Sports & Athletics

Elite Sports

We have written several blogs, tweets and posts regarding the issue of elite sports and how too much of a good thing can actually take many athletes down a less than ideal path. If you’re curious what we mean by “elite,” envision those whose lives are completely dominated by any one particular sport. An excellent example of this would be a professional or Olympic athlete. There is a great deal to admire about these competitors: their extraordinary drive, passion, dedication and abilities.

If executed in a balanced, healthy way, regular participation in exercise and sports can make a positive impact on one’s life. You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to reap the benefits of staying physically active. Exercise has been linked to the prevention of countless maladies and diseases, and has been proven to have a positive impact on one’s confidence, psychological state and overall outlook. For children, involvement in cardiovascular activities can have a lasting and positive impact. By setting kids up with healthy habits and useful tools, they have a better chance of making more constructive choices later in life. Throughout the various stages of our lives, from childhood and into our later years, incorporating different types of physical activity into our schedules is one of the most clear cut ways to living a healthier, happier life.

At an elite level, however, when one gets to a point at which he or she is contending to compete with the best of the best, much more than a ‘love for the game’ can come into play. Suddenly, it’s about championships, medals and vying for big time sponsorship deals, which could mean the difference of millions of dollars. When that kind of money enters into the equation, the pressure rises.

We want to stress that it’s not always about the money. For many players and competitors, it is a real, genuine love of sports that drives them. Corporate endorsements are where justifiable passion and financial success meet. For the cream of the crop, the potential to make millions of dollars in endorsement deals is an enticing pot of gold at the end of a very long, arduous rainbow. Think of Nike, Wheaties (General Mills), Gatorade, Red Bull, AT&T, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Visa, American Express, and so on and so forth. Very few people make it to that level, but many are willing to go to extreme lengths to try.

Ways in which athletes attempt to perfect their skills sometimes lead to unhealthy habits relating to performance enhancing drugs, steroids and extreme dieting. In many sports, an athlete’s weight and body mass index can directly affect their speed, agility and often plays a significant role in their overall performance. Figure skating, speed skating, gymnastics, bodybuilding, wrestling, running and dancing are only a few examples of athletics that require an athlete to strictly monitor his or her diet and weight.


Elite Gymnastics

Gymnastics present a very dangerous issue to women and girls in that it’s dark side is often covered up by the girl-next-door, America’s sweetheart image that many of these gymnasts are forced to maintain.

In a past RRW™ blog on elite gymnastics (see link below), we explained the kinds of pressures and sacrifices gymnasts and their families often make when their goal is to make it to the top. The average elite female gymnast trains approximately 40 hours per week, sometimes averaging 8 hours a day. They face strenuous training and body conditioning, strict control over one’s diet, repeated injuries, enormous expenses, and harsh, even abusive at times, coaching. While some families move to a different part of the country just for their son or daughter to be trained by a specific trainer at a specific gym, others separate and send their child away to live and be trained in the care of sponsors and coaches. Families have even been known to put their homes up for mortgage just to cover expenses.

Sadly, in the case of gymnastics (as well as other sports), girls often get the short end of the stick. Females have a unique problem that does not affect men – they are in a race against puberty. For men, puberty is welcomed in the sport, for it results in stronger, leaner muscle. For women, however, this is not the case. While most girls are going through stages of puberty and watching their bodies develop, many gymnasts’ bodies do not. Why? For some girls, excessive training and sometimes eating disorders result in an extremely low body-fat percentage. When a woman’s body fat percentage is below a healthy level, their body becomes physically incapable of having a menstrual cycle, a condition called Amenorrhea. Any gained weight is deemed intolerable in elite gyms, thus, most elite female gymnasts are usually Amenorrheic and do not begin menstruating until they retire from the sport in their early 20's. They are made to stay pre-pubescent.

With Amenorrhea, the absence of a menstrual cycle inhibits the flow of estrogen in these girls' bodies, weakening their bones and putting them at higher risk for stress fractures and other serious injuries. Injuries are often minimized or ignored because taking time off could prove fatal to a girl's career. Remember, it’s a race against time – against nature. Because of the implausible amount of strain put on girls' bodies, they do not so much "retire" as they actually "expire," when their bodies literally break down like old cars. Kathy Johnson, a medalist in the 1984 Olympics, didn't begin her period until she quit at the age of 25.

For more information on elite gymnastics, please see our original blog post on the issue.

2008 Olympics: The Dark Side of Women’s Gymnastics:!/note.php?note_id=21642571707


What about avid, long distance running? I know a few people who are dedicated to the kind of strenuous training it takes for feats such as marathons, so I began to take a particular interest in the subject. In order for the body to be able to endure long periods of strenuous pounding against the pavement, distance runners often aim to get their body down to the lowest body mass index possible. Unfortunately, that often means teetering between an extremely low weight and crossing over into anorexia. How does getting an excessive amount of exercise and often times, consuming a reduced number of calories affect one’s body over time?

Here is an article from that does a good job of discussing pros and cons from a Runner’s perspective (and just how easily one can cross the line of what is healthy and what is not):

What is your ideal racing weight? ( Click <a href="/site/"> here.</a>

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