgery. As I was lying on the table, the anesthesiologist was taking my vitals. Suddenly, she asked me, “Are you an athlete? Your heart rate is very low!” I was a bit startled and demurred. But, dammit, the whole reason I was there was that I was able to get myself dehydrated on an 11-mile run. A non-athlete doesn’t do that unless they’re being chased by tigers.
Then, a few weeks ago, I met with a Chi Running* coach who’s an ultramarathoner. It’s hard not to feel lazy next to someone who can and will run 50 to 100 miles at a stretch. I made some comment about not being very fit, and she said sternly, “You’re fit. You just did 9 miles.”
After that, I decided I’m going to think of myself as an athlete. I’m going to claim my athleticism. I’m fat, and I’m over 40, and I’m female, and I’m slow, but god dammit, I am a fucking athlete.
Also, I don’t think I’d be rolling this stuff onto my ass crack if I weren’t an athlete.
* Seriously the best thing ever.