World champion rower Gearoid Towey struggled to adapt to life after retiring from elite competition. Here, he describes what he went through and how he has become stronger for the experience.
My name is Gearoid Towey. I’m a world champion rower from Ireland and a three-time Olympian. I retired after the Olympic Games Beijing 2008 and it affected me more than I ever imagined it would.
A new stage
When I retired, I was determined not to be one of those people who repeatedly came back to the sport for “one more go” purely because I knew I could, with a few months of training. So, to get as far away from sport as possible, I auditioned for drama school in London and got in.
After one year, I didn’t feel anything like an athlete anymore, and that was part of my plan. However, I decided after 18 months that acting at that level was going to require a lot of focus and graft, and at that point I wasn’t up for it. The other factor was money – stage actors don’t get paid a lot and I needed to survive!
So I asked myself the question: “Now what?” And for the first time in my life, I didn’t have the answer right away. I felt destabilised, a little bit directionless, and realised that finding something else as satisfying as rowing was going to be a longer process than I imagined.
Find your next purpose
Moving away from the sporting world can be overwhelming. Everything you knew is now gone; the training schedules, the travel plans, the competition dates, the crowds, the attention – the loss of purpose or control are common feelings.
Many athletes say how surprised they were to find the change so challenging – even those with secondary careers and educations. It can be a very complex process and it is advisable to learn as much as you can about the potential areas of difficulty so that, when the time comes, you have the tools and knowledge to deal with them.
It is for this reason that I am founder of Crossing the Line – a not-for-profit organisation that is dedicated to helping athletes navigate the transition to life after sport. It’s run by athletes for athletes; people sharing their experiences for others to learn from.
Ride the extremes
The best piece of advice I got was to imagine that your retirement from sport is like doing a bungee jump.
At the beginning, it might seem like you are stretching the bungee cord to the extreme at either end – lots of major changes and feelings – but gradually you come to a balanced spot when your future life makes a bit more sense.
Just ride the extremes for a while and hopefully you finish the bungee jump with a smile on your face!
Transitioning to a new career should be one of excitement, not fear. Gain peace with your sports career and then give yourself the opportunity to be excellent at something else.
Gearoid presents our new short course “Career Transition: Life After Sport”, which addresses the challenges retirement from competition can bring and offers tips on how to manage the next stage of your career. Click here to get started.