photo courtesy of Shai-Anne Davis & Tremaine Harris
Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dream. -Paulo Coelho
Recently, someone close to me posted on social media about a concern involving health insurance in the United States. While maintaining her position at a highly reputable international healthcare company, she also trains full time to compete for the upcoming Olympic/Paralympic Games. She is now approaching her fifth year as an employee and ambassador of the manufacturing company. Coincidentally, she is also approaching her fourth year pursuing a career as a professional athlete.
Note that I said a career as a professional athlete.
For the manufacturing company, she works on the same level as certified mechanical engineers, being deeply involved in the research and development of life-changing technology that pushes out products on a global level. Not to mention, the company is the leading firm for its industry world-wide. However, if you ask this individual, I am somewhat positive that she would say her career as a professional athlete is much more demanding than any other job she has pursued thus far in her life.
The reason for this blog is in response to a comment she received on her social media post about acquiring health insurance. It was a comment that I am sure the majority of track and field athletes overhear that continue a very personal and constant internal battle. The comment she received walked on the line of, “get a real job”. This is with the idea of the Medicaid system in America, a topic that requires another blog for itself (maybe even two).
Aside from her “real” job with the global manufacturing company, is it not a real job to be a professional athlete, nonetheless an Olympian/Paralympian?
Constantly, I have tip-toed around the complete description of what it means to be a professional track and field athlete, hoping not to dissuade future athletes from following their dreams. Or even with hopes not to come off as too arrogant or zealous and seeming as if I am overstating what we as actually athletes do. I’m beyond exhausted now, not just from these constant explanations; but also from the disrespect we receive from those who, to be blunt, are afraid of pursuing their dreams, and would rather, out of complacency, live in a nightmare to avoid any potential discomfort.
Training as a professional athlete not only is a job, but furthermore, it is a lifestyle. It does not mean working out at the gym during our spare time as if this were some intramural sport, or a hobby that we happened to pick up to avoid boredom. When we train, we treat this as a job. That is because it is a job.
When a person commits eight hours a day to any chosen activity, wouldn’t you agree that this particular task constitutes as a job? When we commit our time to training, we sacrifice more than just time, but align everything possible so that success is the result. There is no happy hour after training. There are no weekends to get away from the desk. For 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, everything we do surrounds the idea of the athlete we are working diligently to become.
So, a pretty loaded job for very little pay. Yet, as much as we make this our lifestyle, it is no surprise that we naturally become ambassadors for better living. Through constant discipline and sacrifice, we become a reflection of living a whole and complete life.
Through the development of these wanted characteristics, we also develop other critical skills. A professional athlete learns first-hand the importance of marketing, organization, financial planning, public speaking, and many others that come with a graduate degree for any particular field. Unfortunately, we don’t receive a certification to show off when we finish sports. Although, like the title of doctors or lawyers, we can receive the title of Olympian for those who “graduate” with honors. Overall, to call this anything less than a “real” job, is frankly, an insult.
This is not what we plan to do our whole life. If you ask any professional athlete, it would be much easier to get a job outside of being an athlete. Ask any athlete in my training group at Altis, and you would be surprised at the range of education already achieved. However, at the current moment, we are making it our job to pursue our dreams, to expose everything that makes up who you are. To go face to face with the most negative part of ourselves is the hardest thing any human can endure. The closest thing in life we can get to pure magic is achieving a dream. However, the pursuit can leave one stranded alone with only our fears to comfort ourselves. The bravest thing we can do is to own our story and love ourselves through the process.
Jeremy Dodson is a Track & Field Olympian who struggles with the idea of perfection, hoping to break the barrier we place on ourselves so that genuine living can take place for everyone.