Finding Your Authentic Self in Fitness

Lessons from an American Ninja Warrior

By: Nia Howard

We’ve heard it all before: Exercise is good for you—for your body, your mind, and your soul. But maybe not so obvious is the idea that physical activity can help you access the most authentic version of yourself, ultimately resulting in a greater sense of personal fulfillment and freedom. Sure, you always have the freedom to choose between binging one more episode of that Netflix series or going for a run (a difficult choice, for sure). But American Ninja Warrior and award-winning lacrosse coach, Alex Weber, offers a new perspective regarding the ways in which we can exercise both our bodies and our personal freedom through physical activity.

1. Expressing Yourself Authentically

 Exercise can give you the opportunity to relate to yourself and others in ways you might not expect. Take Alex, for example. He never planned to be head coach of a lacrosse team, but after a year of assistant coaching and embracing the human connection in leading a team, he found that he’d become a version of himself that he truly loved and stuck with it. And then, when American Ninja Warrior came into his life, he challenged his identity as a “former college athlete” and embraced the fact that he still had the capacity to surprise himself. So whether it means finding different ways to connect with and trust your teammates, or challenging your own beliefs about what you’re capable of, the world of fitness provides you the space to learn things you didn’t know about yourself.

2. Trying Without Judgement

So often, the goals and expectations in the world of fitness are intense. There’s a common misconception that if you take on a fitness goal or try a new activity, you have to succeed—you have to win. But take it from someone who’s had to fail, get up, and try again on national television: All you really have to do is try. Failure is not a dirty word. In fact, Alex found that failure helped him get creative when facing setbacks; there was no time to wallow in embarrassment— he had to keep going and find a way to move forward despite the (literal) obstacles. When you let go of expectation and accept that you don’t have to be the best, you’re free to take that first step forward without fear, knowing that your best is good enough.

3. Choosing to Push Through

Let’s be real. There will be roadblocks and challenges on the way to reaching your goal. At times, it may even just straight-up suck. Throughout his years in the fitness world, Alex has learned how to handle adversity without getting too intense about it, how to learn from it, and how to move forward with optimism and self-compassion. As a coach, he helped his team navigate through those moments too.

“There are so many highs and lows throughout every game. I saw how quickly athletes could get down on themselves. It reminded me of how down I would get on myself as an athlete in college and how that hurt me. So I quickly tried to figure out how I could jump in and help them go forward from there.”

It’s all about how you move forward. Are you going to dwell in the heartbreak, confusion, and fear; or are you going to show up with care, love, positivity, and give it your all? When you realize that the obstacle doesn’t define the whole journey, you can still decide to do something great from there.

Throughout it all— playing on Division 1 teams, coaching, and competing on American Ninja Warrior— Alex has carried this piece of advice with him since he saw it on the locker-room walls in high school, “Give the game the best you have, and the best will come back to you.”

When I asked Alex what he liked about the quote, he said, “I realized that it didn’t apply to just sports; it applies to everything in life.  And I think there’s a freedom in that.”

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