Are You a “Survivor-Athlete”?

Are You a “Survivor-Athlete”?

By Tim E. Renzelmann

(February 28, 2021)

I’ve written and commented about this many times before. In fact, allow me to share an excerpt from an article I had written in July of 2018 titled, “The Making of Survive, Thrive & Be Fit”!


As the number of survivors who have become active in SCCCF’s Survive, Thrive & Be Fit program grows I find myself referring to more and more survivors as “survivor-athletes.” I will often get a sort of “Who me?” look in response so, a few weeks back, I decided to send this question to those who regularly participate in ST&BF: “Do you consider yourself an athlete?”

Exactly half of the respondents said “YES” (they consider themselves to be an athlete”) and exactly half said “NO.” Not everyone explained their responses, but here are a few comments that I found insightful and interesting!

“Yes! I challenge myself to be active as much as I can; however, I don’t always participate in competitive sports. The physical and mental benefits of exercise are my prime focus; not necessarily being the winner in a competitive game. I can be a winner each day that I do just a little more to benefit my mind and body.” – Cindy

“Sort of. I don’ think of myself as an athlete but I do like to be involved with activities that get me out and doing things even if I am not very good at them. So maybe I am? Or will be some day?” – Jennifer

“Not really... but I do think I’m an “athlete want-to-be.” I think of an athlete as someone who works hard to compete for a goal. That being said, I change my answer to “YES.” I am an athlete as my goal is to be a healthier me.” – Kay

“At first I thought NO. But then I thought about it more. I’m not a professional athlete that gets paid money, but I do work hard physically towards a goal. So YES, I am an athlete.” – Lisa

“I never used to. I always thought of an athlete as someone far more accomplished than me. However, with that said, you’ve been calling us athletes for so long, you have me thinking that maybe I am. Maybe an athlete doesn’t have to be someone like Aaron Rodgers, but someone like plain-old me. So, YES!” – Leah

To me, being an athlete is mostly about making a commitment and putting forth an effort towards living a healthy and active lifestyle and less about your skill level or ability to perform.

Earlier in my life I had the opportunity to co-coach college-level cross country runners alongside a good friend, great teacher and a fellow cancer survivor, the late Jack “Schnitz” Snyder. We worked with some amazing athletes... only some of whom were fast runners. The best athletes, in my opinion, were not necessarily those who ran the fastest on race day but those who showed up for practice every day, did their very best no matter the circumstances and learned from every win and every loss. More important than the time they posted on race day was the effort they put in throughout the season! If only there was a way to measure effort, then (and only then) would we be able to crown the very best athletes in the world and we might be surprised by who we would see on the next cover of Sports Illustrated or on the next Wheaties box!!!

“What makes the athlete is present in everyone. No special talent is necessary. Being all you can be is making actual what is already potential inside you.” – Dr. George Sheehan

NOTE: If you are interested in reading this article in its entirety (which explains the origins of “Survive, Thrive & Be Fit”, includes additional insights from some of our survivor-athletes as well as from a survivor-athlete that I met well-before my own cancer diagnosis – Dr. George Sheehan) I will post it on our blog:

I am really not sure when I first began using the term “survivor-athlete” when referring to cancer patients and survivors who participate in our Survive, Thrive & Be Fit activities but it is a fitting term.

I define “cancer survivor” as anyone who is alive today that has experienced a cancer diagnosis... whether that diagnosis came one-minute ago, one-week ago, one-month ago, one-year ago or one-decade ago. If you’ve heard the words, “You have cancer!” and you are alive today... you are a cancer survivor.

The word “athlete” can be traced back to the Greek word “athlein” which is “to contest for a prize.” In a society where we often think of prizes awarded to athletes in terms of trophies, financial reward and fame... we overlook the greatest prizes of all – health, fitness, fulfillment and living up to our potential!

So, I would define “survivor-athlete” as anyone who is alive today that has been diagnosed with cancer and is contesting (through exercise and activity) to achieve the prizes of health, fitness and personal fulfillment!

Does that describe you? If so, than I hope you will join us and embrace the moniker of “survivor-athlete”!

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