If I talked as fast as a track star ran, would you call me an athlete? Suppose I weighed 5,000 lbs and couldn’t move in any other capacity, but I could talk faster than anyone in the world. The body-parts that produce sound in me would move faster than those of anyone else. The track star would obviously be an athlete. But, would I? I argue, yes.
I begin this week’s inquiry into the world of sports with a single word: athlete. Enigmatic, disyllabic and utterly incomprehensible when you consider its proper definition, athlete is a term which, in this era, is limited in application and impossible to define fully without the fear of entering into the ironic. Calling the fat, fast-talking gentleman an “athlete” would most likely elicit humorous comments and silly jokes because it seems almost counterintuitive to do so!
I refer to Merriam-Webster on this one. The OED, I regret to write, was unhelpful.
Athlete, as they say, is a term used to define those who are “trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.” There you have it! If I hold my arms in the air long enough whilst waving them to and fro — a game that requires much stamina, I suggest — I’m an athlete! The fast-talker wins! He, too, is an athlete — as long as he calls his act a game or exercise.
I can be an athlete in almost anything I do, as long as I’m at least “trained or skilled.” Skilled, in my opinion, is completely relative anyway. Everyone is skilled at something, and if they’re not, they’re skilled at being unskilled. What a little game I play! Each time I walk up to my suite-room door, I prune my athleticism. By the end of spring semester, I’m ready for the Olympics.
Perhaps I’ve stretched my terminology a bit too thin and by taking the stairs everyday, I’m not technically an athlete. Athletes are sportsmen, while I act out of simple necessity: My room is on the second floor.
When confronted with the choice between taking the stairs and riding the elevator, I always use the elevator. I’ve given up, really, and made a blanket rule about the whole thing: Ix-nay on the airs-stay whenever there’s a working elevator around. Perfect. Even if it’s filled to the brim, I’ll wait. I’ll tap my toe and pull out a book because — in my mind — there is simply no other way to fly.
I’d like to draw an analogy here between the cerebral processes at work when resting in the lobby of LC, near the Old Campus entrance, feverishly deciding between elevator and stairs, and standing at the corner of York and Chapel, choosing between two distinct Thai-themed dining experiences — Bangkok Gardens or Thai Taste. Both locations, the lobby and the street corner, present a problematic set of equations and considerations: Which one, and why?
When the question is Thai, obviously I choose to spend my time at ‘the Gardens.’ I mean, who wants to eat out in a dank basement and watch a Chapel Street feet parade anyway. “Not me!” I say. Such, also, is the stair-elevator dilemma.
Once you get past the similarities of stairs and elevators—both ascend, they’re usually located near one another in the respective building lobby, they both eventually carry you to the third floor just in time to be only 10 minutes late for lecture — you begin to realize the advantages proffered by the more mechanical of the two. The difference lies in the energy required to climb the staircase.
I waited for the elevator in WLH earlier today, and a friend of mine wanted to take the stairs before I stopped him by saying that I wasn’t interested in his “athletic endeavor.” It was at this moment in time that I realized a fundamental problem in my world view. Like many who have come before me, I am a creature of comfort and convenience — a common cad, capable of committing considerable acts of criminal lethargy. But this was the ultimate case of directed inactivity.
I cannot very well call myself an athlete in any respect if I refuse to walk up one flight of stairs, now can I? Most certainly not! I’m not an athlete at all, even if I can talk faster than anyone in the world. There comes a point at which the dividing line between athletes and non-athletes becomes clear and distinct. I want to call myself an elevator All-Star — the ultimate term of athletic significance — but maybe I’m just an elevator enthusiast or, even lower, just an elevator user.
All-Star, like athlete, seems to only apply to the realm of sports. At least it connotes sports. If I say that I’m an all-star sitter, I only mean to say that I perform the act of sitting very well, but it inevitably sounds like a farce. I want to reappropriate the term athlete to suit my own self-esteem, but perhaps I can only bend the word so far.
Maybe I only go to ‘the Gardens’ because it is fewer steps from that street corner. It’s not a matter of principle, or choice, it’s a matter of non-athletic predisposition. The question then arises as to whether I am capable of calling myself an athlete under any circumstance. In any particular instance in which I am feeling especially athletic, am I just playing ‘athlete’ or am I actually one?
In the past, I considered myself athletic. But now, I question my entire being. Describing myself as “athletic” seems to imply that I think of myself as an athlete of some variety. I’m an athletic eater, and an athletic listener, among other things. Those usages, however, don’t seem to justify the term.
To attempt define an athlete in this day and age is to attempt too much. It is to define skill, and movement, and being, and time. With the world in such flux, nothing seems definite. Nothing can be defined so easily. So I’ll postpone my decision. No matter. I’ve got time to spare. You take the stairs; I’m waiting for the elevator.
Charles Gariepy is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. His column usually appears on Wednesdays.