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At a strength session last week, right in the middle of a rear-foot elevated split squat, someone asked, “What are you training for?”
I grimaced as I finished the last rep, then smiled and responded that I am running the Boston Marathon in April.
This interaction has had me thinking a bit more about my life as I turn the page and move on from my career as a professional triathlete. Do we always have to be training for something? Instead of trying to make a living through sport, I am now training for the joy I get from moving through nature, for the empowerment that comes with being physically strong, and for the happiness I get from sharing a life of health and wellness with others.
To be honest, this transition has been really challenging, especially here in my hometown in Connecticut, to navigate retirement from my athletic career. It is in this community that I have some of my biggest cheerleaders and supporters, but it is also where I have largely been defined solely as a professional athlete. In the effort to transition to what is next, it has been important for me to see myself successfully doing other things and move forward in sculpting my identity around other parts of who I am.
When I took 2017 off from racing, I began to think about retirement and what that would mean—It terrified me. With recommendation from a good friend, I got involved with coaching at my high school and found that guiding athletes toward achieving their goals was a very natural process for me. The challenges that they faced, I had faced. The fears they had, I had experienced. The lofty goals they set, I understood. I could empathize with so much of their journeys. Through coaching these athletes, I felt connected to their individual experiences with sport, but also felt a rekindling happening, with my younger athletic self. The result: joy. This trickled over into every aspect of my life: I started training again, initially focusing on running. I competed in several running races and enjoyed competition more than I had in years. I was fit and happy, a dynamic that I wasn’t convinced could exist. And then I began dipping my toe in triathlon training again.
I ultimately decided to return to competition in 2018 and am really happy that I did. It was the first time in a long time that I was doing sport for myself again, and I feel grateful to have had my final season be a self-driven one. Up until June of 2018, I was coaching in addition to training, and it was only after my return from my first trip to Europe that I made the decision to focus solely on my career again. With this shift, I felt myself being able to invest more as an athlete, while simultaneously losing a part of my life that brought me so much happiness. I felt so lost and conflicted. Can I do both? Can I coach and train at a level I need to be competitive? Does that balance give me the most fulfillment?
During this time, I talked to several family members, friends, and my coach. I read books. I meditated. I looked at photos from my triathlon career. I read emails from my athletes. I did everything I could to search for the answer, disregarding the fact that it was very clear all along. In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Big Magic,” she writes, “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” I think the key here is jewels, plural. In diving into something new, it has been important for me to be proud of my career racing, one of my “jewels,” and see that chapter of my life as a massive success. My triathlon career was remarkable, not so much for what I was able to accomplish, but for what I was able to learn, for who I was able to share it with, and for all that I take with me now as I embark on a new adventure.
I am excited to be moving forward as a coach (at Forever Endurance) and returning to Boulder in March this year. Despite the fact that I have turned the page on my professional triathlon career, it is actually the growth from that phase of my life that influences me every single day. I carry so much with me—experiences, lessons, knowledge, and of course, a deep passion for the sport that will flow into my coaching career.
Of course, my journey and transition is one of many. I had the pleasure of training alongside the following three retired professional triathletes and am delighted to include some insight from their own journey of transitioning to life after their athletic career.
Years racing tri: 2009-2016 (8)
Years racing pro: 2010-2016 (7)
Why he retired: This is a loaded question because, to me, triathlon was always more than a “job.” It was my passion that became my job, my mission, and my obsession. My decision to step away from the sport in 2016 represented a shift in my priorities. My sport (specifically, my performance in it) was the most important thing in my life leading up to and through the 2016 Rio Olympics. I decided to retire in 2016 because I needed a break, mentally and physically, from that singular mindset. My body was hurting, and even though I didn’t know exactly what was going on at the time, I could feel that I was not going to be able to continue investing in the training that had made me one of the best triathletes in the world.
What he’s doing now: I have not raced since the 2016 Island House Triathlon, but I’m excited that that hiatus is coming to an end in 2019. I underwent hip surgery in 2017, and shortly thereafter I took a job working in sales for an asset manager in NYC. I’d work out most mornings before heading into the office and developed a newfound respect for age-group triathletes. It’s not easy to balance it all!
I needed to really “go the other way” and take a job detached from sport to understand what life was like outside of my little bubble. I was shocked at how little structure there is for adults to continue living an active, athletic lifestyle, and I decided it’d be a better use of my time and energy to do something to remedy that problem. I currently run an online coaching business (Ayo Performance) and speak to audiences across the country on my lessons learned through endurance sport.
Years racing triathlon: 2005-2017
Years racing pro: 2011-2017
Why he retired: Because I wasn’t fast enough! Isn’t that why everyone retires?
For more sincerity, I reached the stage of my career where I believed I could make a bigger impact if I developed an additional skill set. To Joe’s point, I had to reprioritize: I took a step back and realized that, while I still wanted to compete in triathlon and represent the U.S., I wanted a career in technology more. I was thrilled to move to San Francisco because it meant developing new perspectives by surrounding myself with people who were intent on finding ways to make the world a better place. Whether or not I thought that fancy juicing machines or connected toasters were the way forward was less important than surrounding myself with people who were just as passionate about their goals as I was about running around in circles all day.
What is he doing now: I’m currently hanging out in Dubai working in a rotational program for Visa. I’m in client consulting and analytics after working in Financial Institution Sales and B2B Marketing/Product Commercialization. As was expected, retiring from a pursuit I’d obsessed over for nearly 20 years was a challenge. This program was ideal because it enabled me to experiment with distinct roles and see how I could succeed in corporate technology.
I have appreciated how much Visa values the background of a professional athlete and I’m thrilled that they are continuing to hire for their Olympian and Paralympian Rotational Program. There are still far too few opportunities for Olympians to build a career after retiring, even if USAT and the USOC are putting fantastic effort into this (shout out to Mr. Terris “T” Tiller!). It would mean a lot to me to help other athletes be prepared to build on their sporting experiences, so they can continue doing something they love after retirement. Outside of work, I have some races coming up, enjoy helping out with a scout troop in Dubai, am grateful to be working with the USAT AAC, and have a blast as a guest speaker sharing my perspective on the value of athletics.
Years Racing Tri: 2006-2018
Years Racing Pro: 2007-2018
Why he retired: I retired because it was time. I had an amazing career, but was starting to want to spend more time with my family and get involved in other things. I didn’t like having to skip soccer games to get in long rides and missing things while I was away on the weekends. I am also getting older, and the younger guys are faster and as they say, all good things come to an end. Not to mention, my specialty of short-course non-drafting is becoming extinct, and I had no interest in going longer.
What he’s doing now: At this point, I am not racing triathlons at all but am still very involved in the sport through coaching. I have started playing basketball and racquetball and all the things I had to give up to avoid injury during my career. I might do an obstacle course race or something down the road now that I can spend more time in the weight room, and running is much less of a time commitment.