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Overcoming Limiting Beliefs: I am not an Athlete

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

Pinterest pin: Woman with climbing rope

How many of you have tried a new activity and looked around, thinking...everyone is better at this than I am. What was I thinking trying this (course, new job, sport, dating, etc.) at MY AGE?

Limiting beliefs.

Where do they begin, and how do we overcome them?

Like many kids of my time, I hated gym class.

In my experience, and some others I've since learned, gym catered to the athletes. The jocks.

It wasn't about wellness and movement. It wasn't about training.

It wasn't about including everyone.

For me, gym class was often embarrassing and sometimes humiliating, creating beliefs that lingered for many decades and profoundly impacted how I saw myself as a girl and then as a woman.

My limiting beliefs began with running

In junior and high school, our gym teacher was a marathon runner.

With a marathon runner as a teacher, you can probably guess which activities were high on her list for our class.

She loved running of course, and I can only imagine that she probably wanted to share her love of the sport with us.

On a rainy or snowy day, we’d do a timed run in the gym. In good weather, we’d run outside.

Outdoor runs were a nice change of scenery. But since the run was based on a route, rather than time, the excursion was usually much longer than planned.

The slow runners (me) procrastinated in the changing rooms as long as possible, and eventually, we'd head out, clad in our 80's Adidas shorts, which were basically terry cloth underwear.

We’d start off the run in one large group. Quickly, we'd split into three: the jocks, who bounced along with back-slapping jocularity; the average runners, setting a reasonable pace; and finally, the stragglers (my people), huffing and puffing, walking as much as we ran, often far behind the rest of the students.

I would learn later in life that I had asthma and the huffing & puffing was more to do with that, but my young mind would craft a much more self-deprecating narrative.

After these runs, I’d get sick. I'd wheeze all afternoon and invariably end up home sick with strep throat or some other ailment within a day or two. I can only imagine that this was really difficult for my mom, who was a working single parent.

As a teenager, I believed my athletic struggle with running was a fundamental flaw. I was unfit. Uncool. I couldn't do it.

My limiting beliefs were "enhanced" by mandatory fitness tests

Every now and then without warning, gym class became a full period of fitness testing.

Two tests stand out for me as particularly horrific, especially as a teenage girl: the weigh-in and the pull-ups test.

For girls who believed they were too fat (probably many of us), lining up to hop on a scale in the gym, with the teacher who would read our weight from behind us, was particularly humiliating.

Now to be fair, the teacher didn't read the number out loudly to the class, but I felt the class was all ears.

I'm sure this experience probably drove many of us to the cafeteria to stress eat after class.

And finally, the pull-ups.

For this test, the girls were separated from the boys and gathered around the pull-up bar, where each of us had to show how many (or how few) pull-ups we could do.

The sporty girls usually went first, easily lifting their chins to the bar. Multiple times.

I prayed for a fire drill.

Have you ever tried to do multiple pull-ups from a dead hang? Cold or even warmed up?

For me, the teacher might as well have said "ok Jackie, come up here and show us what a loser you are!"

Ironically, rather than making me stronger, these gym classes weakened my belief in myself.

The seeds were planted: I am not an athlete.

While attending university near Vancouver in my 20's, I declined many invitations to ski in Whistler and would avoid the "sports credit" most students would pursue in their freshman year. All because I believed I would look stupid.

All because I believed I am not an athlete.

Even in my 30's, as I mountain biked and hiked up mountains in Japan (including Mt. Fuji), I believed I was not athletic.

This belief plagued me until I was about to turn 40, when I decided to prove to myself that, screw gym class - I could be a runner - I could be athletic.

So, before my 40th birthday, I prepared for and ran my first 5km. This was so monumental, not because 5km is a large distance, but because how far it moved my mind. I could see myself as an athlete for the first time.

Midlife woman wearing Nike running shoes and striped socks.
My groovy adult running look.

Now in my 50s, looking back feels bittersweet. I live an athletic midlife, but feel sad when I think how much time I wasted with these limiting beliefs.

Sometimes I wonder how many others also struggled with these types of limiting beliefs long throughout their lives.

The sports I now enjoy - ice and rock climbing, mountaineering, skiing - they are challenging and have not come easily to me. I have to practice, train, stretch, and be consistent.

Jackie on top of a rock cliff.
I enjoy all kinds of sports in my 50s

And I love that I continue to learn, and am able to enjoy these sports regularly.

Am I able to overcome my old, limiting beliefs every time?

Nope. I still fight them (just ask my X-country ski buddies about my fear of hills).

But what continues to evolve is my belief in my ability push through discomfort to reach new levels of skill.

This ability improves the more I practice it. When I find myself in a situation where I feel "I can't do it", I now know I can and make myself go for it.

Jackie climbing an ice tower
The day my persistence finally paid off and I "got" ice climbing

My new challenge - crushing my limiting beliefs!

Blogging is new for me and I'm still feeling pretty uncomfortable with it.

I get stuck sometimes in the belief that "I'm not a blogger. What right do I have to be blogging?" Sound familiar (replace blogger with athlete)?

But I'm going for it!

Is it a good blog? I don't know, but I have pushed through discomfort in my abilities before. I am not a new writer, and I can learn how to write stronger posts.

Pushing through limiting beliefs is SO hard sometimes, yes. But I know the end result will be so worth it.

Do you struggle with limiting beliefs about your abilities that hold you back? What helps you to move forward? I'd love to hear from you!

What would be possible if you pushed through your limiting beliefs?

Did you like this post? If you know someone who might benefit, please share with your friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

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10 commentaires

15 avr. 2022

Thank you, Jackie, for your thought-provoking and important post.

Near the beginning of my formal Parkour journey, I would be watching a video on Instagram of someone in their teens or 20s doing a cool move...I would often think, "Oh, I wish I can do that"...meaning I will never be able to do it because I am a woman in my 50s.

Having a private coach who believed in me was instrumental in shifting this negative mindset to "Hey, a cool move! I want to try that!". "I want try that!" means I have entered the World of Possibilities. It's not important that I do actually try it, but Believe that it is Possible for me to try it…


30 janv. 2022

Wow, I totally get this! I was that student, procrastinating or hiding in the changing rooms too. I never believed I was athletic, fast, good, selectable, clever or strong or simply 'enough' for anything.

It played a huge part in keeping me from walking a much-admired long distance path here in the UK. Despite massive imposter syndrome, after 15 years, I finally did it - at the age of 40. Like you, I kicked myself for waiting so long. I faced enormous fears and still do to be honest. But I'm out there, giving things a go. As you are. Loving the challenges and facing up to my imposter syndrome.

Thank you for sharing such an honest blog that so…

30 janv. 2022
En réponse à

It seems so many of us suffered!! I am so glad you decided to walk that path and continue to do it, despite the fears! I have to always remind myself, just because I might “believe” something, doesn’t make it true, and my thoughts are not directives ☺️


28 janv. 2022

Love and can relate to this. I hated gym class and never felt athletic. I still sometimes compare myself to other triathletes and think of them as the athletic ones.

But, like you, I finally celebrate all that I have achieved athletically. I have undergone a complete transformation the past 11 years, since I started running and triathlon.

I’m actually getting fitter and stronger in my 50s. Never too late to find your love of fitness and adventures!

30 janv. 2022
En réponse à

I am sorry that you went through this. Like your triathlon community, our mountain sports community folks are doing some pretty bada$$ stuff and I’ve tended to also think of them as the athletic ones. But we are, and it’s time to celebrate!! 🥳🥳🥳


24 janv. 2022

Oh, the pull-ups! Or that flexed arm hang?? Made me feel stupid every time. Thanks for sharing. Great read.

26 janv. 2022
En réponse à

And thank you so much! 😊


22 janv. 2022

Love this post, both as someone who has fought limiting beliefs, someone who is sometimes described as an athlete by others, yet also someone who struggled with asthma and endurance in school, and now as a classroom teacher who also teaches phys ed. I try to instill a love of physical activity in my students and try to keep phys ed focussed on fun and personal growth. I love seeing adults taking up new activities, and it’s one of the reasons I love teaching kayaking and stand up paddle boarding to adults.

23 janv. 2022
En réponse à

I am so happy you are taking that approach in school. What a gift you are for your students!! Paddle boarding is on my summer must-do list 😉

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