The Real Ones

When I lived near Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, I was fascinated with a set of runners I’d deemed the Real Athletes.

No body fat and no smiling, no heavy breathing or heavy sweating. Big watch. Very short shorts. A poetry of muscled ridges across their legs and arms. They knew the secrets to fitness, health, maybe even life itself. The Real Athletes were the elite, the Queens and Kings of Prospect Park.

One morning in the park, I saw a jogging woman. Her breathing was heavy. Her sweat was thick. Her legs and arms were normal, human-sized with flesh that shook at each heavy step. Her every movement was marked by effort.

The jogging woman was lapped by the Real Athletes, passed by walkers. She looked like she might stop at any moment.

And she didn’t stop.

You wouldn’t see her on the front page of the paper, arms up overhead, breaking the marathon tape. You wouldn’t see her on the cover of Runner’s World. She didn’t look like what we’re told athletes look like. The jogging woman was one of the ones people looked past, don’t think about, don’t see.

And she didn’t stop.

An athlete is both a body and a soul. We measure them by the former. But the latter is the engine. The soul houses the belief that the body can go forward, when every muscle, ligament, fiber says it’s not logical. But sometimes what’s possible defies what’s logical.

This woman didn’t fit into the no body fat/poetic muscles definition. Logically, it followed that she’s not one of the Real Athletes. But sometimes what’s true is bigger than what’s logical. Sometimes our definitions need to be widened to hold the whole truth; as has been said, both and, not either/or.

The jogging woman’s right leg went up, then down. Her left leg went up, then down. She breathed heavily in. She breathed heavily out.

And still this Real Athlete didn’t stop.

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