Soon after my competition season ended on March 31, I set off for a two-week business school program followed by a month-long trip that took me to four countries across nine time zones. It wasn’t a particularly restful break, but as you may recall I was not planning a break but rather a retirement!
I put the planning on hold in November so I could focus on the present. In my experience it’s almost impossible to simultaneously succeed at your job and evaluate whether or not to continue doing it. I wanted to give myself the greatest chance for success in my final season of biathlon.
Before I knew it, my “one more year just for fun” was over and I was back in Lake Placid quietly going through withdrawal, coming off a winter-long high. Everything had gone way better than I expected! The first seven years of my professional athletic career were so tedious that I had lost touch with the fun that motivated me to pursue it in the first place. “One more year just for fun” was such an unlikely aspiration that I never even considered what I would do if it actually was fun.
This year showed me that you can’t plan for everything. I did not expect to be one of the most-improved athletes on the World Cup, or to earn enough money to call this a “real job.” My body did incredible things for me every week that I didn’t know were possible. My work on the IBU Athletes’ Committee and Executive Board gave me the outlet for altruism I had longed for in this selfish pursuit, while introducing me to new friends who became the support community I previously lacked on the road. With my new coach, I learned and laughed every day. Our team environment was more inclusive and supportive than before, and our women’s program thrived as a result. I had great results last winter but more importantly I had a blast. When I think about all that, I am more motivated than ever to continue my biathlon career.
That being said, I was very much at peace with my decision to move on. Remember when I threw my rollerskis in the trashcan in November? It felt so good. I said goodbye to a lot of things last year that I am reluctant to greet again. Perhaps my greatest source of distress is the incompatibility between my biathlon career and my relationship. Opting for 250 travel days is a choice that gets harder to make every year.
But if I think about next winter… about snowflakes starting to fall in late October, packing my suitcase in the darkness of November, feeling my body sharpen into form, filling my lungs with cold air, wearing a USA uniform, waiting at the starting line, hitting targets, flying on skis, waving to fans… I am so, so, so excited.
Our team’s sports psychologist offers a great analogy for how to approach retirement: it’s like landing a plane. You have to plan ahead– you don’t want to just drop out of the sky– but as you make your final approach, you can always pull up the landing gear and circle around again.
Last year when I was wavering, I took my brother Graham’s advice which was, “Real life is the pits; you gotta keep the dream alive!” As I contemplated a transition to “real life” this spring, I thought to myself, “I want a job where I can be active and outside, where every day is different, I can use my language skills to connect with people from around the world, represent my country, travel, work as part of a team… and as a bonus I would like to do some kind of live performance.”
It’s a good feeling to know you are doing exactly what you should be doing! This year Graham said, “Make them claw your ski career from your dead hands.” I don’t know if I’ll go that far, but for now I am circling around.
Happy rainbow season to everyone. Don’t give up!