Groaning in a puddle of sweat while holding a pose that would be considered obscene in any environment outside of the gym (quite a few exercises fall in this category, to my constant amusement), I considered taking a rest but just then Turbo Jennie yelled, “Come on athletes! Don’t quit now!” That was exactly the first time in my life anyone has ever called me an “athlete.” And I liked it! After we finished the 5 minutes of ab hell – during which I did not take a rest – it occurred to me that she might have been being sarcastic. After all, what could be further from the talent-oozing, Nike-sponsored, Gatorade-sweating, medal-winning, million-dollar-earning, nude-posing world of pro athletes than a 33-year-old suburban mom in Minnesota? But then I remembered that Turbo Jennie works with 8th graders all day and realized that she probably has a broader definition of “athlete” than “Serena Williams.” And if she wants to include me in that then by golly I’ll take it.

So what exactly makes someone an athlete then? If it’s not their sponsorships or salary or sex-crazed groupies then what is it? (And what fun is it??) Talent? Achievement? Recognition in their sport? Because I don’t have any of that either. How about dedication and training hard? I could argue that I have those. And so do a lot of other people. Even… Victoria’s Secret underwear models? This issue of what constitutes an athlete came up when Victoria’s Secret supermodel Adriana Lima gave an amazingly honest interview about what she does to prepare for the annual Victoria’s Secret show. It’s intense:

“Lima, 30, has been working out every day with a personal trainer since August. For the last three weeks, she’s been working out twice a day [focusing on intensity rather than duration]. She sees a nutritionist, who has measured her body’s muscle mass, fat ratio and levels of water retention. He prescribes protein shakes, vitamins and supplements to keep Lima’s energy levels up during this training period. Lima drinks a gallon of water a day. For nine days before the show, she will drink only protein shakes – “no solids”. Two days before the show, she will abstain from the daily gallon of water, and “just drink normally”. Then, 12 hours before the show, she will stop drinking entirely.”

Lima adds that she eats “no carb” saying, “I only can eat green vegetables, everything grilled or steamed, or four ounces of any type of protein.” (And hey with Lima not eating for 2-9 days before the show – depending on how you define eating – she definitely won’t have to worry about a “food baby.”)

The issue started when the chief stylist for this show, Sophia Neophitou, added, “It’s like they’re training for a marathon. Adriana works really hard at it. It’s the same as if you were a long-distance runner. They are athletes in this environment.”

At face value I can kind of see her point: athletes work really hard at what they do best and underwear models works really hard at what they do best. But she kind of lost me (and a lot of other people) when she compared it specifically to long-distance running. Like my girl-crush-site Jezebel pointed out this is not an apt comparison because “runners eat solids.” I don’t know that walking down a runway in platforms is on the same level of athletic achievement as running 26.2 miles. The gist of the Jezebel post focuses on the idea that most endurance athletes carb-load before the big event but as most of you already know there are as many different dietary plans as there are runners and carb-loading isn’t as en vogue (or as scientifically supported) as it used to be.

However, I don’t know any runner who would purposely deplete themselves of water before a race but I have known two other groups of people to do this as a practice: pageant girls and bodybuilders. (Because dehydrating yourself not only kills bloat but it shows better muscle definition.) And while pageant girls aren’t typically seen as athletes, bodybuilders are. In fact, the few bodybuilders I know personally follow a contest-prep regime almost exactly the same as Lima’s (but with more lifting and waaay more tanning lotion).

So, does this intense regimen of dieting and exercise make Lima an “athlete”? If you say no then are you saying bodybuilders are not athletes? Does the fact that someone works out hard and diets with the singular focus of manipulating the way they look make them less of an athlete than one who does the same maneuvers but with the emphasis on performance? And when does this cross the line into disordered-eating territory?

I have to admit I’m torn on this one. When I first read the article I rolled my eyes and thought no way is a V.S. model an athlete but then I remembered how awesome it felt when Turbo Jennie called me one and I don’t do half as much as Lima does (and if I did I can guarantee you my family would have me in an in-patient ED clinic in 0.2 seconds). I also want to admit that some of the most pernicious ED tricks I ever learned were not from other anorexic girls but from a group of competitive mostly male bodybuilders who befriended me.

So help me out: What makes someone an athlete? And in your opinion, does Adriana Lima count as one? Do you consider yourself to be an athlete?

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  1. An athlete is a person trained to compete in sports or exercises involving physical strength, speed, or endurance. Modeling is not a competitive sport. It is a competitive profession. Just because Lima chooses to prepare for a show in the ways described in the article doesn’t mean that the same preparation is required for everyone with her same position or job as a model.

    • @Tia: Yeah but that your definition. I could be anything you said and much more. She is in a competitive industry for pay much like any football player. She’s an athlete to me

    • @Tia: EXACTLY! Adriana is NOT an athlete. She’s working out for aesthetics…walking and putting on clothes is not a sport. Also, excercising and drinking protein shakes does not automatically make someone an athlete. There are plenty of people who work out regulary for their health or just to shape their bodies AND will never EVER be able to compete in ANY sport. Athletes don’t train hard for a specific body type or “look”, but they focus on flexibility, endurance, strength, and agility so they can *perform* specific tasks. Athletes participate in SPORTS regularly and train for specific sports. I understand the need to encourage people to work out, but let’s not lie to people and call them athletes. Fitness regimens do help people develop their athleticism, but they are NOT sports.

  2. She’s an athlete if she says she is. I feel pretty damn athletic after a tough workout. Bootcamp DENVER

  3. I consider anyone that works out hard and pays attention to what they eat etc…an athlete. I consider myself an athlete even though I don’t get paid for it. So, yes I consider Lima an athlete.

  4. In the strictest sense of the word, an athlete is someone that participates in track and field (aka athletics). In the broader sense it is synonymous with sportsperson, or someone that participates in sports. It’s hard to imagine that modeling is a sport, so I don’t think she is an athlete based on just that. If she happens to participate in sports in her non-modeling time, then I suppose she could be considered an athlete. If she were an avid soccer player, for example, that would make her an athlete in the broader sense.

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