My uncle Terry raced bikes back in the 1980s. Not professionally—he just rode for a local team in upstate New York. But he was really into it, training hard, racing often, and getting a lot of satisfaction out of it.
One of Terry’s regular training partners was a guy he called Fast Eddie. I never learned Fast Eddie’s last name, nor did I ever hear my uncle call him just Eddie without the “Fast”. It was as if “Fast Eddie” was his real and complete name.
That name was in fact ironic, because Eddie was not fast. He was slow. Indeed, he might have been the slowest bike racer in the world. I once watched Terry’s team compete in a criterium race in Cape Vincent, New York. A criterium is a multi-lap road race on a short course (maybe two miles around). Eddie was off the back as soon as the race started, and before it ended he had been lapped by every other rider in the competition.
As much as my uncle enjoyed teasing Fast Eddie about being slow, Eddie didn’t really seem to mind it. He trained just as hard as Terry, raced just as often, and seemed to get just as much out of it. He did not have the same level of ability as Terry, but he shared the same attitude.
The lesson I learned from Fast Eddie about ability and attitude has stuck with me over the years, and has proven itself relevant to my work as a fitness writer. One of the challenges of writing for a large and diverse population of athletes is making the guidance I provide universally applicable. If I think of my readers in terms of their abilities, this challenge is impossible. You can’t tell a beginner to train the same way as a world beater. But if I think of my readers in terms of their attitude, reaching everyone—or at least everyone I care to reach—becomes a lot easier.
Some athletes are serious about improving, others are not. Athletes without a lot of ability are just as likely to be serious about improving as athletes of high ability. And all athletes who share that attitude belong to the same category, no matter how disparate their abilities are. I consciously write for athletes of all ability levels who are serious about improving, and I have little to say to those who aren’t.
One of the most common mistakes I see in fitness journalism is a certain coddling of athletes. Writers assume that because most athletes have average ability they must also have a peevish attitude about their sport. The number-one objective of these writers is to avoid intimidating readers by challenging them too much.
Trainers and owners of fitness businesses are prone to making the same mistake. You can’t manufacture motivation or passion for clients. They have to bring that to you. But don’t assume that clients who come to you with less ability are necessarily less passionate and motivated. Treat every client, regardless of ability, as though he or she is serious about improving. That way you’ll weed out those you can’t help anyway, and you’ll serve everyone who remains equally.