The Top 3 Things to Conquer Life After Sports

Most people look forward to retirement. A time free of consistent commitments and working on a tight schedule. A time of extended relaxation and the opportunity to explore your own interests.

But what if that's not what you want at all?

What if you want to stay in the life of consistent commitments and being on a tight schedule? What if extended relaxation actually causes a bit of anxiety? What if you find energy in bouncing between activities during the day and accomplishing a great deal? What if your current life is your greatest interest and you can't imagine doing anything else?

This is the plight faced by many athletes headed into the life after sports. A life you know nothing about. A life you haven't really thought about even though you knew one day you'd have to face it. A life you want to dominate, but are overwhelmed by the thought of no longer doing what you love. 

My Dreaded Retirement

"You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."

Every year before the start of Mid American Conference (MAC) Championships the seniors would pick songs for every team member. It was a team building exercise. The chosen song(s) revived a funny memory or inside joke from the year. As a special tribute to the entire senior group, the juniors picked a few songs to commemorate their contributions throughout the years.

My senior year the juniors picked Closing Time by Semisonic.

To this day, 17 years exactly, I tear up when I hear it. The mix of emotions I felt come rushing back to me. I was so incredibly excited for my last hurrah and equally, if not a tiny bit more, sad that in was all about to be over.

Three days later the sadness was the only thing left. The harshest reality of my life settled in. And it was deep.

My swimming career was over. I didn't have to go home, but I couldn't stay.

Saying Goodbye

The moment my hand touched the wall and I hopped out of the water, I put my googles in my cap and threw them behind me without looking in a symbolic gesture. They landed directly in the trash. Fitting for the absolute abysmal meet I had that weekend. I laughed it off because I was so exhausted having cried so much already.  

Two hours later I was standing at our banquet podium giving my senior speech and no part of me could keep it together. I nearly hyperventilated. While swimming was actually over, I was still a part of a team for those last few moments and I didn't want any of it to end. The moment the banquet was over, my career was REALLY over. 

It ended. There was nothing more to hang on to. 

So what did I do? I drank and walked completely away from the experience. Not giving it another conscious, productive thought. It was over and no part of me was going to give it anymore attention.

And what did I do immediately upon returning to school the next day? I drank. 

Why not? I was of age and there were no practices or team meetings. It was finally time to live like a "normal" college student. So for the next 60 days leading up to graduation, that was my life. I made up for four years of discipline, sacrifice, and dedication in two months. My swimming career didn't end the way I wanted it to, so why not completely swing the pendulum the other way and live life to the fullest?!

Starting The Next Chapter

Now that my fun was over it was time to get down to business. I had an LSAT to pass. I was off to law school in the fall. It was time to get back to my roots - discipline, sacrifice, and dedication so the next part of my life could begin. 

I didn't pass. 

I took it again. 

I didn't pass.  

A job search and internships certainly didn't happen while in school because I was too focused on swimming. Plus, what use did I have for them? I was headed right to law school. That was the plan. Until it wasn't. And there was nothing standing behind it for back up.

So within 3 months' time swimming ended and I had no [immediate] professional options to fill the void. I had absolutely no idea what the hell I was going to do with my life. And no consistent workout routine to fill that void and help me process what was going on.

Fast forward three years. I had gotten my Masters in HR along with a great mid-level job, but everything I loved was missing and I couldn't take it anymore. I wanted my routine back. I wanted something to work toward. I wanted something more than waking up every day and going to the office because that novelty of that wore off really quick. I wanted the comfort zone I regularly pushed myself out of back in my life.

Time to Reboot

I cobbled together a running plan. That got old quick because I injured myself going too far too fast.

Then I worked with a personal trainer. That got super boring because I wasn't pushed hard enough despite my repeated requests for more challenging workouts.

I went back to running, this time with my sights on a marathon so I hired a running coach. His plan wasn't aggressive enough. I was so wildly undertrained I had to walk 1/2 of a full marathon in excruciating knee pain.

A couple of kids and some basement Beach Body workouts later I found a bit of a groove, but I was bored doing it alone. Plus, after 90 days the programs were over. I had to start over or buy something else. Neither option was appealing. What the hell was I going to do? I hated thinking of my own stuff. It never felt inspired.

Right around the same time I started having excruciating abdomen pain. One Saturday afternoon I keeled over in debilitating pain and had to be rushed to the ER. Long story short, I had swung the pendulum too far with my eating habits. I reduced my carbs well below what my body needed and I destroyed my gullbladder. It had to be removed immediately. Over the 90 days following surgery I gained 20 pounds. My body was trying to get used to its new normal after I had already thrown it way out of whack.

About a year later and working tirelessly to get my eating habits back on track, I found OrangeTheory Fitness and my whole world changed. A HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout focused on cardio and strength. One in which I could physically see how hard I was pushing and compete against myself every single day. 

For four glorious years I felt at home. I went to the same workout time every single day, so I found a team and a coach! Everything I loved and adored was wrapped up in OTF. 

Despite finding solace physically, my weight and eating habits continued to be all over the place because I kept trying to force my body into certain fads, not wanting to believe they weren't for me.

Then Covid hit. Back to it by myself piecing all kinds of random exercises together from Instagram to training friends just to do something and to keep from going absolutely insane during quarantine. 

By the time we were allowed to human again, the OTF coach I adored had moved on and none of my teammates wanted to go back to the studio. So I cobbled together some exercises from a few different sources, but again found myself uninspired because nothing was hitting the spot. 

Everything felt disjointed and "going through the motions". I wanted to have more say and influence over my experiences. 

Finding the Winning Combination

So I took A LOT of time to look over all my experiences to figure out what works and what doesn't.

It's been a journey. A long, winding, physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting one that was intended just for me to get here, to realize it's all a part of my purpose and drive:

Support current and retiring athletes to train their minds like they train their bodies. And for retiring athletes specifically, to continue to support them in training both. Because life outside of athletics can get lonely, overwhelming, and boring when you try to do it on your own. 

Your life was built on working within a team and alongside a coach to push you toward your greatest potential. Just because you leave the game, doesn't mean the game has to leave you. 

Synthesizing the last 34 years into key takeaways, here is what you need to master to conquer life after sports:

  1. Keep moving: It's your superpower. Don't walk away from it. 
  2. Manage your menu: Once you're done with sports, your body will experience a shock. It's used to burning 1000s of calories and receiving enough to make up for it. Listen to your body over fads.
  3. Be intentional about your mindset: Don't just walk away. Take time to root through it. What did you learn about yourself? About others? About the world? How do you apply that to the next chapters of your life?

Warm Down

It's easy, as an athlete, to get caught up in the "I got this", "This is on me", "No one else can do it for me" mentality. You're strong. You're independent. But that doesn't mean you have to go it alone. Find resources that support you in all three areas. 

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