My name is Gareth Allen, and I am a triathlete.
This is not some sort of coming out ceremony, but a statement that sprang from a conversation I had with several triathletes this week.
Jon Reeves was talking to a new work colleague when the subject of sport came up. “Oh, so you’re a triathlete then?” she asked.
Jon ummed and ahhhed before settling on “I do triathlons, yes.”
I don’t mean to pick on Jon, because it emerged that he wasn’t alone in his reluctance to “come out” as a triathlete. I think it’s a really interesting psychological question: if you train for triathlons, race in triathlons, join a triathlon club, why would you be uncomfortable saying out loud, “I am a triathlete”?
When I asked other triathletes about this, some felt they’d not been doing this long enough to claim the title. One said that he didn’t “feel good enough” to call himself a triathlete. Someone else said that she didn’t call herself a triathlete till she’d completed a middle distance race, even though she knew that the distance is irrelevant.
Those who were comfortable with the label also said that it has taken them a little while to be so.
My questions to you are these:
a) Are you happy to say loud and proud that you are a triathlete?
b) If not, and this is meant not as a criticism, but purely as a challenge to stimulate thought, what would have to happen for you to be happy to say it?
My thoughts, for what it’s worth, are that this is something to do with identity and how we perceive ourselves. For example, we are all happy to identify by our job – “I am a bank manager” – no matter how long we've been doing it, no matter how good or bad at it we may be. Parents generally are not shy about saying, “I am a mother.” Work and family are integral to our identity as people – the core of who we are and what we do.
If I bought some paints and started experimenting with watercolours, I don’t think I would start saying, “I am an artist,” as soon as I got back from the shop. It would take time for me to feel that I had the commitment and basic ability for it to be part of my identity.
So I think it’s the same with triathlon. I have been doing this for a good few years now (and it’s also my job) so triathlon is integral to my identity. I do understand though, that it can take time to reach that mindset.