According to the Oxford English Dictionary “an athlete is a person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise.” Well, I’m fairly certain that each and every one of us who gets out and about on our bike fulfills those criteria. It might come down to your personal definition of “proficient” but I’m willing to bestow that level of expertise onto those of us who passed the exam in primary school and who manage to stay upright at least 50% of the time.
So, every time you take out your bike, and indeed even when you’re sitting enjoying your post-ride tea and cake, you can rest easy in the knowledge that your athletisism is not in question. But would you really refer to yourself as an athlete?
I met a guy at a press event a few years ago, who, when I asked him the usual polite “what do you do?” question, responded with a bold and assertive “I’m an outdoor athlete”. It transpired that like everyone else there that day, he was a journalist and along with the rest of us, he had a passion for “doing stuff” in the outdoors. He wasn’t a professional, card-carrying sportsman who made his living solely from cycling and running, he was a normal (if slightly inhumanly fit) bloke who had a 9-5 and squeezed sport in where he could.
So why the self-attached label?
It just seems to require a whole new level of self-assertion that just isn’t me.
I ride a bike. I run a bit. I swim. And I’ve done them all to a greater or lesser degree of enthusiasm and hardcore-ness (that is a word. Now) over the years. I’ve ridden my bike from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea in Jordan, from London to Paris and knocked off RideLondon twice (including the WET year). I’ve ridden track, I’ve time trialled and I’ve even raced.
So I’d like to feel I’m pretty competent on a bicycle, or should I say “proficient”, but at no point in the last twenty some years would I ever have dreamed of referring to myself as an athlete. It just seems to require a whole new level of self-assertion that just isn’t me.
With the cycling, running and swimming, I’ve achieved things I’m genuinely really proud of, in terms of challenging distances and events, but I’d just say I ride, run or swim, rather than feeling that I’ve attained some elite level (which I hasten to add, I’m certainly not claiming anyway!) of athleticism which requires me to label myself thus.
Do we lack the confidence to make that bold statement. “I am an athlete”. Or do we just not care enough about that label and what it entails?
And I’m not alone in this viewpoint. I have met lots of amazing women, who have conquered truly incredible challenges, with feats of astounding fitness. In some cases, these ladies have literally made history and yet I’m not sure I can remember a single one of them ever labeling herself as an athlete. I’m not sure if this is because culturally it’s deemed unfeminine for a woman to big up her physical prowess, or if it’s just a case of differing perceptions.
Do we lack the confidence to make that bold statement. “I am an athlete”. Or do we just not care enough about that label and what it entails? Is that title really important or are our personal achievements and our own journey the important things? Or is the term athlete something always applied to someone more accomplished than us? Definitely not the case with those history making women!
Whatever the cause, I can 100% definitely say that at a dinner, I’d much rather sit next to a woman - or man - who in a self-effacing, humorous, passionate or whimsical manner, told me about their recent incredible bike adventure than next to a self-styled “outdoor athlete”.
[VeloVixen adds: we suspect these 'athlete'/'cyclist' labels are also partly to blame for putting some women off climbing on their bikes at all. The sooner these lines blur, and the categorisation fades, the better.]
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