What no one tells you when you retire from sport
Sport is a way of life for many, a job for some, a serious hobby or entertainment for others. But when the final whistle blows on your career, no matter how successful and awesome you were, retirement comes with another challenge.
When people ask if I was any good, my answer is always I was alright. Both rugby and swimming at one point was a pretty serious hobby for me. I saw people come along who's opinion of themselves were grossly overinflated and I played with some great players who would describe their abilities as not bad. I knew my limitations and even though I love the game of touch rugby on a Monday night, it takes everything out of the game I was ever decent at: running into people and stopping people. Swimming nowadays is limited to a length, maybe two, on holiday racing someone for a beer. I never missed swimming the same as I went back to play rugby after stopping for a second time as a master (age, not ability) and I don't have the same love for the sport even if I have met some great people and did enjoy it at the time.
So, retirement and challenge? I love this poem that sums up a bit of it
Why we play the game - By Rupert McCall
When the battle scars have faded
And the truth becomes a lie
When the weekend smell of liniment,
Could almost make you cry
When the last rucks well behind you,
And the man who ran now walks,
It doesn't matter who you are
The mirror sometimes talks.
Have a good hard look son
That melon's not so great
The snoz that takes a sharp turn sideways
Used to be dead straight.
You're an advert for arthritis
You're a thorough bred gone lame
And you ask yourself the question
Why the hell you played the game?
Was there logic in the head knocks
In the corks and in the cuts
Or did common sense get pushed aside
For manliness and guts
And do you sometimes sit and wonder
How your time would often pass
In a tangled mess of bodies
With your head up someone's arse
With a thumb hooked up your nostril
Scratching gently on your brain
With an overgrown Neanderthal
Rejoicing in your pain
Mate, you must recall the jersey
That was shredded into rags
Then the soothing sting of detto
lOn a back engraved with tags
Now it's almost worth admitting
Although with some degree of shame,
That your wife was right in asking
Why the hell you played the game.
But then, how you'd always rock home legless
Like a cow on roller-skates
After drinking at the club house
With your low down rugby mates
Then you'd wake up, check your wallet
Not a solitary coin,
Drink Berocca by the bucket
Throw an icepack on your groin.
Copping Sunday morning sermons about
Boozers being losers
As you limped like Quasimodo
With half a thousand bruises
The urge to hug the porcelain
And curse Zambookas name
And you'd often pose the question
Why the hell you play the game
But then with every wound reopened
As you grimly reminisce it
Comes the most compelling feeling yet
Christ, you bloody miss it
You see, from the first time that you lace a boot
And tighten every stud
That virus known as rugby
Has been living in our blood
When you dreamt it
When you played it
All the rest took second fiddle
And now your standing on the sideline
But your hearts still in the middle
And no matter where you travel
You can take it as expected
There will always, always be a breed of people
If there's a team mate
Then you'll find him
Like a gravitational force
With a common understanding
And a beer or three of course.
And as you stand there telling lies
Like it was yesterday old friend
You know that if you had the chance
You'd do it all again
You see, that's the thing with rugby
It will always be the same
And that my friends I guarantee yous
why the hell we play the game.
Lots of players have carried an injury from rugby into retirement (not sure that's the right phrase but I like it) I see a few guys for treatment with bad backs, bad knees, bad necks and more and I like working with them. I am now pain free. Even though I had a lot of injuries when I played thanks to KCR and CTR. It took work, it wasn't an overnight fix but the injuries didn't happen overnight either.
I like working with the rugby guys, We have rugby as common ground and it doesn't matter where you played the game, it is easy to hold a conversation about a topic you loved and I have found that rugby clubs, pretty much all have the same people in them, just with different names and faces.
I have made so many amazing friends through playing rugby, they have been excellent support recently and we have actually talked about stuff other than rugby. Micky Flanagan tells a joke where his wife asks how one of the guys wife's is, "did you not ask how sue is?" "I didn't even ask how Tony is" is his answer. This is pretty solidly true with how my nights are, or at least were. Jo asks how the boys are and what's happening, and I have no answer. later on I got savvy to this, asked all my questions about the guys in the first 5 minutes so I had something to report back with. We then carried on the evening drinking beer, talking about rugby and having a laugh.
Saturday's were Jo's day and my day, not our day. I played and then after had drinks with the boys. I still believe that there are two options after a game of rugby, particularly when the body got a bit older: go home and go to bed or have beers and drink through it. The body always hurt after a game, there's a reason why it's in the insurance bracket it is, your going to get hurt, it's just when and how bad. So you dealt with the pain on a Sunday, the hangover was never the whole reason that getting out of bed was so difficult. The poem is pretty spot on actually, I miss playing, I miss having drinks with the boys, I miss seeing them three or four times a week, I miss winning and I miss the buzz. I don't miss the pain, training in rubbish weather and the constant questions of "is it not about time you packed it in."
I fully understand its not just rugby, I know other sports have a similar camaraderie. A footballers tales of scoring an amazing goal to win a game, a runner digging deep to pass a rival or a golfers hole in one. And we have all heard the fisherman's tale of his huge catch. I also know that runners get bad knees, footballers sore legs, golfers necks and elbows. In the future it'll be sore necks and thumbs for most as virtual games, I pads and phones take up so much of people's life's. Get your kids to try sport, any and all, it kept me off the streets and out of trouble, there is no time for hanging around when you are training all the time.
Look at ex-athletes weight problems, it isn't unusual for an athlete to pile on the weight, Geoff Huegill the swimmer competed in the 2002 commonwealth games in the relay and 100m butterfly. His racing weight was 93 kilos, 14.5 stone. In the years following he stopped competing, suffered from depression and ballooned to 138 kg, 22 stone.
He continued the diet of a top level athlete without the training, most of us know that athletes take on a lot of calories when they are training and often it's difficult to cut down, particularly when eating Is a comfort. Lots of people comfort eat when they are going through tough times of stress and depression, I did or do and blame it on that I used to have to take on these calories and it's difficult to cut down. For me and many others it was an excuse. Huegill though in 2010 swam in the commonwealth games again, lost 45kg in 15 months and won gold in the 100m butterfly, a real heroes story. Many are not so lucky Ian Thorpe, another swimmer who was well documented to try and have a comeback and piled the weight on, Mike Tyson, Ronaldo (the other one), Diego Maradona, the list goes on. And of course this weight gain can lead to depression too. Now they are a former athlete, lack identity, are out of shape and don't see their friends and teammates anymore or at least not nearly as often.
Sport and exercise can improve the symptoms of mental illness so why after retirement do athletes experience stress and depression?
"What have they got to be depressed about?" Is something I Have heard far too many times. I believe Injury has a lot to do with it, no longer able to do the thing they love. Many try, like Ian Thorpe or Geoff Huegill to return to their sport as it gives them an aim, a goal and a purpose but also it gives them an identity. Gail Emms an ex-badminton player told Her story that she suffered depression and panic attacks and has "a massive dent in my pride to admit that an Olympic medalist is struggling" Gail was struggling for work after the resultant income of being an athlete dried up and she has a lack of credentials for employment.
I guess I'm trying to say that being a former something isn't easy and showing you that people feel like this and it's more normal than people possibly think.
I have written a lot about the elite, the ones who "made it". The also rans mostly had gainful employment. In your mid 30s when you no longer play the game, no longer hang out with your friends as often, the stories and memories get older, not as fit, put on weight and the body hurts, is it any easier? Possibly, but I don't know what they are going through and they don't know what you are going through. I seek to find another sport, not overly actively seeking I have to confess but thanks to KCR my body feels good and my minds getting better. I understand while writing this that going back to play rugby isn't the answer, I could never reach the level I was at before, chances are I won't play at Murrayfield again. Looks like I'll continue to run and see what the next path will be, I know that I'm happier than I was now that I have fully said goodbye to being that person I was and I'm moving forward to the next chapter of my life. But every time I see an 18 stone guy running at me the automatic reaction will always be to bend my knees and dip the shoulder. It's ingrained.
If you still have the injuries that didn't fade after retirement or are looking for that something else have you considered trying KCR or yoga. I wish I'd tried yoga years ago, I maybe would even still be on the pitch, who knows?