Hey there, OCR. Come on in and sit down. Let’s have a little chat, you and I. It’s time that we address an issue that has been steadily building over the past year. It’s not easy for me to say this but here it is: OCR, you are developing a bad case of hubris. I’m only telling you this because I care about you. I want you to get better. We go back way too far for this to be our breaking point. It’s been almost five years now, can you believe it? Please understand I’m not here because I’m giving up on you. I’m here because I want the old you back.
You see, OCR, the thing is- you’ve always been a sport of acceptance. A sport of rebirth. Lifestyle changes. Love and happiness. New friends. Shared misery and shared success. But somewhere along the way, you began to lose your identity and we have begun to drift apart. I don’t know any easy way of saying this, but you’ve changed. You’re not the fun-loving person I knew when we started in this together. I’m seeing signs here and there that you are becoming somewhat, well, arrogant. Haughty even. There is still so much good in you. So much! Please don’t forget that. But I’m here to talk to you about what is holding you back; what is hurting you.
I hate to confront you with something that sounds so spiteful, but honesty it is going to be important for this process. At the beginning you were such a humble, wide eyed kid. You wanted nothing but acceptance and were willing to take all types into your warm embrace. Lately though, you seem to have parts of you that are clamoring for attention. As if some parts of you aren’t content to simply better themselves, but need to be told how much better than others they are.
OCR, as we progress towards becoming a legitimate professional sport, we must strive to be honest in what our individual roles are. We are not all simply fans, and we are not all simply ‘elite’ athletes. Since that term is not going away, we must define it lest it control us with its ambiguity.
As you well know, I am a very big fan of NFL football (we had a relationship prior to my meeting you, please don’t read too far into it). Out of all the quarterbacks in the world, roughly 100 are signed to NFL teams. Of those 100 or so athletes, only 32 have proven themselves talented enough to be first string. Of those 32 incredible athletes, how many do we refer to when we discuss Elite Quarterbacks? I think most people would say four: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees. Now, the argument could be made that Brees has slipped out of contention, with Andrew Luck potentially taking his place. However, we could include both of these men and still only have five. Five elite quarterbacks. On the entire planet. What makes us different? What makes hundreds of us elite?
Let’s be honest, OCR…
…elite truly means the best of the best. By definition there can only be a few individuals who are that good. And here’s a little secret: None of them would ever be caught dead referring to themselves as such! You and I have both been involved in various other sports, and we both have known some very exceptional athletes. World class even. And neither of us can recall any of them using the dreaded “E” word. So what has changed? Why should this sport be different? Such a title must be bestowed upon us, not self-given! And it must be accepted graciously and then forever stricken from our vocabulary.
OCR, I feel we should remind ourselves who the true elites among us are, so that we may put this silliness to rest. They must be the best of the best. Head and shoulders above the rest of us. They must be a threat to win EVERY race they enter. They must be a threat to win every World Championship. That leaves us with a very small pool of athletes: Ryan Atkins is elite. Jon Albon is elite. Cody Moat is elite. Hobie Call is elite. John Yatsko is elite. Among the women: Rose Wetzel is elite. Amelia Boone is elite. KK Paul is elite. Corinna Coffin is elite. Claude Godbout is elite. Five men. Five women. They have all won races at every level. If those athletes show up, the rest are not likely to podium. Those are very short lists. And they should be. It’s an exclusive title. I know you love everyone who participates in your sport, but we can’t all be the best!
As you, OCR, continue to grow towards the big stage, these 10 athletes (and undoubtedly a few others) will garner the lion’s share of the television and print media attention. They’ll become the face of our sport. They will become the professional athletes; the ones who make a comfortable living off this sport. Some of them are already doing so! And that’s great. They deserve it .The rest of us don’t need affirmation; shallow pats on the backs from strangers to be proud of our accomplishments, whether that be a podium appearance, age group win, or a new personal best. If media attention does come our way, that’s a wonderful added bonus! But if not, well, c’est la vie. We won’t complain for lack of attention; that reeks of desperation. I know how tempting it is to want something more from this experience. How tempting it is to capitalize on our brief moment in the sun, and monetize it if possible. But please, understand that doing so can come at the expense of the sport as a whole. We must not put the individual before the sport.
I hear you, I hear you. You’re protesting…
…questioning about all the talented names I left off that list. What about all the other phenomenal athletes who are making your podiums and winning your races consistently? You are right; there are several athletes so close to that level. And they could very quickly find themselves replacing one of the top five. There’s no reason someone like Lindsey Webster, April Luu, Ryan Kent, Robert Killian, or I can’t be in that group by the time fall wraps up. Hey, we might even see Hunter make a return. Some of those names are just one big Championship race away from cementing their status among the ‘elite’. But even if they don’t, these athletes have nothing to be ashamed of, as they make up the second tier of our wondrous sport: The sub-elite. Sub-elites are no slouches, and often times beat the ‘elites’. But it takes an off day by tier one or a great race by tier two for this to happen. Again, there is no shame in being ‘sub-elite’. They have great company in other sports. Just look at your cousin. In track and field, the sub-elites often make the Olympics! They should enjoy their status as an ‘almost best in the world’! They’ve truly earned it. And trust me, I feel for this group of athletes. I would have probably been considered one of the top two or three in this sport a year and a half ago, attaining legendary ‘elite’ status. And yet, the recent influx of talent has knocked me down a notch to where I believe I currently reside, with the sub-elites. That’s not an admission of weakness and it is absolutely not a ploy for pity! It’s realism. I need to win something big to be elite again! Let’s keep the NFL analogy going. The sub-elites are the other 27 starting quarterbacks in the league. We may not be first ballot Hall of Famers- yet. But, plenty of us can still make a Pro Bowl, get some cool endorsements, and even win a Super Bowl. We’re right there knocking on the door.
And then, there is the third tier. The people who are simply “very good”. No titled given, and none needed. They race hard, are very successful, but aren’t quite capable of cracking that next level. These are the people who would be back-up quarterbacks in the NFL. Not quite the big time, but come on, you’re in the NFL! You’re only one rung removed from being a starter yourself! Embrace your role.
The final tier is arguably the most important one: the Open Wavers.
These athletes line up and race every weekend, and do so with no allusions of victory. They are there to participate, encourage, overcome, and, yes, compete. They do it for the purest of reasons. Not for money, fame, logos, or attention. They do it because they love it, and they are the reason the sport can continue to grow. The elite wave of any race is not making the organization any money. The open waves are. They are the lifeblood of the sport. Be honored to be part of this tier! You are the only reason the other tiers exist at all!
Every single role is important to our sport’s growth. All of us can’t be world champions. We should absolutely continue to push for the next level; after all, that’s what makes competition so great. But we shouldn’t be employing such an elitist sort of braggadocio. Not only is it exceedingly pretentious, it’s also simply false. I don’t know if it is the lure of potential ambassadorships or the sting of a fading star as one’s dream of becoming a world famous athlete dwindles, but it just doesn’t seem worth the effort. OCR, you are leaving a trail of disenchanted friends and followers in the wake of your desperate search for glory. This started as a past time, a hobby. When did we go so wrong?
There is another litmus test for you, my dear friend. Those parts of you that are bucking the reigns of humility, ask them, how many times have they been flown in to races? How many times have they been paid to attend races? How many race organizers have thrown money, apparel, connections their way in order to attend their event? Do people constantly bend or remove the rules for them? If they cannot answer, “More often than not,” they may not be as ‘elite’ as they thought they were. And that’s okay. I know I can’t claim to have these things occurring with any regularity. I have neither won a Championship, nor a televised race. Thus, I shouldn’t be showered with the perks that accompany such accomplishments. There’s no shame in that. That has not been my role, as of yet. Both my brother and I truly hope to attain it. We’re working hard with that goal in mind every day, but we’ll soldier on until then. We aren’t all superstars. Not everyone can be. But we definitely shouldn’t try to force others to hand us those elite perks. We are mere mortals. Rules and regulations apply to us. As do deadlines and registration dates. If you don’t receive a perk you feel you deserve, you now know where you stand in the sport. There is no need to post your frustration in order to seek approval and ego boosters from others. Take your medicine like a champ and move on. The surest way to cement yourself as a “no perk receiver” is to complain about not receiving perks!
I’m glad we got through that. Yet, there is one more thing I feel compelled to talk to you about, OCR, and that is the infighting. The endless, needless infighting. We started out so strong with our love of the game. Somewhere along the line, individual racers and companies developed a fan base- which was incredible! Here we were, a little grassroots movement, and suddenly we were popular enough to have fans. Just like a real sport! But alas, we were not prepared for this level of popularity. Fans went from loyally following and supporting their steeds to seeking out and attacking their competition. We appeared bound for destruction when you, my dear OCR, had a stroke of brilliance. Genius even. “OCR UNITED”. It was perfect. The one thing that could save us from ourselves! We banded together and once again were a strong sport. But lately, that dream seems to have been forgotten. The infighting is as bad as ever. The hate has recently even turned against the athletes. Some have brought it upon themselves. Others have just been the victim of representing the wrong company. The memes, the trolling, the personal attacks. No matter how pleasing they may seem in the moment, they are all hurting your image.
Yes, I hear you, OCR. You are correct; I have been party to such behavior. I am a sarcastic person by nature, and I too need improving in this area. Have I expected preferential treatment in the past? I have. Is this whole thing hypocritical of me? Quite possibly. I’m not here for this intervention because I’m perfect. I’m here because it sometimes takes imperfection to recognize imperfection.
However, there is hope!
This is not all gloom and doom. OCR, you are in no way a lost cause. Far from it, in fact. You inspire so many! You change so many lives! Every Tuesday people hashtag you in reference to their incredible transformations. Every weekend thousands of people set out on a new journey of self-improvement because of you. One of those lives you’ve changed was my own. I’ve rediscovered fitness, the joy of racing, and the power of the human spirit. You and I can mend our faltering relationship, and you can indeed return to the fantastic individual we all so fondly remember. Let’s fix this. Do your best to positively promote our sport to the outside world. Positivity is contagious, and so necessary for a fringe sport. We are, after all, still a fringe sport. Let our every action, whether in person or online, be chosen for its ability to move us one step closer to legitimacy. Let’s go the route of Snowboarding rather than that of Slamball. We don’t want to be a flash in the pan, rather a mainstay in the world’s sports scene. It starts with you. And it starts with me. It starts with all of us putting on our best face and uniting our sport. Let us show the world how special our little sport is. Make them envious of how united we truly are!
So please, come back home. We miss you.
This is an ode to OCR, but only OCR in America. I don’t claim to know the intricacies of our foreign siblings’ sport, so I will not speak on them. Any foreigner left off the ‘elite list’ is solely due to my lack of knowledge.
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