No Medals, No Trophies; I’ll take a Pie, Please.


I really enjoy racing but I do not want medals anymore.

I’ll admit that the first time I trained for a marathon I worked so hard to cross the finish line. Putting a medal around my neck, I felt like a superstar athlete and was so proud of myself. I wanted to wear it all day. I was in my mid 30s and was not the athletic type. I think that a brief recap of how I became an athlete will also help explain how I’ve ended up feeling very differently about medals and trophies.

I never enjoyed athletics in high school, and instead found a path in music for the first 15 or more years of adult life. My husband died unexpectedly at 41, leaving me a widow. Not one to take medication, I turned to running in the morning before waking up my children. This was my time to grieve alone, my mental break, and it gave me the strength to keep going. Who knew? I found that I was enjoying running. A neighbor convinced me to enter my first marathon, and after seven races, at 40 years old, I signed up for an Ironman. It turned out that I was a pretty good triathlete and trail runner. The combination of finishers’ medals and podium positions meant that trophies and medals began to dot my window sill. Very soon there was no more room so I would rotate out the old ones and put them in storage bins in the basement and attic.

This month I turned 53, and my second husband and I decided it is time to downsize. The children have gone, we are tired of hosting AirBnB, and are excited to travel in our van for a while. Clearing out the basement of our home I was shocked to see how many trophies and medals had accumulated.

I found myself thinking about all the athletes and all the races that take place year after year. I could picture the huge quantities and bulk of all these often non-recyclable trophies and medals accumulating in attics and basements and storage bins just like mine. It somehow feels wrong, or at least questionable, that something most of us do for the intrinsic enjoyment and satisfaction should end up generating such a huge amount of stuff that nobody really knows what to do with. I asked some of my other athletic friends if they had any strategies for how to deal with their similarly large collections of medals and trophies. A surprising number of them reported on simply throwing most them in the trash.

I’m not trying to be a braggart—I just don’t know what to do. Even athletes who never make the podium will typically walk away from most races with a finisher's medal. My friends had several suggestions that I would like to pass on.

* Donate trophies to the boys and girls club
* Make key fobs with the smaller ones
* Christmas tree ornaments for smaller ones. You can see the ornaments once a year and reminisce.
* Make a large wind chime
* Take apart and make art or recycle locally

Suggestion for Race Directors:

I have talked with athletes of all ages and we do like to get recognized for our accomplishments. What many of us would prefer are ways to recognize those accomplishments that are either useful or consumable or become genuine keepsakes. Here are some suggestions I have received.

* Give the option of no medal when entering race.
* Edible prizes: Pie, cakes, wine, beer, local faves
* Gift cards
* Cash, self explanatory
* Gear: good quality tech gear such as socks, visors, hats, shirts, duffels, etc…
* Discount or free entry on future races by same organizer.
* Jewelry: I still wear my bracelet prize from She Rox.
* Artwork: local artist makes award. Blown glass is a favorite of mine and I have some wood carvings and pottery too.

One last note: I did create art with some of my trophies, took apart and recycled many others, and photographed some for posterity. I am still holding on to a few special ones.

Now at races I politely refuse a medal or trophy by saying “I live in a van.” People nod and smile and I think they understand.


Editor's Note: Your comments are welcome. What do you do with your trophies and medals?