The phrase “washed-up athlete” likely evokes a strong reaction in many people. Many of us either know someone who mourns their good ol’ days playing ball or can conjure up the type based on the innumerable movies, TV shows, or books about the trope.
I am one of these washed-up athletes. My sports journey began when I was three years old and ended at the Division I level, where I rowed crew for the University of Southern California.
While I learned countless lessons throughout my years as an athlete, one of the toughest—and perhaps most helpful—occurred when it was finally time to say goodbye. Injury happened, time happened, life happened.
Here’s how I learned to cope with change when it came for me:
The most challenging transitions occur when you lose something fundamental to your identity.
One day, I am an athlete. The next, I was an athlete. To fill this void, I found new niches—plural. Some have stuck, some have not. But they all served a two-pronged purpose.
The first is that I re-engineered my reasons for waking up every morning. They vary by the day to mitigate potential burnout (a feeling I do not miss from my athlete days).
The second is that as I diversified my passions, I developed a sense of self separate from any singular activity. I became a writer, a reader, an ice skater, a rock climber, and a cat lover. I’ve become so many things besides “the athlete” that my self-esteem no longer feels tied to my success in any of these facets.
I may have reached the end of my sports career, but I didn’t restart my life from square one. Instead, I gained the freedom to pick and choose which bits of my old routine to adopt.
In building my post-rowing routine, I considered the parts of my old routine I loved and those I didn’t.
For instance, I love working toward fitness goals. I do not, however, love doing this at 5 a.m.
I now sleep in, drink my Matcha Collagen Latte on the porch, and don’t bother breaching the gym until later.
After a few years away from rowing, I found myself missing it more than ever. So I Googled “volunteer rowing coach positions near me” and, with surprising ease, slipped back into the rowing world.
What I didn’t expect was that it wasn’t just the proximity to the sport that excited me. It was that I found a new community of coaches who, like me, traverse the world as washed-up athletes while training the next generation of athletes.
Ultimately, I learned that transitions— moving cities, changing careers, or building a family— don’t mean the end but represent the next step in my lifelong evolution.
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