We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!

As I stood on the pool deck Saturday morning watching my kids warm up for their first swim meet, I became acutely aware of how far I have come in letting go of my swimmer identity and its grip on how I view the world. I did stroll briefly down memory lane, but not in a missing and empty sort of way. I was warmed by my happy memories (and the 100 degree weather) and was able to enjoy watching the kids and their experiences. Through all this I was also watching myself from a third-person perspective. I was happy to see that the feelings of missed dreams and wistfulness for my past life didn’t creep into the mix. Not once did I feel the need to delve into some old “when I was an age group swimmer” story nor did I have to wage war with my inner coach to keep from trying to make my young ones Olympians…tomorrow! Nope! I was in the moment. Cheering when they swam and sharing in their excitement over their ribbons and performances.

I sure don’t miss that sense of missing out and loss… the muddling through and avoidance of all things swimming that I have done for so long. Instead, I am grateful for my swimming career and that it helped me become who I am today. I use the strengths that swimming helped me develop and hone on a daily basis to create an exciting and purpose-filled life.

Next up? Watching the Olympics. You know… this time, I think I will really enjoy them!

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A Wish for What Could Have Been

I am deeply saddened by the passing of Junior Seau this week. Not because he was a great football player, which he was, but that ended 2-1/2 years ago when he retired…but for the tragic loss of his potential, his go-getter attitude, and his passion that all vanished with his untimely passing. I am sad for what could have been but now cannot be. Most of all I am sad for the pain he must have been feeling to take this final action. While we may never really know or understand the reasons behind his passing, it is a shame it played out like this.

I wish more than anything for every retired athlete out there who is experiencing challenges with forging a new identity, depression, a sense of isolation or any other issues surrounding the loss of their sport, to know that these things are not unusual and are not shortcomings. Many former athletes have been there. You are in good company.

If you are reading this and struggling your self, remember that you don’t have to do it alone. A little support can make a remarkable difference.

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The Sport Hopper

The sport hopper is another coping strategy that I have seen (and personally experienced) when dealing with re-identifying after retirement from a sports career. At first, the sport hopper might just want to try something new. But once they start getting into the sport, they seriously kick up the intensity. They may start to look at their competitive options within the sport. If the participation is occurring through some city rec program or at a gym, they may consider whether there is a more serious team that they can join. The new activity may start to occupy a great deal of mental imagery and planning. (Are you starting to see where this is going?)

The sport hopper starts to put the new sport into the void left by retirement from the career sport. However, there are a number of challenges that will make it very hard for the new sport to fill the void. First, this is a new endeavor. No doubt, these athletes achieve great levels of fitness quickly and are probably very adept. Coaches may recognize them for that, further triggering the sense that this sport can replace the old. But all too frequently the situation will be littered with shortcomings. For example, a recreational team will not be “hard core” enough, “teammates” may not share their drive and determination and may just be out to have fun. Another challenge is that the sport hopper, accustomed to being elite and exceptional in the sport of choice may have to experience a learning curve, mastering new techniques and skills. This could be viewed as fun and challenging, or could feel like an annoying shortcoming.

The disparity between the image of “what could be” growing in the sport hopper’s mind and the reality of the situation can lead to frustration and a lack of satisfaction. The sport hopper may leave the sport to try something else – something that will provide the desired sense of satisfaction. And so the pattern develops.

This coping strategy was a doozy for me when I was redefining myself after retirement. Ju jitsu (BLACK BELT here I come), rowing (I could go to the Olympics!), cycling (365 mile 3-day road race! Sign me up!), … the list is long but distinguished. Each activity was very enjoyable, and I have no regrets in trying them, but disappointment would rear its ugly little head whenever I started to slide the new sport into that career sport void and expect it to be more than just an enjoyable activity. Let’s face it…I had 20 years to get my swimming up to par! Once I started picturing myself on the Olympic stand again, but with only limited experience and a recreational team… the shiny new sport began to tarnish.

While it can happen, it is very rare for a sport taken on in retirement to be able to fill the void left by the career sport. There is a reason for this! That void needs to be filled with more than just one sport! The trick here, sport hoppers, is to enjoy the ride. Enjoy the activity for what it is and have fun. But recognize it is only a piece of the puzzle…not the solution.

I count 6 sports that I used to fill the void before I realized what I was trying to do… how many have you tried? Anyone used non-sport activities to fill the void? (I can add about 3 more here!!)

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The Workaholic – a lateral move

If the workaholic approach for filling the void is a coping pattern for you, you may find you give yourself fully to your job. It is likely your top priority and all else must fit in around it. If someone asks you to tell them about yourself, you will likely talk about your role at work. Upon reflection, you may find your identity has become you, in your job.

See any similarities between your sense of athletic identity during sports and your work self now?

If you are struggling with your athletic identity and using this coping strategy, it is very likely a lateral move — using work as a stand-in for your sport and thus filling the mode. While this can be effective for a time and result in great productivity in the workplace, there is a risk that when work stops, for whatever reason, the same struggle surrounding identity will most likely re-emerge. It may even be compounded, joining forces with an unresolved sense of loss over your athletic identity.

Finding closure with your athletic identity and creating balance moving forward will help you live a happy and varied life now and avoid unpleasant struggles with identity in the future when changes occur in the workplace.

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Filling the Void

So you’re retired from athletics. Maybe you finally have the time to pursue some of those other interests you have always wanted to try. Maybe you jumped right into an exciting and fulfilling job right out of college. Or maybe, you feel like something is missing or incomplete. If the first two resonate with you, that’s GREAT! For many the last rings true. If this is you, how are you dealing with this change?

Looking at how people cope with the transition from sports to life, I have noted some interesting patterns.

  • Athlete turned coach
  • New sport enthusiast
  • Sport hopper
  • Workaholic
  • Walking dead from 9-5 (a job that is just w-o-r-k)
  • Fitness battle warrior – this one can take two extremes
    • Working out compulsively
    • Avoidance of all things exercise-related
  • Mirror minion (body image issues)
  • Slave to routine/structure

Any of these in small doses may just reflect an interest or desire. But if you think any of these patterns comprise an important part of who you are (and we’ll take a closer look at each pattern in subsequent blogs), it might be worthwhile to think about why you are choosing the pattern and what it is providing you.


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Reinvent yourself!

Are you, or someone you know, struggling with transitioning to a satisfying life after athletics? Do you feel stuck or like life is not all you know it can be? Do you miss the excitement that competition brought and the sense of recognition and/or success? Great news! I am forming a new group to being in March that might be just what you need to reignite the drive and passions you knew as an athlete and create a life that is exciting and fulfilling!

During this program, you will work towards finding closure on your athletic career, getting clear on your strengths and ambitions, reigniting that drive and excitement that made you such a great athlete, and coming up with a game plan to create the life you have been yearning for.

This group is limited to 5 people! If you are interested or need additional information, please respond here or provide your contact information privately at info@lifeafterathletics.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

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Kicking the “what now” to the curb

So, perhaps you find yourself in the “what now’ place that follows many years of being quite clear on your identity…your identity as an athlete. In my work on myself and with other athletes going through the transition beyond athletics, I have found that the “what now” question can play out in a myriad of different ways. When stuck in the “what now” life may seem drab, unexciting, and powerless. It is not uncommon to feel a lack of connection or a sense of isolation. Certainly, a lack of enthusiasm accompanied by muddling through one day to the next can occur.

If this is not meeting with your liking, which I am guessing is true of any athlete in transition, I have good news! By the mere fact that you have realized you are in the “what now” you have taken an important step towards moving through it into a more rewarding and exciting life. The trick, here, is figuring out which way to go and what you want to do. If a new passion to follow doesn’t just naturally present itself to you (which, if you are stuck in the “what now” I suspect it hasn’t) then it is time to start digging in to figure it out. 

The journey from “what now” can seem a daunting trek, especial for you athletes out there who started competing at a very young age and didn’t develop many interests outside of your sport while growing up. But don’t let this trek overwhelm you. You’ll crest the mountain in no time if you take things one step at a time. Here is a challenge to get you started.

What interests you? Compile a list of you interests or ideas you find intriguing or curious. These can be things of interest in the past, things you always thought “might be interesting” but you never had the time to check into them, possible new hobbies, things you just kind of like doing, and so on. Don’t mentally edit during this process. There is no right or wrong and it makes no difference if it seems realistic or possible. If someone else’s voice pops into your head suggesting the idea isn’t right or good enough, ignore them. All ideas get down on the list.

Start this process by sitting down and writing down as many ideas as you can come up with in a 30-60 minute period (if on a roll, don’t let the clock stop you!) But don’t stop here. Continue to ponder ideas over several days to several weeks. In fact this is a list that can be forever ongoing. As new interests arise, keep track of them. You never know how they may come together up the trail.

Don’t be surprised if after awhile of pondering and recording ideas the flood gates open wide and all sorts of ideas float to the surface. Our one-track-mindedness that we develop as athletes has taught us to filter out the distractions. Now it is time to broaden our focus and embrace the things dancing around in the periphery. Getting clear on your interests will take the zip right out of the “what now”. Instead of meeting the “what now” with that feeling of isolation or uncertainty, it will be possible to say, “which of these many options do I want to go after?”

Good luck with your challenge. Share a post and let me know how it goes! If you find you are stuck and would like support, post that too! I am happy to support you in kicking “what now” to the curb.




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Beyond the Turkey and Stuffing: Step 1- Acknowledgement

There’s nothing like Thanksgiving for bringing the need to appreciate and acknowledge the things in life that we value to the forefront. This time of year, it is often customary to take at least a moment to reflect on things for which we are grateful. We might even come right out and say it out loud to those around us and closest to us. This is a big departure for many. . . as we run through life at Mach 3 with our hair on fire.

Yeah yeah. But what does that have to do with transforming our lives after our athletic careers have waned? AH! I’m so glad you asked. This isn’t just another Thanksgiving Greeting Card…there’s some meat to this idea. Here’s my experience.

After leaving my athletic career, there was a lot of asking, “Now What?!” and “Who am I when I am not Nancy the Swimmer?” I tried a number of ways of dealing. First, ignoring and denial of my swimmer self (Not very successful). Then there was living vicariously by being a swim coach (probably the most frustrating than any of the approaches I took). There was the diversion approach (trying new sports to see if I could fill that void-a different shade of denial), then returning to straight up denial and avoidance. Nothing seemed to work. I was baffled. At times, I felt completely defeated (again, not  the feeling I was going for).

I had no idea where to turn next. Then, as luck would have it, some 20-odd years later, I found myself in a situation where I could share some of the stories about my swimming career with a kind audience. I spoke of the highs, the lows, and the emotion and excitement of swimming. I shared my greatest accomplishments as well as my greatest losses and short-comings. It was in this process that I slowed down enough and took a hard look at what it was that swimming offered me over the years. It was my Thanksgiving, if you will, for my swimming career.

I realized though this process, the skills and attributes that are at the heart of ME, that aren’t just available when I am swimming, but are available at all times to all aspects of my life today. I recognized and acknowledged my courage, tenacity, dedication and work ethic. I remembered the fierce competitor – the never say die! I can do anything-inside me. I also found the compassionate comrade and the dedicated team player. By looking back and seeing these aspects of myself once again, I was able to take an inventory of some of my greatest characteristics. . . characteristics that I both wanted and needed to find a new outlet for. If these are the areas where I am most adept and feel the most whole, and I wasn’t finding a way to tap into them and live them fully, then it was time for change.

Just recognizing the disconnect between the characteristics of my athletic self and the way in which my life had evolved without effectively tapping into these characteristics was a huge step forward in my journey.

I challenge you to take some time to reflect on your athletic career. Here are some questions to get you on your way.

  • What were your greatest victories? Your greatest defeats?
  • What aspects of your athletic life do/did you value most? Which served you relentlessly in sports?
  • Which of these characteristics are you using in your life today?
  • Where are there disconnects between that energetic and fulfilled self and your life today?

Sharing your stories and discoveries with others can give this transformation process a powerful boost. I invite you to share your stories and discoveries here!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving – oh and enjoy the holiday as well!


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Standing with ghosts

The other day, I took my son to see the Chandler Symphony perform. It was a pops concert, so I was sure there would be some tunes that would speak to him. As for me, I always enjoy the symphony. As the concert began, the house lights dimmed and stars were projected around the stage as The Star Spangled Banner was played. We all stood; many sang. During this song, I was struck (as I always am) by how incredibly meaningful this song is to me. In fact, I cannot experience it with out being emotionally moved…often to tears.

I stood there, watching my son who was engaged by the stars on stage. But what I saw then and always see when I hear that song is the image I burned into my mind in years of mental preparation and visualization. I see myself on the award stand at the Olympics, the US flag rising in that center spot, national anthem ringing out around the natatorium. Then I wondered…will I ever be able to stand with this song playing and just hear the song? Or will the ghost of my athletic past always join me? When I think about it now, I’m not sure which answer I would prefer! While I am confident in who I am now and well adjusted to the fact that my swimming days are well behind me, this piece of my past remains.

It is always interesting to see where my ghosts remain. The work of moving on and letting go of one’s athletic past is a long, possibly continuous, journey. What ghosts stand with you?

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A little birdie told me…

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