I have kind of a skewed opinion on this topic. This is because I’m pretty sure whoever the Ultimate Athlete really, truly is will never be found. Not for lack of trying on the part of various folks, but because they’re too busy getting it done to be bothered with actually trying to prove what’s been done. I hope to be one of these people someday. To lead a simple existence in the cradle of our world where the priority is to recharge and set out on the next adventure, whether that’s a micro mission up the drainage or a macro trek to the other side of the universe, would be ideal in my mind.
In the meantime, the rest of us will be running around with our Type-A personalities doing all manner of cool stuff in countless mediums. Most of us will have never really thought about just what it means to be the Ultimate Athlete. We’re just trying to keep our lives full of action and entertainment without resorting to Hollywood special effects. Actually, this entering of mainstream life to my train of thought comes at a good time. Let’s talk about popular sports and culture.
A long time ago, a fellow who might just be the ultimate athlete set off on a monologue about the difference between Sport and Life Sport. We were on the way out of town on our Mountain Bikes and passed a high-school football practice. One of the kids shouted something insightful about our tight shorts as we passed, not a big deal, but it got Johnny fired up nonetheless. He wondered just what those kids were getting out of practice, other than something to propel oneself through the doldrums of high school. Maybe they’d go on to play in College, but eventually they’d end up over it and have to resort to the aforementioned Hollywood effects to create excitement in their lives. The group of us rolling out to ride ranged from a high school kid (me) to an almost retired Dentist (Johnny) and half a dozen folks to fill the gap between. We were all having a great time on a Tuesday evening, the same kind of great time that some of us had been enjoying for decades and some us would have for decades to come. I think this attitude is integral to the Ultimate Athlete, someone who does things for the basic love of it.
Not to say that your average Major League Baseball player isn’t a badass athlete on basic level, but for some reason it just seems like they don’t have the same diversity of enthusiasm for all the things out there. Maybe they could use those ‘roided up arms to innovate the ways trad routes are climbed or trail is built but the prospect of that seems unlikely. Similarly, a World Cup Soccer player could easily have the spatial awareness and explosive strength to revolutionize Big Mountain Skiing if they were prompted. Hopefully we’ll find out sometime. Until then it’ll be the kid who learned to ski when he was five and has spent a lifetime maturing with the mountains or the one who got into cragging in high school after not making the basketball team who will be responsible for leaps in what’s possible.
But, before we get too high and mighty as Action Sports oriented athletes, let’s talk about money. Maybe that kid who didn’t like our shorts was really, on some basic level, irritated because he didn’t have a sweet Mountain Bike to go ride in the woods with his friends. That kid could easily have ended up the smoothest, fastest rider in town, the country, even the World. How do we look for the Ultimate Athlete with a straight face when our perception of what constitutes this person necessitates a basic level of financial mobility to just get started in these Life Sports. I suppose we’ll go with the old adage “where there’s a will there’s a way.” I certainly did, washing dishes after school on nights when there was no Ski Team practice, banging nails with my Dad to make better money in the summer between Bike Races to fund my habits, fuelled by the vision that these really truly were the things I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life. I still wonder though, how many kids who are working in illegal diamond mines in Sierra Leone would roll and smoke me on a big ski tour if they only knew how. Again, maybe someday we’ll find out.
Another question is if the Ultimate Athlete is even a professional athlete? Does a girl get extra credit for holding down a landscaping or bartending job to keep her in fresh running shoes? Will someone who’s paid six figures by a sponsor be expected to perform at a higher level overall on account of that being their job? I’m pulling for the bartender, something about those who are really MAKING it happen still makes me stop and take notice. Is Keeping it Real a played out phrase? Seems timeless to me…
While this whole SFUA thing grows I’m happy to have an excuse to learn about my peers and figure out just who is having the most fun with their life. That’s the tiebreaker, in my opinion. The overtrained Triathlete who is a proficient kiteboarder but wishes they could rule it by prioritizing a finite amount energy for improvement is missing the point. We’ve all got what we’re into but it’s essential to make sure you’re doing all the things you love with everything you’ve got to really have a crack at Ultimate Athleticism. Whew, that sounds like a lot of work. Good thing we’re into it either way…