The Athlete

This is the story of the fastest man in history. He lived in ancient Rome and to this day no one has managed to match his skill. He trained with a veracity that was as intimidating as his performance. He manipulated his diet, his schedule, and his sleep that he may out-perform any who challenged him. He was meticulous in his routines. His coaches were ancient mystics who had learned the secrets of achieving human athletic perfection. He was relentlessly obsessed with winning every race he ran. And he did.

One day the emperor—upon hearing of this man’s legend—invited the athlete to compete in his annual private competition. The emperor traditionally held the exhibit in the innermost area of his massive castle-like complex near the coastline. He would bring in the best athletes from around the Roman Empire and personally witness their substance. Athletes left this competition a validated god, or never to be heard from again. Those who left in the latter condition were often sighted years later as beggars on the street or in dark, lonely pockets of the empire.

Upon arriving to the race, the world’s fastest man found a feast waiting in his honor. He ate according to his diet—focused for whatever competition the emperor had for him the next morning. The emperor spent the feast quizzing the athlete on his drills, diet, routine, and methodology. The athlete answered politely though he remained continuously anxious and distracted by the ensuing race. He left the meal having forgot what the food tasted like, and having forgotten what the emperor has asked.

The next morning the athlete woke up early, anxious anticipation and dreams of glory warring in his head. He did his best to quiet his mind with mantras and meditation. Upon arriving at the stadium, he was escorted to the start line for the race. He surveyed the track to find he was the only one there. He stood alone for what seemed like an eternity.

A single man emerged from the northernmost entrance and slowly approached the lone athlete. His face was warm and inviting—the lines around his eyes seemed to be a road inviting the young man somewhere new, exciting, subversive, and dangerously adventurous.

“Life is not a race.” The man spoke.

“And the victory you seek in this race or any other will not put an end to the aching that you feel for glory. You will never win the race that you truly seek. If you want to win that race, you must lose. Recant your glory pursuit and follow me into obscurity, into the streets of the poor and marginalized, into the depths of who you are without anything familiar, and here you will find the medal for which the deepest part of you longs. And it matters not the race that others run. In order for you to find what you’re looking for, they must win, and you must lose. You must simply follow me out the door.”

Suddenly the athlete found himself among the other athletes as the emperor approached his special seat in the imperial viewing box.

The emperor said, “For the one who wins there will be immeasurable glory. I will call you to sit at my right hand and lead this empire as equal with Caesar, as the true son of god that you will prove to be.”

The athlete stood dumbfounded. He looked to the emperor in shock, then he saw the man with the lines around his eyes standing by the door from which he entered—holding it open. He stood frozen in the moment. He took a step toward the door in frightening adventure. The emperor watched in disbelief as the athlete walked out the front door, never to be heard from again.

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