There's something a little hopeless in that, at least for those of us who work at SI, because to write the profile of an athlete is an exercise in futility, an attempt to reverse engineer the ineffable. We circle that gifted person as best we can, trying to get near the center of something, asking on the readers' behalf, Where do you live? Where were you born? What do you drive? What do you eat? How do you train? What are your dreams?
We ask the ridiculous because we know there can never be an adequately sublime reply to the question that brought us to this athlete in the first place, the Maximum Unanswerable: How do you do it?
The awkward, inevitable follow-up to which is a question that has stumped the novelists and the poets and the philosophers since we dropped down out of that tree: What does it feel like to be you?
WE DON'T PLAY THE GAMES JUST FOR GLORY, OR EVEN FOR money, although that's hard to see these days--we play, as we always have, to remind ourselves that we're here, that we're present in the present and part of the larger life of the world.
Insulated from virtually every physical experience but the ones we choose, sheltered and fed by our technologies, we cling to sports more desperately than ever. The packaging and the payouts have changed, the delivery systems are slicker, but the essence of it, the tug and grunt and struggle, remains the same.
Whatever sports were and whatever they become, at the faraway beginning and the impossible end of everything is only the hammer of a beating heart, that pulse drumming and the lungs bellowing, all the deafening, defining racket of life roaring in your ears, that syncopation of blood and wind, legs working and you running, down at last out of the trees, fully alive and feet on the earth, racing for glory or simply for joy, racing for history's bright and unattainable horizon.