In one of my classes the other day, we had an editor come in to talk about his experience and listen to our story pitches. He was funny, a former high-flying New York writer who succumbed to drug problems back in the day and is now on the rebound.
It was all cool until we got to my pitch. I had decided to write about what it’s like to race as a pro triathlete, yet never quite be good enough to actually make it. I thought it’d be interesting to people and interesting to talk about the system of never-was athletes underneath all the successful ones.
I got one sentence in — “I raced as a professional triathlete for three years.” — and he interrupted to say, “As an addict, you know what it sounds like to me, it sounds like you’re addicted.”
Um, yeah, I dunno, shrug, shrug.
He kept going: Why else would you do it? You must be addicted to it. Endorphin rush and stuff, right? I’ve heard of that.
Everyone thought this was genius. I kept shrugging — yeah, I dunno, this sounds more about you than me — until eventually I got really annoyed. Later, the rest of the class couldn’t quite figure out why it was really annoying, what if he just called it “passion” instead of “addiction.” And, anyway, they just all find the question of why anyone would do these sports so fascinating.
People tend to think that comparing a desire to run (et al) to an addiction is super witty. So original. So funny. See it’s supposed to be healthy, but it’s an addiction, so it’s not healthy; you’re addicted to being healthy. Hahahaha, I am so clever.
It’s actually probably the second or third most common thing people say. The first being, “Oh my god, that’s just soooo amazing. I could never do that. I don’t even know how you do that. It must take so much discipline.” Not that I’m not amazing, obviously, but there’s a creating of otherness here that I find strange. At the highest level of sports, yes, there is a degree of commitment and self-sacrifice that is not normal and that is also no different from what you would find at the highest levels of music or dance or writing or competitive holding your breath to see how deep you can dive. Any of these things are exceedingly hard and require a stunning degree of discipline, talent, and luck. But, I am not at that level. Neither are most of the people who run or do triathlon or bike or swim or Crossfit or whatever. I have very little insight into what it takes at that level. I am, most likely, at the same level (in our respective interests) as you, as the person asking the question and acting like I am so different from them.
Some people play video games. Some people sing a cappella. Some people are in competitive chess leagues. Some people are recovering drug addicts and former hard-partying New York writers. And, some people run. We are not so different, you and I. And, we are not all the same either.
Here’s the answer to your question: People do sports for all the different reasons that people do anything.