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Throughout history we have embraced physical talent and praised athletic ability. From the inception of the ancient Olympic Games in Greece in 776 B.C. to modern day sports, athletics have proven to be an important part of many cultures. Is there anything so intrinsically great about being able to run faster than your fellow man or possessing the ability to manipulate inanimate objects with pinpoint precision? Running fast and jumping high have never helped us solve any of the world’s problems. It’s not like athletic ability can help solve world hunger or stop war. So why have we, as a culture, embraced sport as religion and adopted its stars as our idols?
On back day at the gym, my training buddy Frank and I were finishing up with some deads. I was going into my last set and we were knee deep in one of our usual Earth-shattering conversations that takes place between sets. These conversations usually range in topic from love and relationships, to who was the best rock band of the early 70s, to what happens when you die, and everything in between. This particular day we were talking about happiness, and how some people are happy and others will never be.
Frank chimed in with the age old adage that money can’t buy happiness. I was hunched over the bar I had just finished wrapping when we finished bullshitting. Frank, sensing my procrastination, said, “You can’t buy this next set either.” Now that’s a good one, I thought to myself. I finished the last set and we called it a day, but holy shit, that line has stuck in my head. You gotta admit that was a damn good one.
Think about it. You can’t buy a physique. You can’t pay to have someone do your training and dieting for you. It’s all you. Sink or swim. You can argue that you’re at a disadvantage if you don’t have money to buy a gym membership or fancy threads. But come on man, we all know that the likelihood of you excelling at anything in life is because of what you have inside. Wilt Chamberlain could school you wearing work boots, and buying the latest pair of sneakers will not make you a better basketball player.
That’s the beauty of sports and perhaps one of the reasons why I love bodybuilding. I was never an athlete growing up. To this day I don’t really watch sports on TV unless my brother is watching a game. To be honest, I never really understood why people go so crazy for sports. I mean, in high school and college athletics are huge. From the time we are very young, people try to persuade us to play sports and we are constantly reminded of the value of a good athlete. Are all these professional baseball players really worth the millions of dollars in their contracts? Are they that great? What makes them so valuable? Society makes them valuable. Why? Because we are obsessed with the notion of individuals being able to transcend typical boundaries such as race, social status, and income and going on to be great champions.
C’mon, people live and die for the story of the woman who was able to overcome adversity or the boy who came from modest means and went all the way. It’s all about supply and demand. We like to hold onto something that seems free of all the bullshit because we live in a world where money, gender, and social and ethnic background are determining factors. Sport gives us the means to show that through hard work, determination, and natural ability you can have great achievements.
We live in a world where people can easily find themselves denied. Denied rights, denied opportunities, denied equal treatment. People who possess extraordinary natural talent and work ethic can still find themselves unable to make their dream a reality. The world is screwed up and we know it. But sports have provided an arena in which anyone that has what it takes can make it happen. That’s why we love it. We love it because the story of the Average Joe overcoming the odds and making it will never get old to us. Why? Because it gives us hope. It motivates us. It inspires us.
I remember when I first picked up a bodybuilding magazine and saw all these monstrous pro bodybuilders. I wondered what they looked like at my age. Did I have any chance? I wasn’t an athlete. Heck, I didn’t even have a good physique, but as time goes on you realize that nobody starts off looking like that. The guys you see in the magazines started off looking just like everyone else…just like me. These guys were your classmates and, no, most of ’em weren’t on the football team. They weren’t born on planet Krypton or anything like that. They were just average people who had potential and the ability to recognize it and try to fulfill it.
Whether we are sports fans or not is irrelevant. Whether we are all fans of competitive bodybuilding doesn’t matter either. What does matter is that we all love the Iron Game. We all have the desire to improve ourselves and we all have individual goals. Our willingness to accept the fact that we, as individuals, are the only ones who will determine whether we fail or succeed is what sets us apart from the rest.
At the end of the day, you being the one who let it all hang out and pushed yourself beyond what was “sufficient” is what will make the difference. If you want it, you gotta go and get it. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or how much money you have, because once you have it, it’s yours. Money can’t buy it and no one can take it away. That’s what sport is all about. Owning something. Owning something you built. Just like me.