The term After Athlete (@afterathlete) is one that was coined by my friend, Jade. It’s pretty self explanatory, but it’s meant to shed some light on the difficulties that come with an all-consuming athletic career ending. Being an After Athlete is hard.
Take a look at the multitude of professional athletes who struggled when their career came to an end: Chris Nilan, Tiki Barber, Shannon Miller, Marc-Andre Bourdon, the list could go on for days. It’s a well-documented phenomenon in the sport psychology world. I’m obviously not a pro, most people aren’t, but a lot of us have still had to cope with this massive identity change at some point.
The first year without my athletic identity was probably one of the most confusing years of my life. I went from being a triple varsity athlete, at a high school with about 250 students total, to playing intramural hockey once a week at a university of 30,000 people. Our intramural team name? The Puck Bunnies. Yes, feel free to vomit, roll your eyes, wtv, if that name doesn’t scream my athletic career is over I don’t know what does. Anyway, I was definitely not one of the cool kids in high school. All I really cared about was sports and getting on honour roll. In fact, the school itself was pretty crazy about sports, also. To give you an idea: every Monday, if you scored a goal or played a great game it was celebrated at our morning assembly; we had a practice or a game everyday except Sunday; we had school on Saturdays to make room for more game days; we often travelled 8 hours on a bus just to get to our opponents’ school. Our lives revolved around sport development and our community celebrated each others’ achievements and identities as athletes.
Then, I started university in a new city, where I knew close to no one. We only had 4 days of classes and some days only a single 3 hour class???? I had so much time on my hands that I had no idea what to do with it. No practice? No weight training in the gym? It was a weird feeling. The popular thing to do with your time was party, so I gave that a try, only to find myself feeling more uneasy about my life decisions.
Our residence was called The Zoo, you can use your imagination to figure out what our lifestyle was like. For the first time in a while, I had no sense of pride. I was working out a lot, but my goals revolved around appearance. I was obsessed with avoiding the “freshman 15”. I worked out every day, but just didn’t enjoy it. Training without an actual goal in mind was unfulfilling. I tried doing my old workouts from our trainer, but when I read the goals “mass and power development”, I felt like a fraud. Those weren’t things I was chasing anymore. I had lost my identity – I didn’t realize how much sports were a part of me until they no longer were. I even ended up transferring schools, because I felt lost, and couldn’t imagine another 3 years of destroying my liver to fill this void. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of fun, met some amazing people that I wish were still a part of my life, but I didn’t like myself anymore.
I thought the comforts of home would make it a little more bearable, which it did, but it wasn’t until my friend Emilie convinced me to come try CrossFit that I finally felt like I could breath again. Finally, the sport of fitness –it made so much sense to me. We trained like elite athletes everyday – we were lifting heavy weights in the form of functional lifts. Front squats, back squats, deadlifts, bench press, cleans –all things that fuelled me when I used to train for hockey. Everyday, I got to feel like an athlete again: competing against my fellow “classmates” and also competing against myself, trying to beat my times. We also had a coach – someone guiding us and pushing us everyday. Someone, who genuinely wanted us to progress and succeed.
Everything about it resonated with my inner athlete. I was no longer training for aesthetic purposes, I was training to lift heavier, get a sub 3 Fran, and compete in local competitions. I was no longer eating (or not eating rather) to be skinny, I was eating to perform. I had a team, a coach and competition again, it felt amazing. Not only that but I was finally able stop beating myself up for deciding not to pursue hockey. I finally realized it wasn’t the sport I was missing; it was everything else it brought me.
If I could give advice to my 19 year old self and anyone else going through this type of transition, it would be to give yourself the time to adjust, and try not to judge yourself. In my experience, it helped to try new things – which finally lead me to find something that resonated with me. For me, it was CrossFit, for Jade, it was Yoga, for Marc-Andre Bourdon, it was religion, for Chris Nilan and Tiki Barber, it was broadcasting, and for Shannon Miller it was motivational speaking. Find that new thing that lights your soul on fire, like your sport used to.