What does it feel like to be retired? It is great! AND challenging.
I had the most fantastic end to my career. I don’t think I could have asked for more because I really felt like I had the chance to say goodbye, to celebrate, and to savor being with my team for the last time. It was incredible.
I moved to Germany about two days after my last race and I have been living here for the last two months. With a dutch passport, it is easier for me to live in Europe than for my boyfriend to move to the U.S. So I am giving it a shot! I live in a town called Holzkirchen, which is about 30 minutes from Munich and 20 minutes from the Bavarian alps. Right now, my biggest goal is to learn German, create my own life here, and make friends!
Before this year, I talked about retirement with my Sport Psychologist and we discussed how difficult it can be to transition from being a full-time athlete to “normal” life. Many athletes that go through a big depression after the let down from the excitement of the racing lifestyle and the overwhelming possibilities that they can now choose from. He suggested that it would be wise to make sure that I went right from biathlon into something else that I could fully put my energy into or else I might struggle with feeling depressed or lost.
So far I have had a bit of everything! Elation at having such a great end and moving on to new things, feelings of being overwhelmed with choice, feelings of freedom, and homesickness! I have NOT missed organized training, which has actually surprised me a lot because I always loved going to practice. I DO miss my team a lot and thank god the girls and I have been trading emails back and forth pretty regularly. It makes me feel really close to them even though we are not together any more. I don’t miss the intense highs and lows of racing, but if I don’t exercise for a few days, I feel gross in my body and start to get grumpy. I have noticed that I either don’t do much of anything or I do a really long adventure that I get totally exhausted from. I have enjoyed doing 45 minute runs when I feel the need to breath hard, but I only go when I feel like it. Once in a while, it feels great to just hammer for a little while. It’s really different! I LOVE not having to train when I don’t feel like it, when it is pouring out, or when I am traveling to visit a friend or something and I want to be able to just relax and go with the flow without having the feeling like I am supposed to fit a two hour run in somewhere. But I do miss being part of something that feels big and important and doing it together with people I love.
When I first finished, I wanted to give myself some time to just enjoy not doing anything and I did that! I got to travel with a friend to the Italian coast, visit family in the Netherlands, spend time with my family in Portugal, and go on some adventures with my boyfriend. I was so lucky to get to visit some very beautiful places!
I quickly realized that like my sport psychologist mentioned, not having any direction was going to be tough. I started to feel overwhelmed by the idea of starting everything new in my life in a new country and in a foreign language which I am not yet fluent in…. I really needed the help of my boyfriend for EVERYTHING! And I am a really independent person.
“Jumping over my shadow” as the saying goes in German was really important for me to do. Just getting myself out there to make friends, trying to make phone calls to nursing schools in German and failing, and then figuring out how to ask questions like , ” I would like to apply for… blah blah blah” and hoping that if not perfect, I am at least slightly understood. To making friends for the first time in my life without the help of being part of a team! That is a HUGE adjustment. Whenever I meet someone I think I could get along with, I get nervous like I am asking them out on a date! I would say that most of my intellectual talent lies in being able to communicate, write, and work with people. In german, that is the not the case. I work one day a week at a coffee shop so that I am forced to speak German and it is funny to get confused about things like “ice coffee”- meaning, coffee with ice-cream and not ice-cubes. Another adjustment is going from being a person that is well known in a small town to feeling very anonymous. Sometimes at home, I have to hide in the grocery store so I don’t have to talk with someone if I am in a hurry and I definitely don’t have that experience here in Germany. It also means I don’t have a network of people who know me and what I stand for, which is something that will take some time.
There has been so much change going from being a professional athlete and having biathlon and skiing as the major guiding force in your life, with a team, and living close to home to suddenly staring at the beginning in a foreign country, learning a new language, making friends, and just establishing my own life and independence. Something that really helped me make a big jump in my mentality was figuring out that I really need to learn German so that I can communicate more confidently and so that I can move on in new directions with my life. I signed up for an intensive German course that spans a month and now I am working more which gives my life some structure and gives me some goals. It’s surprising how important that was for me.
And when I think about what I am most proud of in my life it is always the things that were the biggest challenges. I have a feeling that the transition from biathlon to whatever comes next will be exactly the same way!