6 Ways Sick People Are Like Olympic Athletes

Olympic traits are essential to surviving chronic illness. 
Olympic traits are essential to surviving chronic illness. 

As I reflect on the characteristics that propelled the Olympic athletes to Rio, I realize that I have had to cultivate many of the same traits as they. I feel proud of what I have achieved in order to survive.

Their achievements excite me, even as I mourn the loss of agency over my body and the loss of what athleticism I enjoyed before I got sick. They motivate me to move as much as I can, as much as my body allows me. Watching them, I am moved to aspire to be even more like them in my heart and soul. 

We who live with illness share many of the same qualities as Olympic athletes not because we want to but because we must. Olympic traits are essential to surviving chronic illness. 


Athletes focus on being pure and sick people have to as well. Taking care of yourself is essential and not a self-indulgence for either athletes or for those living with illness. We maintain daily cleansing rituals and are mindful of the need to get good rest. Aware of the impact of what we put in our mouths, we eat healthy, nourishing meals. A mind that is pure, deliberate and free of disturbing emotions is another aspect. We both are mindful of that and work to have that clarity.


We don’t give up. Athletes stay laser-focused on their goals and when they fail, they try again and again, however many times necessary. They figure out a way to work through the obstacles or explore ways to work around them.

Those of us who live with illness are just as resilient. We grow, learn and strive to do better. We work hard to persevere. We fail a lot. But we get up and keep going, again and again and again and again. That takes guts and determination, no less so than an Olympian.   


Athletes show up. Their commitment comes from a burning desire to achieve.

For sick people that motivation comes from a desire to survive. We meet life as fully as we can. Our love for that which we care deeply about intensifies. We are passionate about the things we know are essential.

The drive and love of the sport helps the athlete prioritize their passions. Our drive and love of life prioritizes ours.   


Olympians are engaged learners and endlessly search for knowledge. They literally study themselves, their movements, their habits. They then evaluate and adapt.  And they re-evaluate as necessary. Athletes constantly do this self-evaluation in order to streamline their efforts, increase the efficiency of their energy output and maximize the results of their training. 

Those living with illness do this as well. We have to self-study because we need to know how to preserve and harness our energy, our most precious commodity. We survey to see if certain foods trigger specific symptoms. We examine if particular habits cause undesired outcomes.  And we assess if specific attitudes can lead to feeling agile and able enough to pursue our goals.

Both of us study our strengths and weaknesses because we just want to get better and better.


Because of the cycle of triumph and defeat, athletes are aware of the vagaries of chance and of the many factors beyond their own control. Those of us who live with physical ailments know intimately that the control they have over their own bodies is illusory. We both have had to side step or overcome obstacles. As a result athletes and sick people, both, have a greater sense of the unknown. And are humbled by that awareness.


Great athletes deal with disappointments all the time. People who are sick are just the same. Both learn a sense of perspective that helps them to cope.

Like athletes, we face hard truths and obstacles. We accept reality at whatever stage we are in. We can not afford to lose sight of our goals, so we work hard to see the bigger picture. We do not sweat the small stuff. 

The One Difference

Over the next few weeks, I will enjoy watching the swimming, gymnastics, track and field, soccer and tennis competitions. I will especially love the synchronized swimming contests because the only athletic ribbon I ever won was in that sport.

Great Olympic athletes inspire all of us with their amazing feats and medals.  But as they stand on the podium and listen to their national anthems and look at their rising flags, I will be thinking not only of their athletic achievements, but also of their inner spirit and traits.

Motivated by this, I recommit myself to being more pure, more persistent, more passionate, more curious, more humble and to have more perspective. I will strive to be more like these Olympians. 

There is one big difference between an Olympian and a person who lives with illness. For the athletes these character traits and all their efforts are harnessed for a competition every four years. While we both work hard for years and years with dedication, ours is lifelong effort without retirement. For us, our daily tasks are Herculean tasks, and we must work at it every day.  We get no reprieve nor accolades for our achievements.

What exactly do we achieve? Survival.

Cassandra Marcella Metzger, JD, MA, RYT is the creator and founder of Wellspring Stones ― the online oasis for those living with illness. After she struggled to find accessible and applicable help on how to live well with illness, she decided to prove that living well while ill wasn’t an oxymoron. She advocates to give voice to the shame and suffering of those who are chronically ill and struggling without help, without resources and without attention. She designed the 21 Day Wellspring Stones Celebration to inspire you to start taking small and strategic steps towards living easier and to mark the official launch of Wellspring Stones on August 16th, 2016. You can join anytime and find out more here. To read my other Huffington Post posts click on my profile above.

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