Reasons to Run: Athletes come in all shapes and sizes

Published: Tuesday, May 17 2011 7:38 a.m. MDT

I like to watch The World’s Strongest Man competition.

There is just something fascinating about seeing a human being flip huge tires over and throw heavy barrels around. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it’s the furthest sport from running there could possibly be.

I watched a man shoulder the weight of a cartload of boulders until his nose bled! Now this is entertainment.

I watched the competitors dead-lift 814 pounds and try to hold it as long as possible. That’s about 700 pounds more than the weight I can dead lift. Considering it takes at least five of my arms to equal one of theirs, I don’t feel so bad.

All these men have a body type that can be described in one word: thick. Thick arms, thick legs, thick torsos. I think one of their calf muscles is the same size as my thigh. The only thing they don’t have much of is neck, either that or it gets lost in a plethora of rippling muscle.

I wonder about stereotyping different body types to certain sports. Gymnasts are short. Basketball players are tall. Distance runners are thin. The world’s strongest men are tanks.

Gymnasts are flexible. Basketball players have a high vertical jump. Distance runners have endurance. The world’s strongest men can lift a tank, then run around with it, and then throw it across the arena.

The truth is, being in contention for the world’s strongest man requires strength, but it also requires endurance and flexibility. They lift and throw and pull and push heavy objects of every size and shape all over the place. Sometimes just looking at the weight prescribed by my lifting coach makes me want to pass out.

I can’t help cheering for the athlete the announcers referred to as “the little 280-pounder from Wisconsin” versus "the giant farm boy." The “little 280-pounder” is the same one who did squats until his nose bled.

After winning most of the events and hugging his surprisingly petite mother, they showed part of Mr. Tiny from Wisconsin’s interview where he said he wanted to “go” until something broke or he passed out.

Maybe our sports aren’t so different after all. I push until my body sends stress fractures and inflamed tendons forcing me to stop. I’ve regained consciousness in an ice-bath after passing out on the finish line of a race: the first question I asked was “Who took off my spikes?” And “hitting the wall” makes me feel like I too am carrying a cartload of giant rocks around the track.

Athletes are mentally and physically strong. Toned and sharpened for the events they have learned and trained to excel in. Sometimes they manage to lift the car for the longest amount of time, and sometimes they can’t remember if they ran the last mile of the race or not. The tall ones, the short ones, and the tanks.

But I'm pretty content to be an averaged-sized 10K runner with not-so-average times, who watches the World's Strongest Man competition in fascination and awe. I secretly hope "the little 280-pounder" will someday find himself watching a long-distance race on TV at his home in Wisconsin, laughing about how small everyone is and cheering on the girl with a funny arm swing and a surprise finishing kick.

Cecily is a senior at Brigham Young University and is a two-time All American in cross country and track.

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