Athletes hold a special place in our culture. In exchange for their
physical gifts we grant them privileges. In school, those children who
display athletic prowess are set apart from the rest of us. By the time
we reach high school, most of us have a pretty good idea whether we are
one of the chosen few.
As a child, I learned that athletes were different from me. The recognition
they received for their efforts made my own struggles seem meaningless.
Even in failure, athletes were treated with respect. If they had played
well, fought hard, or simply given their all, they were rewarded with
accolades. How different it was for those of us whose failures went unnoticed.
In time, those of us without athletic skills came to believe that not
only were athletes stronger, faster, and more daring, they also were better
than we were. Living in a young boy's world--where strength and speed
and bravery were the currency of value--I felt I didn't have a dime. So
from early boyhood I sentenced myself to being a spectator.
I remained a spectator for most of my adult life, contenting myself
with knowing about sports and about the people who played them. I congratulated
myself for understanding the sports that I enjoyed and celebrated the
victories of others as though I were a participant. But I wasn't. As a
spectator, I watched my own life with the same mixture of interest and
detachment as I watched sporting events.
All of that changed when I began to run. After four decades of standing
on the sidelines, of watching others, of being a face in the crowd, I
stepped into the arena. For better or worse, I chose to become an athlete.
It is a simple choice, really, and one that you can make today.