Athlete of the Week

I’m not really sure how it started. My family goes upstate to Lake George, New York every summer; for a week in August we spend a large chunk of our time outdoors—swimming, boating, playing golf, tossing a football. Three years ago my two brothers and I decided to turn it into a competition that included six events: golf, swim, run, basketball, tennis, and miniature golf. The winner, based on a points system, would be declared the Athlete of the Week.

Each of us thinks he is the best athlete and there is a manageable age gap (Brian turned 29 last week; I turned 25 last week; Steve will turn 21 in November) so the excitement level was high for the inaugural competition in 2008. We were fortunate to spend nine days at the lake, meaning we wouldn’t have to overdo it on any one day.

Our scoring system was as follows: 5-3-1 for basketball, tennis, the run, and the swim; 3-2-1 for each of the four rounds of golf (and 5-3-1 for the aggregate); and 3-2-1 for each of the night rounds of mini golf.

After four rounds of golf, one round of mini golf, and the swim, Steve was in first with 20 points, Brian had 18, and I had 10. By dominating tennis, as expected, beating both of my brothers in one-on-one basketball, and winning the run comfortably, I tied Brian with 28 points. Steve finished with 25.

Word spread among family and friends about this Athlete of the Week competition (though the only person happy about the tie was my mom) and by the next summer there was considerable hype leading up to our vacation. Because I’m a nerd with too much time on my hands professional journalist, I created a media/fan guide for the event—a 12-page, 2,000 word packet with photos, quotes from the competitors, and Vegas-style odds for each event.

Naturally, I made myself the favorite. This was not just because I thought I was the best athlete in the family, but because I figured I wouldn’t come in last in every round of golf as I’d done the previous year. Despite having dominated my brothers in tennis for years, I guaranteed victory in the run, telling “the media” I could have an off day in tennis but it was impossible to have an off day while running.

A week after my declaration, I saw the bottom of Brian’s running shoes move farther and farther in front of me as I faded down the stretch of the two-mile race. Had I won, I would have been the champion. Instead, Brian was the Athlete of the Week. Apparently, you can have an off day in running. Of course my brothers still remind me of my guarantee.

Earlier this month, despite spotty weather and fewer days at the lake, a competition was still planned. It just wasn’t planned very well. Brian kicked off the annual trash-talking email thread, vowing to claim his fourth straight title (he won last year rather easily). Steve talked about “turning heads” on the basketball court and continuing to dominate on the golf course. His latter statement was true: Steve shot 76-77-80 and won every round. The surprising part was that I came in second each day. Though I had been given the nickname “The Milkshake Man” because the last place finisher had to buy milkshakes for the others after the round, it was Brian who fell apart on the course this year.

Here was a guy who once beat out hundreds of New Yorkers in a putting contest at Grand Central for the opportunity to face New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. He out-putted Eli that day but couldn’t get a handle on the Queensbury Country Club greens.

Brian did prevail in the swim race, as he’s done every year, and I came in second—no surprises there. With my stronger events coming up, I felt very confident about my chances to win the competition. Unfortunately, it never happened. By the time Brian had to leave, we had done none of the other events.

I have hopes that with better planning the competition can resume next year. It always raises the debate about the definition of athletic. Some people think it’s about running fast and jumping high. Others feel it’s about good coordination. I like to think of it as someone who could step into a competition like Athlete of the Week and perform well in everything.

For example, after learning that Jimmer Fredette was back in his hometown of Glens Falls the same time we were at the lake, we started talking about Jimmer’s chances in Athlete of the Week. At first we assumed he would dominate—we knew he was a three-sport star in high school and that he’d obviously cruise in the run and, you know, basketball. But during our final round of golf, our uncle informed us that he’d seen highlights of a recent celebrity pro-am that included Jimmer and Charles Barkley. Jimmer lost to Sir Charles, who until then I had pegged as the worst golfer on the planet. Suddenly I started reconsidering Jimmer’s chances. Could he play tennis? Could he swim? If Jimmer Fredette were to somehow enter the Athlete of the Week competition, maybe he would not win.

But at the same time I don’t think anyone would say my brothers and I are better athletes than The Jimmer. So I ask you, readers, what do you think? How do you define a great athlete?

One thought on “Athlete of the Week”

  1. I think your Athlete of the Week events are a good indicator of athleticism because they include speed, strength, and finesse. Wrestling or boxing would be fun to add but then you'd have the issue of weight discrepancies. I think a football or baseball accuracy contest would make a good addition. Set up some empty soda/beer cans on the top of dock posts and see who can knock off the most. Or, go to the batting cage and see how many hits you can get on "fastest".I define a great athlete as someone who can play multiple sports well and not rely too heavily on his/her size advantage. For example, Michael Jordan, Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson, Tom Zibkowski (football, boxing), John Elway (minor league baseball), Charlie Ward, and anyone who plays multiple sports in college. Shaq was incredible but couldn't make a foul shot so I'd have to see him do something else before putting him in the "great athlete" category.

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