when you're in high school this label makes sense. people understand "jock" and "soccer player" and "girl's softball team." you wear letter jackets and accept trophies and go to practice. you are part of a team.

when you're in college this seems to shift. if you aren't good enough to get a scholarship and cannot play on your university team, or if you decide that 16 years of competitive sports is probably enough...then what happens?  are you no longer an athlete? do you need to be part of a formal sports team or league or competition to maintain this label?

my father was a college football player. he played three sports in high school (really well). he was an athlete. all-state trophies all over the place. it was his identity. his senior year of college he injured his knee. bad. he wouldn't play again. he has actually confided in me that this was a really traumatic event in his life and has only rivaled his recent retirement in the matter of his identity.

i started swimming competitively when i was 5 years old. from the age of 7 probably until somewhere around 12 i was really good. broken records, gold medals, state championships. but i was also a gymnast, a softball player, a cheerleader, a diver. when i went to college i played on a co-ed softball league sponsored by a bar and played on the women's water polo team. or rather, practiced and learned how to play polo with the women's wp team--but i still got the cool speedo.

when all this formal stuff ended i wasn't sure what to do.  my best friend and i did the avon breast cancer 3-day walk my first year out of school. (60 miles in 3 days) i did three half marathons and tons of 5K's. i did the hustle up the hancock (run to the top of the hancock building in chicago--94 flights). and then the mother of all challenges: i decided i would do a triathlon for my 30th birthday.

i am 32. this june i will complete a sprint triathlon with my sister and my friend kristin. i have registered for the danskin tri in austin and printed out my 'ole hal higdon training guide. after all these years, i'm still an athlete.

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