Two-time Olympian Ellen Sprunger reveals how part-time work helped her cope with injury en route to the Olympic Games Rio 2016

2015 was a dark year for Ellen Sprunger. Just months before the IAAF World Championships, the leading Swiss heptathlete and sprinter was diagnosed with Haglund’s deformity, a bony enlargement on her heel that ended her season early and even threatened her career. Could she find a way back from both the injury and the disappointment?

The toughest moment
As Sprunger recalls, the extent of her injury really hit home when she saw the championships she was missing on television.

“I remember watching the 2015 World Athletics Championships on TV from my hospital bed after the surgery. It was tough, because I knew I could have been there if not for the injury.

“Hearing the doctor say, ‘You have to undergo surgery’ was probably the toughest moment in my career.”

The way back
Sprunger’s rehabilitation was long and tough. Unable to train at full intensity, she needed to find a new focus. It came through Adecco and fellow Swiss Olympians Mike Kurt and Fabian Kauter, who offered her a part-time job at their sports crowdfunding platform I Believe in You (add link to Kurt/Kauter interview when live). It proved to be a great help.

“Any work you can arrange for only a few hours a week that isn’t too stressful can definitely help,” Sprunger explains. “Otherwise the injury becomes the only worry. The job really gave me another goal each day apart from seeing the physio and hoping for good news.

“The danger with a big goal like the Olympic Games is that you’re trying so hard to be in peak condition, the tendency is to force things too much. It was good for me to be busy away from the track.”

The road to Rio
Although it may be difficult for an elite athlete to balance work with top-level training, Sprunger believes part-time work can be a positive outlet – and her work with I Believe in You really helped by bringing her into contact with other sportspeople.

“It was great to see other athletes and learn about their dreams,” she says. “It really helps your mood in training if you’re able to get something else in your mind, to meet other people. And part-time work is a great way of achieving this.

“Before the injury, I always wanted to do more. I was always upset with the small things instead of being happy that the big picture was working well. I’m still a bit like that, but I’m more able to enjoy my training and appreciate that feeling of progressing each day.”

That progress eventually paid off when Sprunger went to the Rio 2016 as part of the Swiss women’s 4x100m relay team, fulfilling her ambition of a second Olympic appearance. But having worked for I Believe in You while completing her master’s degree in sport, she’s also now aware that there’s a life beyond competition.

“Sport is not forever. It’s important to do something after, so you can continue your life when your career ends.”

For more ideas and expert advice, visit the Athlete365 Learning and take a course on career transition or dealing with injuries