I Tell You, I’m NOT an Athlete…or am I?

Does signing up for a race make you an athlete? Maybe. Maybe not. Does going to church make you a Christian? Maybe. Maybe not. It all depends on the generous vision of the emcee. #runner #athlete #Christian

Does signing up for a race make you an athlete? Maybe. Maybe not. Does going to church make you a Christian? Maybe. Maybe not. It all depends on the generous vision of the emcee. #runner #athlete #Christian
Photos by Curtis Gillen Phototography

Ready for the Challenge?

I pulled on my compression socks, laced up my zero-drop sneakers, and adjusted my race number on my quick-dry technical shirt. After checking the band on my Apple Watch, and zipping my lip balm into the special pocket in the back of my running sorts, I knew I could meet the challenge: 13.1 miles of running.

I wandered around the staging area, looking for a place to take a selfie. The race started in the middle of a busy street, and the balloon arch and timing mechanisms would stay beside the road until five minutes before the race started.

The Kenyan runners warmed up by jogging around a nearby track. Me? I wandered and watched. I needed to save my energy for the actual race. The port-a-potty lines stretched across the parking lot. Some of the runners clutched mylar emergency blankets around them while I relished the cool air.

A man with a megaphone stepped into the middle of the crowd and called for everyone’s attention.

“Good morning, athletes!” he called out.

The buzz subsided as he continued. “I’m so glad all of you athletes chose to race with us today, we’ll start the race in about fifteen minutes.”

He continued with his announcements, but my mind snagged on his first sentence. Athletes. He had called us all athletes. I looked down at myself. Sure, I had the technical gear and looked sort of like a runner, but I don’t consider myself athletic, much less an athlete.

A Hodgepodge of People

Many of the people around me looked like ‘real’ athletes (especially the Kenyans). But many of the people looked like me. Some people wore tutus, and some wore baggy sweats. We came in a variety of shapes and sizes. One man jogged slowly by and at the sound of his huffing and puffing, I worried about the state of his heart. Perhaps he needed the hospital more than the starting line.

No, I thought as I made my way to the start, the emcee used generous language when he called us ‘athletes.’

An hour later, I cruised along somewhere near the mid-point. “I’ll bet the Kenyans will cross the finish line any minute,” I joked with a nearby runner. He grunted and smiled. I still had six miles left in my challenge.

At mile nine, I noticed a woman ahead of me, her black ponytail swishing across her shoulders as she ran along…in sandals. Her sandals consisted of an old rubber tire and a few pieces of leather. Instead of running shorts and a technical t-shirt, she sported a beautiful orange calico ensemble with a full skirt and poufy sleeves.

As I drew alongside, I asked, “Usted es de Guachochi?” The only other time I’d seen people dressed like her was when I went on a mission trip to Guachochi, Mexico where we held medical clinics for the Tarahumara people.

“¡Si!” she exclaimed with a grin. It turns out that she works as a kindergarten teacher at a mission school in Guachochi. We chatted a bit about her work and hobbies (she’s a poet, too). I didn’t ask, but I wondered what running in a dress and sandals felt like.

Called by Name

Eventually, I pulled away from her and pushed towards the finish line. My mom drove by on the freeway and honked as I neared mile 12. Her encouragement kept me from slowing down. Just a little over a mile to go.

Does signing up for a race make you an athlete? Maybe. Maybe not. Does going to church make you a Christian? Maybe. Maybe not. It all depends on the generous vision of the emcee. #runner #athlete #Christian
Photos by Curtis Gillen Phototography

When I crossed the overpass, my mom’s truck was first in line waiting for the runners to pass before she entered the finish line area. Just a half a mile left.

No one warned me the last 400 meters went uphill. I pumped my arms and willed myself to sprint up the final stretch. Kind strangers rang cowbells and cheered me on as I crossed the finish line.

As I stood in line waiting to see my official results, it struck me. The race was kind of like church.

The widely diverse group of runners from twelve different countries and 42 states all came to the race for different reasons. Some to win the race, others to finish—whether they jogged, walked, or crawled. Many came for the challenge of doing a hard thing. Some came for the bling (the finisher’s medals), the t-shirts, or to support friends. But most of all, they had a vision of themselves as a better, healthier person for having trained and participated.

And that’s like church. We gather as congregations with wildly different backgrounds, stories, and knowledge. Some of us ‘look’ the part and wear the title ‘Christian’ naturally. Others show up in wildly inappropriate-looking attire, but they come for the love of Jesus. Everyone goes to church for a different reason, looking for a different outcome. Some for solace, some for repentance, others for community, and some to be noticed.  But everyone comes with a vision of themselves as a better, kinder person for having joined in the worship.

The Challenge

Not everyone sees themselves as athletic. But when the emcee looked around, he called us all athletes because we had accepted the challenge.

And not everyone sees others at church as Christians, but when Jesus looks at us, he calls us his children—and he invites us to accept the challenge of walking in his footsteps and learning his ways. He uses generous wording.

It doesn’t matter if we look the part or dress the part. What matters is that we come alongside each other, encourage each other, and never stop striving to be like Jesus.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.  And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:7-8 (NLT)

This post is part of the Five-Minute Friday quick write hosted by Kate Moutang. Join us each Thursday night on Twitter (#FMFParty) for fun and fellowship, then grab a pen and start writing when the prompt goes live!


  1. I am not an anything,
    there’s just stuff that I do,
    writing books and taking wing
    and bowling’s in there, too.
    But none of these is what I am,
    not label’s really needed,
    for I am minion to the Lamb,
    and it’s He whom I have heeded.
    When ‘king’ was used to place Him,
    quite firmly He demurred,
    to choose instead the antonym,
    a Servant to the world.
    I am thus nothing and no-one,
    except a brother to the Son.

  2. Anita, it’s so great that you wrote this today because when I (just) wrote my essay on Challenge, I linked to you as my friend Anita who loves a good running challenge!!!!!!! Love you gal.

  3. It’s so fun being in a race and having supportive cheerleaders on the sidelines. Having been on that side, I now realize how important it is to show up and BE the cheerleader when I’m not the “athlete” running the race. You’re an athlete in my book, Anita! 🙂

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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