An Athlete’s Loss
Anyone who has been a serious athlete, been friends with a serious athlete, or really anyone who has any sense of the sort of passion athletes feel about their sport probably has some idea about the emotions an athlete experiences when saying goodbye to their sport, whether due to injury or their time within their sports career just coming to an end (in this case COVID-19 Spartan racing on hold since February).
Any athlete who participates at a serious level (not necessarily determined by title or a dollar amount but rather dedication and passion) puts a huge amount of time, focus, and energy into their sport. Typically, the time, focus, and energy they invest easily outweighs what they put into their academics, jobs, and likely even social lives. Sports tend to become a part of who an athlete is, and their sport is not just what they do. While this may seem cliché to say or appear to be a dramatic statement, the truth is that almost every aspect of an athlete’s life somehow reflects their role as an athlete.
Think about it, when someone is truly invested in their sport their work schedule has to work with their training schedule and the amount of sleep that they get is well thought out in order to either be recovering from big efforts or preparing for big efforts. Athletes typically eat a certain way in order to fuel their bodies and this might impact their social behaviors (avoiding eating out with friends or attending BBQs and other events) so that they don’t overindulge on food or alcohol for fear of impacting their upcoming performances or energy levels. Athletes often have to plan their days in a way that allows them to get enough fuel, rest, recovery, and training time while still needing to work and spend time with others. Even the amount of travel the athlete does or doesn’t do and the money they do or don’t have can very well be impacted by their role as an athlete (i.e. spending money to travel to places to perform, and spending money on equipment or supplements, missing out on prize money or winning big). Athletes often have to balance their time and efforts amongst various sponsors which can include, but is not limited to, amount of time they spend on social media and the gear they wear during training.
As an athlete, it isn’t uncommon to hear friends and family on the outside say things like, “I understand but, (insert sport here) is not who are you.” Hearing that as an athlete sort of leaves you with a bit of an empty feeling because if you are anything like me, you find yourself arguing the matter in your head and then wondering if you forgot to be someone else. Spartan is who I have become, or rather Spartan has helped me to become who I am and without it (I know I know, it’s temporary and for safety and what not) I am just feeling a bit lost, and that is okay, it is okay to feel lost and to wonder who I am without racing. After losing 100 pounds, Spartan racing is what has helped to keep me healthy, happy, and motivated to stay that way.
Research shows that it is unlikely that there is another activity that can guarantee an athlete the same type of social and personal esteem that their sport provides. So, as an athlete to someone who may not have the same passion for a sport, it may not be who we are completely, but many of the pieces that come together to make us who we are have been formed through our sport. It is what makes us feel whole and helps us to find our happy place. When athletes succeed in their sport this leads to clarity and self-relevance for them so without the ability to succeed (i.e., no races) clarity and self-relevance may be a bit absent which might lead an athlete to feel like they are living in a bit of a fog. The more an athlete’s identity revolves around their sport the more lost they will feel without it (to state the obvious). Research tells us that when an athlete loses their sport, they might struggle to adjust at first and it is likely they will experience feelings of other social and cultural limbo due to a lack of clear personal identity.
If you are an athlete, or simply missing out on being able to do the thing that makes your soul sing, give yourself a break because it’s okay to feel sad and lost. Science says so. We don’t have our races, we don’t have our race people, our yearly traditions, and we have to take time to reframe our goals. Feel the feels. Hang out in the feels. But as athletes, we know we must persevere, and we all know we are no good at just sitting around anyways.