I took a four month vacation. Since Olympic Trials in January, I have been no work and all play. I put my skates on a shelf, donated all my training equipment, and set off on a string of trips. There was an adjustment period where I would either weep uncontrollably at the sight of Olympic-related anything or I would stone cold Steve Austin it and feel nothing at all. Honestly, I didn’t watch much of the Olympics this year. I woke up early most mornings to follow live speedskating results and keep in touch with my teammates, but I didn’t turn on a tv until the final few days. Because yeah, duh, it was hard feeling like I was missing out on my dreams, but I always knew I couldn’t stay away. I love the Olympics and everything they truly represent more than I can express with words. By the time the women’s gold medal hockey game came around, I was pacing my apartment in my stars and stripes onesie, fighting off heart palpitations, and making sure all my friends wearing my various Team USA garb believed in their bones that we were ending this night with a W.
I have always said that I love skating but that I couldn’t wait for the day that I was done, because when that day came, I would have the freedom to do anything. Going into this Olympic year, I was fairly certain I would find that day waiting for me at the end of the season. And yet, when it smacked me in the face two months earlier than I was expecting, I felt strange. I knew I was in no place to make any hard decisions right away, so I would tell people, “I may or may not be recently retired from the sport of speedskating.” I couldn’t bring myself to fully admit retirement out loud. It felt wrong. Speedskating wasn’t my whole identity to me, but it was to a lot of other people. If I’m not skating, then what am I doing? It took some getting use to, but, “I may or may not be recently retired” slowly changed into, “I think I am recently retired” which finally became, “I am recently retired.”
The verbal wrap up of me as a person was now quite succinct:
“Hi, I’m on permanent vacation. Yeah, I just need some time off. I am recently retired. Oh, I’m twenty-seven. Ha ha, yes yes, I’m retired at the age of twenty-seven, that is hilarious isn’t it? I’m an athlete. Ah, speedskating. Yeah, I skated for twenty years. Yes, I did go to the Olympics. No, I didn’t medal. Oh, don’t be sorry, I’m not LOL. Anyway, I’m done now, so just trying to figure out what’s next. No, I don’t want to coach. Ha ha, yes, retiring at twenty-seven is really hilarious. Ok, nice meeting you too.”
If it sounds as dumb to you as it feels to me when I say it, that’s cool. The words fall from my mouth more easily now and I don’t feel as strange saying it out loud, so it will get less weird for the both of us.
Awkward conversations about post-Olympic livelihoods behind us, I did end up finding something new to do with my life. At the end of February, I was hired by an active travel company as a trip leader. I have successfully transitioned out of sport in a matter of months, which is a little insane and feels so freaking good. I am finally home for good and have a week to get my life in order before I begin training for my new job on April 30th. I feel condescending when I say this, but I am burnt out on vacation. As ridiculous as the phrase “work hard, play hard” is, it’s true. And I love the work half of that equation just as much as the play. All work and no play may make Jack a dull boy, but all play and no work has made me feel aimless.
I know I needed the past four months to wander, to have time to accept and adapt. I let go of my lifelong dream to be an Olympic gold medalist and in the process, grew to love myself and my potential as a human in this world even more. Now I have the space to pursue a whole slew of new dreams. I feel free.
I’m not a speedskater anymore.
I am moving forward.