It’s Never Too Late to Call Yourself an Athlete

Hot stuff! lol!

This post is written by Tonya Stumphauzer. Tonya is a freelance producer, editor, and writer, and when she’s not playing beach volleyball, running, or just enjoying the amazing Southern California lifestyle, she writes for her own blog called Budget and the Beach. You can also follow her on Instagram!

It was St. Patrick’s Day in Seattle circa sometime around the mid-90s. I had signed up for a big city-wide 5k race and was feeling very nervous at the starting line.

I was probably around 25 or 26 and I only had ONE goal: Don’t stop running no matter what. At the time, that 5k race for me was one of the hardest athletic events I had ever participated in. I remember halfway through feeling like my lungs were going to explode. I ran (read: super slow trot) the whole way, but it was brutal!

Today at age 49, I run 5k’s on the beach a couple of times a week as a light workout. But it took a LONG time to get there. The point is, it’s NEVER too late to be an athlete. And the good news is, YOU get to define what being an athlete means to YOU.

Growing up in suburban Detroit, I was an introverted kid who was always just slightly chubbier than girls my own age. My older brother was always thin and athletic so he played a lot of sports. My parents put me in a variety of sports thinking I might like it too. They were wrong…at least at the time.

For the first 18 years of my life, I thought I was destined to be non-athletic. In elementary school, I was in softball one year (hated it) and soccer one year (I was the only girl on an all-boys soccer team, something I couldn’t appreciate at nine). 🙂

And of course, when it came to recess, I was always the last kid picked for kickball and always did really poorly on the Presidential Fitness Test (to this day, I’m still haunted by not being able to climb the ropes).

Junior high was MUCH worse as I was bullied for being chubby and DREADED gym class. The only (barely) exercise I got was being a little league cheerleader for five years. 

I’m not hard to find in this pic.

There was only one sport which intrigued me as a youngster, and that was volleyball. Since it was the late 70s/early 80s, club teams were not really a thing, so the only time I did play was during a short stint in elementary school as part of some after school thing I can barely remember. 

In high school, which was thankfully a little less traumatic than junior high, I did have a secret desire both to try out for cheerleading and volleyball, but sadly my insecurity about myself kept me clinging to the safe corners of a room, so I didn’t. 

On a whim, I did end up trying out for color guard in the marching band my junior year of high school and making the team. I LOVED being in the marching band because it quenched my thirst for performing, another secret little desire I harbored for many years. It also helped me start to lose some weight and gain a little bit of confidence. But still, considering myself an athlete was still years away…

In the years post-college, I had finally gotten down to an average weight and was in good health. I had discovered rollerblading in the 90s (I mean, who didn’t?), good ol’ aerobics classes, dance classes, and going for walks. Good enough for government work. 

It wasn’t until my late 20s that I got into snowboarding. There was just something about it: The movement, the flow, the agility…that made me feel at least a little athletic. 

But, it wasn’t until I was the ripe “old age” of 38 that everything changed for me.

I’m so fast that this pic is blurry. 🙂

After a bad breakup (and downing a few too many bottles of 2 Buck Chuck), I leafed through the local parks and rec mailer that was sitting on my kitchen table and saw that there was an indoor volleyball class that was happening twice per week. “Why not,” I probably drunkenly slurred. I needed something to take my mind off my misery.

While I did enjoy the class, it wasn’t until someone recommended a beach volleyball class to me that my world completely changed. After one class, I was hooked, and never really looked back at indoor volleyball. 

Having lived near the beaches since I moved to California in 2003, I used to ride my bike on the bike path in Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach, secretly wishing I could jump off my bike and join in on a beach volleyball game, but everyone seemed to know each other and it was incredibly intimidating to see how good people were. I had no idea how to be a part of that community.

But, taking a class opened up that door, thankfully! I hungrily gobbled up every opportunity I could to train and play as much as possible, probably to the point of obsession. 🙂

Not only was I playing a sport I loved, but it led me to start strength training more, jump training, and I took up running to increase speed. Since I’m not tall I thought I could at least be fast?

For the first time in my life, the word “athlete” started to feel like an identity that felt like…me. 

Winning every game in a CBVA AA pool was my favorite volleyball day ever.

Here’s the big mistake I made though: I spent a good majority of my life waiting to achieve something FIRST to then consider myself to be an athlete when it should have been the other way around. I had a limiting belief that because sports didn’t work out for me as a kid, it meant that for the rest of my life I was “un-athletic.”

Hindsight is 20/20, but my hope is that if you’re reading this and you have a limiting belief about anything in your life, you can change your mindset about it by declaring that you are already what you want. “I am a writer” (even if you haven’t published a book. “I am a runner” (even if you can only run .5 miles right now). “I am _____” (insert your own empowering belief).” 

And don’t let age, height, weight, lack of education, lack of confidence, or lack of anything really, stop you from pursuing who YOU want to be. It’s NEVER too late.

Are you a late-in-life athlete? Let us know your experience in the comments!

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  1. Yeah Tonya!!
    Ha- I haven’t seen that pic of us in awhile- one of my fav vball photos!
    Keep kickin butt =)

  2. LOVED THIS ARTICLE!!! I am a 45 year old 5-10 guy from Oklahoma who has had to change his mindset. Was always a ‘scrub’ in high school, never played sports. Pretty darn clumsy.
    Thinking so much lately about our identity, and how that makes us perform. Both on and off the sand!
    Know you are an athlete first! Who cares about the scoreboard. Are you training? Are you putting in the work? Then you are!
    Can’t wait to take my classes with Volleycamp Hermosa next week!!!

    • Sorry for the delayed response but I appreciate it Clint! Minset is everything, isn’t it? 🙂

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