Elite vs. Elitist

The past few weeks I’ve given a lot of thought to the concept of the “elite athlete” and the “elitist”.  I am neither.  I consider myself a competitive local age group triathlete and the teacher in me loves introducing others to the sport.  My aspirations in triathlon and running reach beyond how I’ve performed in the past few years but I will never consider myself elite. 

Ironic because a few weeks ago one of the runners on my 1 day relay team referred to me and two of our other athletes as elite runners, which made me chuckle.  The 1 day relay is a 50(ish) mile relay that took 6 runners from Bradenton to Sarasota to Venice. I got invited to join the team because I am a local athlete/blogger.  Our team consisted of Callie (who just had an adorable baby 4 months ago), Theresa, Casey, Colleen, and Mary.   Before that morning, I had only really known Colleen from our college triathlon club (TriKnights) but by the end of the day I had gotten to know four other great women plus Mary’s husband who drove us around all day.  We had quite the variety of background and abilities which made for an interesting day of “cat and mouse” on the course with the other relay teams and conversations about why we train and race.  The average pace per runner varied from 7:30 min/mile to 11:30 min/mile.  I love the challenge of competing against other athletes while others in the van were more focused the challenge of a healthy lifestyle and competing against themselves. It was a nice change from the normal stress I put myself during a race.

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For some great recaps and pictures from the day check out what my fellow teammates wrote:

Callie from The Wannabe Athlete

Mary from Food and Fun on the Run

Theresa from Active Eggplant 

There was another race going on that day in Hawaii known as the Ironman World Championships or “Kona” for short.  There were outstanding performances from all levels of competitors from the pros to the age groupers.  Since my post is focused on elite athletes/elitism I am linking to the inspirational recap of Saturday’s winners, Craig Alexander and Chrissie Wellington.  Their determination, mindset, and raw talent are just a few of the components that shine through when you read the challenges overcome and the beautiful display of athleticism throughout the day.  One quote I saw and loved from Chrissie Wellington was, “There’s a lot of emphasis in our sport on times but for me, the time is irrelevant. I judge my success on whether or not I have given the race every ounce I could – I did that today with all of my heart and soul.” Not only did she just win her 4th Ironman World Champion title but she had an incredible race despite injuries sustained during a bike crash two weeks ago.  Chrissie Wellington is without a doubt an elite athlete.

chrissie-wellington-ironman-world-champion-2011

Source

I don’t have a problem with people labeling themselves as runners or athletes because to me, the definitions are open to interpretation.  Back in college, I remember having an argument with somebody who wanted to make our triathlon club more elite and discourage “non-athletes” from joining and training with better athletes.  It made me furious because I felt our club could accommodate both first timers and competitive triathletes. We aren’t even a college sanctioned sport yet!

In my experience, I’ve come across more people that are hesitant to label themselves anything after one season of training or a handful of races.  If you believe you’ve truly earned the title then go ahead and call yourself a jogger, runner, marathoner, etc.  This might be really kumbaya-lets-hold-hands of me but what more can you expect from somebody that is finishing up nursing school?  I’m an optimistic sap that likes taking care of people. I will clarify that there is a huge difference between  “running to finish” and holding sub 7:00 min/miles for a marathon with regards to training and talent.  

So what’s the point of this post?  I spend hours in the hospital with people that are DYING because they smoke or refuse to exercise.  I take care of people that are too obese to perform basic daily activities and take care of themselves.  So I’m pretty damn proud of people that didn’t grow up with an active lifestyle like me and took on the challenge of training for a sprint triathlon or a 5K.  I’m proud of my mom for overcoming her fear of open water swimming so she could race with me once a year.  I’m proud of my uncle who had a heart attack a year ago and is running his first half marathon in January.  I could probably write an entire post on people I’m proud of for taking their health into their own hands so I’ll save that for later. 

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In conclusion, I have an immense amount of respect for the amount of work and talent it takes to be a true elite athlete like Chrissie Wellington.  While I consider myself a competitive person, I will never join the ranks of the elite.  For the elitist athletes out there – you’re entitled to your opinion but I’d rather make people feel welcome to the sport. 

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14 Responses to Elite vs. Elitist

  1. Love the post Courtney! I agree – never in a million years would I ever consider myself elite. A part of me almost feels like adding that word in front of athlete would make it less fun for me. I am also super competitive, but just love the camaraderie of the sport! It brings so many people together – first time runners to the ever race experienced!

  2. I agree with this…but what I really want to comment on is that I totally swooned when you said “women” instead of “girls” because I HATE IT when people refer to grown women as “girls” – and bloggers do this all the time.

    (end unrelated rant)

  3. 321delish says:

    Well said Courtney!

  4. thebakerbee says:

    Great post, Courtney! It is athletes like you that make us newbies feel welcome 🙂

  5. Colleen says:

    Here, here!

    I know that there will always be someone faster, stronger, more flexible, more-whatever than me. But I know that my 100% feels exactly the same to me as their 100% feels to them. The key is to have goals, whether it’s setting a personal best or just finishing.

    When I ran for UCF, Coach Wentworth used to divide by two labels: the “talented” (the quick, gazelles who were just naturally fast) and the “tough” (those of us mid to back of the pack runners who had to work a bit harder). I appreciated that she respected both groups and understood how to work with each runner individually.

    • TriCourt says:

      I like that concept. I always thought of myself as a “tough” swimmer growing up because my stroke wasn’t fabulous but I worked my ass off and became a pretty good swimmer. It’s important to recognize the differences between athletes.

  6. I’m not usually one to “thank” someone for their post – but THANK YOU for this post.
    It’s sometimes hard to put into words just how intimidating it is to be a solid back-of-the-packer and new triathlete surrounded by so many athletes with natural talent. Any time I’m at a race (especially road races) there’s one question that constantly goes through my head: “am I good enough to be here?”. I feel like everyone’s staring at me, laughing at me, thinking I have no business being there to “race”. But then I run into people like you – the natural athletes that have been competing for years – that offer the most encouragement & support!
    In the end, it doesn’t matter how fast (or slow) I’m running, or whether I come in dead last. What matters is that I’m out there giving it my best effort that day. It may have taken me 33 years to figure that out but I’m SO glad I did – I’m having more fun with my workouts and races, and I’m not stressing about whether I “measure up” anymore. I’ve learned that the people that ARE judging whether I measure up or not are NOT the people I should care about. It’s the people that offer support, encouragement, and motivation that I should be paying attention to.

  7. Mike Wallingford says:

    Courtney this is the part where I must protest. Ever since I have known you I have thought of you as the elite athlete. An extreme competitor. I cannot allow you to take yourself out of that category. First of all you were put there by people other than yourself and there you will always remain. Even though I’m older than you, much older, I will always think of you that way. You totally rock out whatever you do and I will continue to draw information, inspiration, and confidence from you. Please never stop. Although I know you never will. Uncle Mike

    • TriCourt says:

      I’m flattered you draw inspiration from me 🙂 You’ve helped me in many ways as well. We will just have to agree to disagree on the elite athlete point lol

  8. Amy says:

    Courtney, I love your attitude. Although I do call myself a runner, I will never be anything elite and sometimes I get scared of those people who run sub 7:00 min miles while I plod away at 10:00 per mile. But for the most part I feel welcomed by these people. Whenever we dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of health and activity aren’t we joining an inspiring community? No one wants to exclude anyone else from that, so there is no point in being elitist. This is about opening doors to welcome people into living life as healthy people.
    Thank you for the post.

  9. Melissa says:

    I love this post 🙂

  10. Pingback: My first training update | Passionate 4 Life

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