Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tough decisions

So, here I am, 3 months later. A retired international athlete. I faltered for a while, trying to maintain a level of decent training whilst working full time, but ultimately I knew that something had to give and I didn't want it to be me. So the training had to stop. You might think that's defeatist given many people out there train on a full-time job, but once training has been your main occupation, doing it alongside something else is simply not a viable option. Especially when that something else demands your full attention and not falling asleep at your desk. In short, training alongside my job was making me miserable as I was doing both badly and certainly not to the level I wanted.

However, don't be fooled into thinking that was the easy route. Given how long and hard I thought about leaving rowing to commit once again to my career, it has come as an enormous surprise to me (but not my friends and family, which says a lot) how much I'm really struggling to let rowing go. I was convinced it was going to be tough but it was what I wanted - to move on with life and finally commit the time and energy I wanted to my (real) job. To give up the long, cold morning outings, the horrifically painful ergs and the killer weights sessions. To enjoy a warm lie-in rather than slog up to Boston for bitterly cold and mostly miserable winter trials. To avoid the mental and emotional pressure that comes with pitting yourself against your friends in 2k ergs and trials and constantly testing yourself against the best.

But the truth is I miss it. To the point that I think about it from the moment I open my eyes to the minute I close them again. There have been tears. Mainly from frustration and anger at myself, rather than sadness or self pity. Yes I'm sad it's over, but this isn't my main reason for being upset - it's the the fact that I made this decision, I put myself in this position. It is my fault I have to go to work all day rather than head out on the water or go to the gym. I know that I'm probably only remembering the good times and not the bad - my flatmate reminded me that I told her that I would change my mind a thousand times and that I had asked her to remind me of my reasons - but that doesn't stop me wanting to turn the clock back and put myself through another season. To finish the Olympiad, whatever the outcome.

Of course, I have to remember that the price was high. In the literal sense, I was not a funded athlete - coming 6th in trials for the last 3yrs doesn't warrant funding due to there only being 2 Olympics seats for lwt women, despite being a gold and silver medallist and World Cup A finalist twice. In terms of my salary, I calculated that my gold medal cost me in the region of £80k in sacrificed salary, bonus and pension. Don't get me wrong, it was absolutely worth it, but when your chances of going to the Olympics are slim and the best you can hope for is to repeat your success already achieved, you start to count the cost. Then there's the career progression. At 31, having already set my career back a couple of years through missed promotions, I started to question what I ultimately wanted out of life and how I could best get there. Another potential year in the GB team (as nothing is guaranteed in trials!) versus accepting a guaranteed promotion and pay rise that would take me to another level in my career was a difficult choice, but ultimately I made the one that made more sense in the longer term.

I now know that my career will always be there and rowing for GB won't, and to be a member of that team in the London Olympic year whether on the Olympic team or not would be incredible - but the deal is done. I've missed too much to go back and made a commitment to my company that I should honour. So I have to keep my head held high, smile about the good times and remember that I achieved more than I ever set out to do. It doesn't make it any easier, but it helps.

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