Don’t let them fool you – it’s hard being a has-been.
Sure, it’s nice to look back once in a while and reminisce on successes, victories and the “you” you use to be, but where does that leave you now? For over 15 years, I was a soccer player and everyone knew it. I reveled in the fact that I was an “athlete”, a “jock” who had the right to walk around wearing sweatpants, eat ten times a day with no consequence, and leave class early to make an early game across town. It was bliss.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I was never fully defined by my soccer career. I was a busy kid and ran from soccer practice to swimming lessons to horseback riding etc. But then university hit and the stakes rose. As a member of the Varsity Women’s Soccer Team at the Ottawa University, soccer occupied my entire schedule; from two-a-day practices at training camp to a rigid fitness routine, not to mention daily practices and games every weekend. And it wasn’t just time-consuming: soccer dictated my entire lifestyle. As responsible varsity athletes, we refrained from drinking two days before game-day, we were in the gym during off-season and we had a strict bed-time ritual to ensure maximum success on the field.
On the upside, I got free Gee Gee swag from the university and favours from fellow athletes and admirers (including white-chocolate macadamia cookies from the football player behind the counter at Subway and a waived library late-fee after returning from Nationals in Montreal). Not to mention, we practically owned “On-Tap” (a sketchy bar/club downtown Ottawa) on Sunday nights, where we sucked on Tequila and danced in celebration of our weekend victories. Life was sweet – until my unshakable identity was blown to pieces by a cracked ankle mid-way through a game in my final year. I hobbled off the field for the last time and never looked back.
The Mental High vs. The Physical Low
All of a sudden, I was forced to completely re-evaluate who I was. I suppose this happens to most athletes once they graduate and enter the “real word”, unless of course, you’re among the few who continue to work as coaches, trainers, or spokespeople within the industry, and there are some who do this. But I never wanted to be a coach, a nutritionist, or a physiotherapist. I was interested in international affairs, writing, reading and travel, and all of a sudden I had seemingly endless amounts of time to devote myself to following dreams that didn’t revolve around the turning radius of a circular object made of pig leather! While I finished my studies, I committed myself to co-founding an NGO (HMI) and working part-time at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. When school was done, I kept busy by obtaining my TESL certificate, researching graduate schools and planning my trip around the world, starting with a one way ticket to Singapore. Done.
I found it easy to keep occupied mentally, that was not the problem. The problem was that my body was that of a hard-core athlete for as long as I could remember, and now… well, now what? For the first few years, I lived off the muscle accumulated over years of interval and weight training, and endurance that could outlast an energizer bunny. Having the body and health of an athlete without doing the backbreaking sprints, beep tests and 120s up and down the field? Yes please! Unfortunately that disappeared rather quickly and I was stuck in a work-out rut. I had to branch and literally, hit the ground running. Running became a stress-relief, and a great way to keep relatively ‘in shape’. Of course that shape would change depending on whether or not I neglected the rest of my body. Gradually, I lost about 30lbs of muscle and I discovered that even keeping up the cardio routine doesn’t prevent the eventual sagging of sensitive parts.
So, I started joining those gym classes that I formally associated with ‘non-athletes’ and you know what? They rocked! I soon discovered that Thai kickboxing is the coolest way to get a workout, even for an uncoordinated, inflexible giraffe like myself. My apologies to those I judged in the past. Gym classes are awesome.
Since then, I’ve kept up the running but I make allowances for “life”: I’ve come to realize that once in a while things come along that can interrupt an active lifestyle, and I’m okay with that. A week or so without a run won’t kill me, but I’m also acutely aware of changes in my body shape and am in the process of working out a plan to redefine not only my identity, but my silhouette.
Losing Muscles, Building Skills
As I work to regain a level of fitness that I had what seems like a life ago, I have learned that I have taken more than muscle memory away from my experiences as a former athlete.
While I was focused on training my body for temporary victory on the pitch, I didn’t realize that I was gaining professional skills that would dictate the course of my career. Knowing how to communicate effectively; commit to function as part of a team; and lead by example have proven invaluable as I move through various stages of my career, all which demand different skills that are ingrained within the core of who I am. Incredibly, every step I have taken somehow plays a role in the steps I have yet to take.
While I may glance occasionally try to squeeze myself into old soccer jerseys or glance at newspaper clippings of the old me posing with my teammates in triumphant smiles, hoisting a gleaming trophy over our heads, I can honestly say that I can appreciate the past for what it was and am ready to discover what else life has in store. My identity was never built around being an athlete – it was only one part of who I was, and I accept the challenge to live life in multiples. For now, I am content to be a mosaic of mes: the runner, the writer, the sister, the daughter…the wife! From time to time, I’m also the traveler, but for now my feet are planted with eyes on the every day.