Here’s How To Love Your Body As A Retired Athlete

Here’s How To Love Your Body As A Retired Athlete


When the crowds go silent and the adrenaline stops, an athlete’s mind can push the body beyond its limits.

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Even if I was a meek and shy kid who was too insecure to talk to anyone and could barely smile without being ashamed of my teeth, I found myself growing up as a competitive cheerleader. My routine was set: weekends were spent at the gym; after school, I went straight to training; each day, I had to keep raising the bar. Perfection was the goal, and you trained hard, not to get it right, but until you couldn’t get it wrong. There I gained the confidence to perform in huge arenas, hitting each stunt with a full smile, and with the family I call my teammates. There wasn’t any insecurity that couldn’t be solved through a good “mat talk.” My identity was formed through the sport, and it continues to shape who I am today. Nonetheless, the time to move on eventually arrived.

After months of an inner battle, I hung up the uniform and walked off the mat for the final time. When one lives with a strenuous and structured schedule for years to suddenly having no obligations to do anything physical overnight, the feeling was absolutely freeing. But as time went by and the thrill wore off, I headed back to the gym, but the experience was now a game that I couldn’t possibly win.

“If I could do it before, then I can still do it now,” I told myself the day I started working out again. Doing the same routine I’ve always done, I ignored the blurry vision and my stomach caving in. The next thing I knew I was sitting on the ground, fighting hard not to blackout. It’s normal, just getting back into the groove I would reassure myself. But the questions of doubt were starting to settle in until it became a continuous loop that I couldn’t avoid: “Do I still have it? Did I waste years training for nothing? Don’t embarrass yourself.” I did this day after day, heading to the elevator, barely reading what floor I was on, and passing out on the cold floor of our condo once I get in– only to wake up in shame with what I saw in the mirror staring back.

I avoided looking back at photos and I couldn’t watch a video of our winning competitions without feeling like I was losing who I was. I felt anxious meeting old friends with the fear that they would notice the differences I saw in my appearance or meet new people because they would ask me to do a stunt and I wouldn’t be able to do it without cracking my dusty old bones. More so, I was afraid of being judged as an athlete who already peaked, partly because I was already telling myself the same thing. It was second nature to be active where the mind and body seem inexorably intertwined.

I was trained to keep on pushing even when your mind tells you to stop to win the title of a champion.

But without a team’s support or the professional guidance of a coach, and even the roaring crowd to boost your morale, there was no one to tell me I was enough. Abandoned with the fear of losing my athletic prowess and being stripped of my physical self-worth, I fell into body dysmorphia and used compulsive exercising to take control of what I saw.

There is an assumption that because athletes were trained to be active, they will always be active. But the irony is eating disorders and body dysmorphia are prevalent in sports with athletes themselves demonizing normal body changes. We lived a life where the limit is beatable, leading us to lose perspective on what a healthy relationship is with one’s body.

As athletes, so often we see things as a pass or fail, but the healing after retirement will only come if we allow our body to lose. So, for those who struggle with looking in the mirror or even getting back to the gym with the right mindset, here’s a mental note to remember:

Dear Retired Athlete,

Here’s the deal, you are more than your sport. You didn’t retire your identity, only just a mere part of it. And you certainly don’t have to be dripping in sweat and running yourself to the ground for a workout to “count.”

A 30-minute walk? Yes, that counts. 20 minutes of stretching? No need to feel guilty, that’s still exercise!

Truth is, our bodies change; it’s inevitable and that’s a good thing. It a sign that we continue to live and respect our bodies. So, look back at the glory days and hold the medals you have with pride. While cheering crowds and the bright spotlight are now a distant memory and you may not have the same toned body or be best in your gym, your successes as an athlete are all still valid and real. Because essentially, no matter what shape or form your body has beautifully transformed too–once an athlete, always an athlete.

Love, your proud fellow retiree.

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