Being a professional athlete really is living the dream, but it’s never been enough for me. I’ve always been determined to work alongside training, mainly, if I’m honest, to prove to myself that I haven’t wasted my degree and I’m smart enough to hold down a ‘real’ job, even though being an athlete really is the best job in the world. I may occasionally moan about having to train rather than hang out with my friends, but in reality who wouldn’t want a job that entailed travelling the world, meeting new people, representing your country – and actually kept you fit and healthy at the same time?
Of course there are early mornings, hours spent on cramped buses and nights in seedy hotels, and times when training hurts so much you wonder if it’s worth it, but in the three years I raced the international circuit, the camaraderie of the travelling athlete circus and the adrenaline rush of the races became pretty addictive. Unsurprisingly then, it’s really easy to get caught up in the constant endorphin buzz that comes from training twice a day six days a week and racing along roads lined with crowds of people, and forget to think about what happens when it all stops.
As an athlete you get used to having a team of people around you who dictate or advise every aspect of your life, from training routine to nutrition to sleep and in my case even how long I could sunbathe for! Every day is mapped out. There are no holidays. Vital stats and training numbers are logged daily in spreadsheets. If anything worries you, there’s an expert on the end of the phone to fix you up before it becomes a problem. Unfortunately, the real world isn’t like that. In the office you’re not the centre of attention, and that’s part of what I like about having a job outside sport. However much pressure you might have piled on you in the office it’s never going to match up to the responsibility that comes with racing in your country’s colours at a major event.
Since graduating I’ve worked alongside athletics in roles I’ve loved and have had the opportunity to try a variety of different sectors, including licensing, marketing and recruitment, with periods of authoring, coaching and media roles in between, so I now have a clearer idea of what career I’d like to pursue after sport. For almost two years I got up at 4.45am Mon-Thurs to train before work, and didn’t get home from my evening sessions until after 10pm. Now I’m working part-time I wonder how I stayed awake at my desk let alone actually achieving results for those years, and how on earth I managed to make the GB team on so little sleep! The excitement of working as part of the Organising Committee of the greatest Olympic and Paralympic Games the world has ever seen and my love of training kept me going, and I’m really glad they did. I’m now in an unfamiliar position thanks to injury that I’m considering putting sport on the back burner in order to pursue a ‘proper’ career. There’s no doubt the skills I’ve learnt through sport are highly transferable to business, including time management, leadership, communication skills, problem solving, teamwork and dedication, but what’s often forgotten when talking about the move into a second career is the mental side of the transition. No longer having anyone care what your heart rate is or how many calories you’ve consumed every day can make you feel surprisingly lost.
Athletes as a general rule are necessarily goal driven, so it’s important to find something that drives them in the workplace in the same way that race results did previously. For me, that’s working for companies that I really believe in and want to help build; for others it could be getting a big pay check or the chance of fast promotion. It doesn’t matter what drives you, it just matters that the role you choose can help you reach your goal, otherwise it’s never going to fill the void left by leaving elite sport. A year ago the thought of not being able to race at elite level would have scared me a huge amount, but having worked with add-victor I now don’t see the years I spent prioritising sport as years wasted. I’m far more efficient and capable in the office than I would have been without what I learnt through having to fit together the different segments of my life due to sport, so I know that eventually I’ll find a career that excites me as much as lining up on the start line of an international track meet did.