Four Lessons From Track & Field That Are True in Retirement

I’m coming up on one year since I made my official retirement announcement from Track & Field and life on the other side of competing has been quite the ride. In a peculiar way, so much has changed, but yet a lot has truly stayed the same.

Here are four lessons that I took from being an athlete that are making my life post retirement so much smoother:

1) Being adaptable is a superpower

Adaptability. Flexibility. Adjustability. Much more than job interview jargon that will land you the position, but real character traits that we all have to adopt to varying levels whether we want to or not. Few things are as true as “life will throw you curveballs” so knowing that and being mentally prepared for them will help you adjust.

How has adaptability shifted for me since retiring?

I may no longer have to adjust to dealing with an acute injury weeks before a major championship, but I had to adjust to my husband accepting a new job and uprooting our family to a different state just weeks after the Olympic Games.

I may no longer have to deal with a key meet on my competition schedule being cancelled due to weather, but I had to deal with my daughter’s sleep regressions and the implications of that on my engery levels the next day.

I may no longer have to maneuver the personality quirks of coaches, training partners, and federation staff, but I now have to adjust to demanding patients at the pharmacy and challenging coworkers.

Whether you’re actively competing or a retired athlete working in the corporate world, being able to take lemons and make lemonade (even when you don’t want to) is a superpower.

2) Thriving under pressure will set you apart

How you respond to high pressure situations speaks volumes, and nothing prepares you for these moments quite like sports do. Even if you’re not an Olympic level athlete who trains day in and out for four years for one single life changing race, athletes on every level can relate to the idea of performing under immense pressure.

Pre-season training with training partners

Pressure as an athlete can be internal and/or external, and learning how to manage it will not only empower you to be an incredible athlete, but long term will prepare you for life after sports.

Need to meet a tight work deadline with little sleep and minimal support? Easy.

Need to cook a quick family dinner while your toddler naps all before an important zoom meeting? Simple.

Need to act quickly to de-escalate an argument that’s going south between two friends? Peice of cake.

Whatever life throws at you, knowing that you were able to thrive under pressure while competing will give you an extra level of confidence in your daily activities once you walk away from the sport.

This can be a valuable reminder for my non-athlete friends as well: it is useful to pull confidence from a time you handled pressure well thus knowing if you did it before then you can certainly do it again.

3) Teamwork really does make the dream work

Even in an individual sport like track & field where the value of team is not as apparent as other sports, a wise athlete knows they’re only as good as the people they surround themselves with. Coaches, training partners, physios, agents, nutritionists, sports psychologists, and anyone else you choose to have in your corner has a direct impact on your success so it’s imperative to choose wisely.

Yes the athlete on top of the podium is the one who receives the accolades for the accomplishment, but behind that athlete are so many other people who worked diligently to get him or her there. And their commitment must be acknowledged as well.

On the podium receiving Gold at the 2014 European Outdoor Championships

The same rings true for non athletes.

As a surgeon, you’d better appreciate your nurses/surgical techs because they have the ability to make your life so much easier.

As a big shot attorney, it would make sense to honor the work that yout paralegals and/or secretaries do to make your life smooth.

As a CEO of a fortune 500 company, it would be a good idea to respect the time and efforts of the company staff because without their diligence you couldn’t do your job.

Regardless of where you are on the ladder, knowing that there is power in team and working together for a common goal makes it so much easier than trying to do everything alone.

If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”.

African Proverb

4) Mental toughness is a secret sauce

Life is hard. Full stop. We get it. And it can be pretty unfair as well. What’s even more difficult to understand sometimes, is why something can be so easy for one person, and literally impossible for the next person.

And that sucks.

With that though, having the mental fortitude to overcome the challenges that life throws your way will set you apart from others. And sport forces you learn this very quickly.

It’s easy for an outsider to disregard the difficulty for an athlete to overcome the gut wrenching disappoiment after a big loss, and the sadness associated with feeling like they let their team down. I obviously know that dealing with defeat is a part of the athlete job description, but fighting silent battles and discovering coping mechanisms in those hard times are truly character building.

Pre-race mental preparation at the 2016 Manchester Street Race

It’s in those moments that athletes learn a great deal about themselves, others, and what it looks like to convert disappointment into motivation to emerge on the other side a better athlete and person.

I experienced my fair share of disappointment & loss as an athlete, and as much as I hated the lessons it taught me in those moments, I am grateful that I acquired a mental toughness that I have carried with me long after I hung up my spikes.

One thing that helped me build up mental fortitude is having a deep understanding that things could always be worse, and this kept the bad moments in perspective. I’m not saying to minimize your feelings when bad things happen, because that actually can be problematic, but I do know that remembering to be grateful for the small things helped me work through difficult moments.

And I’d also encourage you to try that strategy as well.

In this new stage of my life, although I’ve traded one set of worries as an athlete for another in retirement (read this blog) I am grateful for this space I’m in.

I feel indebted to Athletics for teaching me so many lessons along the way. The intangibles from sport are invaluable, and a large part of the woman I am today.

Let’s strive to embrace the lessons that life teaches us in both the difficult and happy moments along the journey.


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