Hi Kayleigh! I’m getting pretty nostalgic as I’ve been following you since my high school days! But in a few weeks I begin my final season as a competitive rower. I started back in 2009 and instantly fell in love and haven’t looked back. I know that I can coach and row masters, but it’s just not the same. My heart is already breaking thinking about how this is the end of the line for me unless by some miracle I get accepted into a U23 program and can further delay said retirement. Do you have any tips on coming to terms with my impending retirement and coping with “post competition depression”? (I believe that’s what Google called it)
Totally feel ya on this. I felt the same way, that being on the water coaching was the next logical step but it wouldn’t fill the void of not coxing on a regular basis. I tried coxing a few masters crews and … it sucked, honestly. I knew it wouldn’t be the same as coxing people my own age who have similar levels of competitive fire but I thought that as long as I was coxing and doing something I loved it wouldn’t matter. That wasn’t the case so I stopped and threw myself into coaching. The fact that it was something new motivated me in a lot of the same ways that coxing did, which helped me not miss it as much since I wasn’t coxing much outside of HOCR and whenever whoever I was coaching needed me to hop in a boat.
Once I started the blog and definitely once I got to MIT though, that urge to regularly go out and cox has dwindled a lot. I’ll still jump at the chance to get in a boat and I love when I get to go out and cox our guys but being given the opportunity to coach our coxswains and do all the stuff I do on here and behind the scenes with the blog fulfills me just as much, if not more, than actually coxing does. That’s something I’ve really struggled with too because it’s like, if you really love coxing (or rowing) isn’t that what you’d want to be doing instead of this tangential stuff like coaching, blogging, etc.
I don’t know if it’s different for rowers but one of the things I love most about my role is that feeling of being useful and making an impact and those were some of the things that I thought I’d miss the most, outside of the obvious stuff like racing. I knew that if I was going to try to stay involved with the sport without regularly being in a boat myself I’d have to find other ways of experiencing those same feelings if pursuing coaching as a career was going to be worth it. That’s probably the biggest suggestion I can offer, regardless of whether you think you might want to try coaching or move on completely to something new – think of the top two or three qualities, feelings, whatever that you love most about rowing and see if you can get involved in something that fulfills those same things.
You’re lucky in that you know now that you’re down to your last few months as a collegiate athlete. You can say right now that this is going to be your best season – “last one, fast one”, as they say – so that when you get out of the boat for the last time you have absolutely no regrets. Having that closure will, I promise you, make the transition easier. Well, maybe not easier necessarily but less emotional because you’ll know that you left everything you had on the water, every stroke you took throughout the season was the best one you could have taken, and the people you did it with made you better in every way imaginable.
If you’ve already got a job lined up (or even if you don’t), see if there are any local universities nearby where you can be a volunteer assistant. I could go on for days about how great of an experience the last three years have been for me and even though there are definitely some downsides, you get to experience the sport from an entirely new perspective which, like I said earlier, fills the void of not being in a boat as regularly as you once were. Plus, I know several rowers who are volunteer assistants who continue to train out of the boathouses they’re at and are still competitive and making plans to try out for the national team in the coming year. It can be done.
Once the season ends, take some time off – like, some real time off – and let your body and mind decompress. It’s easy to think now that there’s no possible way you can live without rowing but even though it might feel like that’s coming from a rational and relatively unemotional place, it probably isn’t. Once you’ve had time to clear your head and relax, you might look at it differently and realize that having all this “free time” is actually pretty awesome, which means you can try new things or pursue something that you didn’t have time for before. Bottom line, one door is closing and another is opening … and that’s OK. Enjoy your final season and don’t let stuff that’s 5-6 months away get in the way of that.