"I Deserve This", and Other Things I Tell Myself as a Post-Collegiate Athlete
March 10, 2017
Around this time last year I was really struggling in both my athletic journey and life in general. It was my first year out of university, and the real world was absolutely kicking my butt. I felt like I was permanently exhausted. Working every day, training relentlessly, and struggling to make ends meet. It all felt impossible and it was unbelievably defeating. I was coming to terms with the fact that my life as a student-athlete – the life that was behind me - was actually the easy part, and that the struggle and balancing act was only just beginning.
Every day is different, but for the most part I feel that this year I’m in a much better place. I’ve figured out what works and doesn’t work for me. I’ve found my new normal. I no longer groan about working all day before practice, because to be honest it’s now hard to imagine things being any other way. But I’m still learning. I’m still realizing more and more every day that the life of a post-collegiate athlete is awkward as hell and you just need to roll with it. You’re in your mid-20s. Everyone around you is pursuing additional degrees, buying houses, making strides in their career. You’re left feeling like you’re in this whole other world – pursuing something completely intangible. Something that, to be honest, I can’t even really explain. I’m trying to make it onto the international stage, I’m trying to be among the best in the world at what I do. Yeah! That’s legit, right?! But then I think more about what I do - run my fastest and try to hurl myself as far as possible into a pit of sand. Damn. It’s hard to not feel like my pursuit is completely and totally trivial sometimes. “I’m an athlete” – why do I suddenly feel embarrassed saying that when people ask me what I do? Why does that phrase suddenly feel so ridiculously childish?
This is what I struggle with lately. Not the long days. Not the fatigue. Not the expenses (those still suck, though). Those were last year’s lessons. Now, I struggle with the fact that I’m growing up – I’m a real, full-fledged adult – yet all I want to do keep chasing this dream that I’ve had since I was 11. Is that crazy? If everyone was still chasing their childhood dream by adulthood, we would have way too many astronauts. I often find myself having to justify my chosen path. Not to family, not to friends – to myself. “It still makes me happy. It’s still fun. I’m still improving. There’s still more in me.” These are things I tell myself to feel better, even though I know in my heart these are things I shouldn’t even have to say.
“I DON’T HAVE TO JUSTIFY MYSELF TO YOU!” – me, to me
Another struggle is being okay investing in myself as an athlete. I’m about to head to a training camp in California for two weeks. In April I will be training in Louisiana for another week, then another in Georgia in May. These trips add up, no doubt. Some nights I find myself awake, overwhelmed with guilt. “I'm spending way too much on track”. I think about all the other things I "should" be spending money on (weddings and down payments don’t grow on trees, y’all). I doubt this is something I would have to justify to myself if I was currently putting this money into another degree. Why is that? Why does this incredible journey - in which I continue to learn more about myself than I imagine I would in any other pursuit - not feel worthy of investment? Taylor and I purchased a very expensive couch in the fall and not once have I felt guilty about that investment (to be fair, it's an unbelievable friggen couch). Yet I second guess the money I put into training camps and massages and even entry fees. Isn't that messed up?
I think about all the time I’m taking away from work. I think about how my inability to commit more time to work will slow my progression. I get caught in this space of wanting the best of both worlds – I want to be able to focus 100% of my energy and efforts on my athletic pursuit. But, I also want to make strides in my career and develop to be better at what I do – because that’s just what 25 year olds do, right? I remind myself that I have the rest of my life to focus on my career, and that my life of as an athlete has an expiry date – but that’s not always helpful. At the very least, I’m learning that looking at other people on their paths and comparing it to my own is almost always the worst thing I can do.
Every day is a different demon. Every day I’m finding new ways to give myself permission to keep chasing this dream. I fall off the wagon sometimes, but I always find my way back by simply reminding myself that I deserve this. I deserve to do whatever the hell it is that makes me happy. We all do. I guess what I never realized would be so hard about being a post-collegiate athlete is being at a point in life where retiring would “make sense”. I could have quit at any time throughout my career – I was never trapped. But why wouldn’t I compete in university? What else was there to do? Now –at this point in my life - well, there’s a lot. Throughout university, there was one obvious path leading towards one obvious end goal. There’s now multiple paths in multiple directions, and I guess I don’t like having a choice. There’s something about having other options that suddenly makes the one that I’m choosing feel wrong.
How will I know when it’s time to move on? I don’t know. Sometimes I fear that moving on will never feel right. I immersed myself in this sport as a way of coping with losing my mom at age 11. That’s how all this really began. Will that make it harder to eventually let go? Maybe. But what I know right now is that I love this sport even more now than I did a decade and half ago. Isn’t the crazy? All the stress and turmoil and injuries and disappointment – oh my God all the disappointment - and my heart still flutters with happiness when I take off down the runway.