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The Lowdown
The Real Athlete Of The Year
By Jeff Matlow


Forget what you read anywhere else, I am Athlete of the Year. I am ranked No. 1. I am the best there is. I am a gosh darn superstar.


You know how I know this? Well, let me tell you.


Back in the ‘80s, when triathlon was in its infancy, we raced our hearts out just to survive. Triathlon was a new sport that was just for the crazy people. After all, who in their right mind would actually want to swim, bike and run on the same day, without a break?! Back then, getting to the finish was the reward in itself. Being an innovator in an emerging sport was a driver. We were different. We were special. We were explorers chartering new sports territory. All success was local. There were no rankings, no online results. We compared ourselves to people we knew, people we’d actually see at the races. You finished the race by crossing the line of chalk etched onto the street and, gosh darn it, that was good enough.


Soon, though, triathlon graduated into adulthood. More and more events popped up around the country. We raced more often against more people. We needed more structure to manage the burgeoning competitiveness. USA Triathlon was born, championship races were created and national rankings were implemented. I was no longer 250th best in my city, now all of the sudden I was 57,982nd best in the country. And good golly if I wasn’t going to do everything in my power to move up to 57,981.


As triathlon grew so did our desire to compare ourselves to others. Whether we acknowledged it or not, we each began to compete on a national scale. We became inspired by stories of those at the top of the echelon. Julie Moss. The Hoyts. Mark Allen and Dave Scott. We got our inspiration from stories in our monthly multi-sport magazines; we saw it on the yearly Kona broadcast. We looked outside of ourselves to find inspiration and to define how good we were.


Then, in the blink of an eye, triathlon enters the Olympics, it becomes part of the NCAA, IRONMAN races sell out in seconds and there are more multi-sport participants than ever before. Triathlon has entered the mainstream. At the same time, Facebook and social media have shortened the distance between you and the rest of humanity. I am always only one click away from posting my training and following yours. I am 15 seconds away from telling the world that I just ate lunch (as if they really care). I can share videos of me racing, blog about me training, and compare my stats to yours in more ways than I ever dreamed of or even care to.


Finding inspiration is as easy as opening up a Web browser or clicking on an app. Suddenly we’ve emerged into a mecentric world where it’s not the upper elite that are driving inspiration, it is you and me. Inspiration happens so frequently by so many people at so many levels, that we’ve transitioned to a point where we are both the inspirer and the inspiree. We aren’t looking outside ourselves for inspiration, we are looking within. Today, everybody is an inspiration.


If you’ve ever been to an ultra-distance event, you’ll realize the inspiration is coming not primarily from the ones who finish in the front of the pack, but rather the ones giving everything they’ve got to cross the finish line on the right side of the 17-hour countdown. Triathlon inspiration isn’t coming from the super-fit blasting through an Olympic-distance event as much as it is coming from the slightly overweight middle-of-the-packer struggling through a sprint triathlon with a smile on his or her face.


You and me, we are inspiration.


In fact, everybody in this sport is an inspiration because we’ve come to realize that the biggest factor inspiring each of us is ourselves. Nobody else matters. And if nobody else matters, then I suppose I am my biggest inspiration. There is nobody better than me, I am the best. Even if you finish ahead of me, I am still the best. And if I am the best, well I must be Athlete of The Year. We all must be, every one of us.


So when you cross that finish line of your next race, raise up your hands and scream victory. You are No. 1, and there is no one in the entire sport of triathlon that is more important.


 


JEFF MATLOW would like to thank the Academy for this honor. Any Academy will do.


JeffRuns@imATHLETE.com or www.twitter.com/IAmAthlete


80 USA TRIATHLON SPRING 2015

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