Sunset on a career: not an easy transition
- Tuesday, 10 October 2017 23:41
Six months has passed since I announced retirement. If my sport agenda is a lot lighter today, the past few months were busy and filled with ups and downs because of rowing. Every day has been a challenge, and if I could summarize that period it would be “It is difficult to transition”.
Nothing really prepares you to what really happens after you decide to end your career. The beauty and intensity of high performance sport can be found in the moment. Staying focused on the objective is key to perform. If you are looking beyond the coming 6 minutes of racing, you are not in the race anymore. It is “All In” or nothing. And then, it is the end. You decide that it is over and that you are ready to move on to the next chapter. I probably had a utopian vision of my transition. I thought that I had the perfect ingredient for a smooth and seamless transition. I chose my moment I have solid degree with some work experience. I had a job offer secured, a family, a roof over my head, and the motivation to succeed out there. I was wrong.
I didn’t anticipate how much 17 years of rowing had impacted my life, physically, emotionally and socially. When writing those words, I am thinking “Of course it had a huge impact on you!”. I knew it but no one and nothing can predict how you will react to the shock of retiring. You feel very alone facing….yourself !
For years, your body is nothing else than a tool and a mean to achieve something. You abuse it as much as you care about it. The result is a complex relationship between body and mind. One command the other in a principle of reciprocity, and you can surprise yourself with how much you can ask to both of them. By pushing the limit every day, the image I saw of myself in the mirror was one of a strong body able to take on any challenge. Hours spent on the water gave my body that natural tan, and hydration filled my muscles with water.
And the Big Bang happens. Your mind says: “It is over. Time to move on”. But my body doesn’t look at it that way. The good thing is, I am full of energy. I sleep less and I could probably climb mountains day after day. My body is still ready to push the limit, and go hard. That is why the battle between body and mind begins. I look at myself in the mirror and I don’t see the same person. It feels like my muscles are shrinking. My clothes don’t fit me anymore. I spend eight hours a day in an office, in meetings or behind my desk. At the end of the day, I feel like I put on some weight and I feel gross. Who am I? I know that some testing showed that I have to “detrain” my heart. I cannot let the pump without a minimum of activity, or the consequences could be dramatic. If I don’t sweat during the day, I start to be cranky. Nothing is better than adrenaline and endorphins. Hormones can be like a drug. On top of it, I am experiencing a 17-year taper process. Dangerous cocktail!
A fight between body and mind started. I know that I am not mentally ready to train 24 hours a week, and be in that extreme intensity that put you on the edge on a daily basis. This is the premise of me stepping away from rowing. But I miss it. I miss rowing. I miss the intensity and sense of urgency. I miss the intense interactions and relationships with my teammates. I still row a couple times a week because I like rowing. I like the feeling of it. But the stimulus it sends to the mind is the same as “You still got it”. Believe me. I tried to do something else. Yoga, running. But I could not find the same thing. A sense of emptiness. Nothing is easier than filling the void with…the same thing. I tell myself that it would have been easier if my body would have said “no more”. I don’t wish that to anyone and I know it is not true. But I feel like it would get rid of that inner voice saying “you can still do it”.
I would come home, after my day of work, and I would sometimes start crying inside my motorcycle helmet. The next second, I would find myself singing out loud before anger would fill me in. I would go full throttle at 180km/h just to feel alive. To feel that adrenaline rush through my body. Stupid. I know. But this was the only way I would find to release the pressure and the energy trapped inside. I would then go home thinking that this was the time to be with my family, the very time that I didn’t have before. But I would not speak and I would go for a ten-km run around the island, chop wood or start some renovation project on the house, just so that I could get away. Away from what? I started to be a bad father and a bad husband, as I didn’t know how to manage my emotions. The more I refused to deal with my emotions the more I fell into depression.
For many years, my environment has defined me as an athlete and I have defined myself as an athlete. I had the impression that I was someone. I made a name for myself. My friends and social interactions were mostly related to rowing. But more importantly, I was good at something and I was known for it. With the new social media era, the whole process took off. And suddenly and sharply, I found myself in a totally different environment where I struggle to find my place and my value. What is my role and my added value in my company? In the society? Who am I now? Within a few weeks, my social environment was redefined and totally changed. If family and friends were here to support me, the feeling of being lost and purposeless was overwhelming. My identity and my sense of belonging has vanished. The connection with my sport is suddenly gone. A few articles and emails to mention my years of service with the French and Canadian Team and the curtain falls. It is brutal. I really miss the connection to the sport and its values. I feel like I have so much to share without knowing where my place is the world of rowing and more largely in the world of sport. Is there one?
These three components, physical, emotional and social, made my transition tough and I still struggle today. The past six months were sometimes difficult but writing those words down is a proof that I am doing better. I am able to watch the World Championships with a hint of nostalgia but nothing more. I am at peace with myself and I enjoy more and more my new life. There is probably no gold medal per se at the end of my day or no hard training to overcome, but I am sure I can find success somewhere else.
Six months might look like a short period of time, and I am sure that it takes longer or shorter for others to come out of this dark zone. I might be in a high because of the beautiful weather and the nice suntan. I am sure that there will be more questions and doubts along the way, but if those few lines and my experience can help someone, I think that starting the conversation helps moving forward. I cannot thank my family and my wife enough for their unconditional support. Being alone with your dark thoughts is not a good thing. Some might read this article thinking that I hid it well. Others might find it to extreme or taboo. Every athlete deals with transition in his or her own way, and I don’t want to make a generality of my case but I experienced a strong fight with myself.
As a conclusion, I would say that I thought I was fully prepared. I thought that experiencing depression was for others. I thought that it was going to be easier. But I felt very alone facing myself. So don’t stay alone and reach out to others.
“The adventure goes on…”