Wrestling with an Ex-Athlete Mentality: My Journey So Far…

Here’s some brief history: I started competitive swimming at a young age, reached National level and then stopped just before starting university. When I reached my second year however, my mental health deteriorated and I became fixated on comparing myself to the athlete that I was before, questioning whether I was achieving as much or if I had lost a better part of myself.

Therefore, I decided to restart my wellness journey, pushing myself in the gym and spending more time on my nutritional health. The sense of accomplishment that I have rediscovered from fitness has really helped with my mental health in all aspects of my life and a lot of progress has been made with battling my ‘ex-athlete’ mentality. So I thought I would write about what I’ve learned in an effort to help other ex-athletes who may be experiencing something similar. Read on for Wrestling with an Ex-Athlete Mentality: My Journey So Far…

1. Be Proud of the Past whilst also Looking Forward

Looking back, I am so grateful for my years of competitive swimming and arguably prouder now of what I achieved than I actually was at the time.

Whilst wrestling with thoughts of then and now, I’ve come to realise that the person who was able to push herself in daily training sessions, compete at weekends and keep up with schoolwork is still here! She’s just in a different part of her life with other interests and passions. Swimming has shaped the person I am today, but I have learned to look at it as a reminder of the greatness I am capable of and to let it inspire me to be my best self for whatever new adventures await.

2. Embrace the Knowledge You have Earned from the Experience

I’ve also reflected on what I’ve gained from my swimming experience and how I can use those things today, many of which apply to any competitive sport. For example, self-discipline. You don’t go years of getting up at 5am for morning training without developing a less chummy version of jiminy Cricket.

This voice has helped me start and stick to a new fitness routine and reminds me of my goals when I’m feeling lazy. It wasn’t until I started to talk about health and fitness with uni friends that I realised how much I already know as gospel about those things. This only made me more appreciative for the professional coaching I received and expertise I possess that I can use to help myself and others.

3. Love the Way it has Shaped Your Body

My body image, like most, has always been a bit of a rollercoaster. Genetics gave me a curvy frame and years of swimming accentuated this, adding broad shoulders and “thunder thighs”. Even when competing in the best shape of my life, I was still conscious that I was more muscular than the other girls and felt oddly proportioned.

Then Freshers’ year hit and months of food and drink that students deal with in addition to little exercise didn’t help. But since re-starting my wellness journey, I have begun to love the body shape that swimming gave me. My muscles have started to emerge again under all those Domino’s Pizza and I’m enjoying exercising the power that has been stored up in them unused.

Often I remind myself of how amazing the human body is in all it does for us and so it’s only right that we reciprocate that love back.

Swimming has taken up more than half of my life and I have found a healthy balance of recognising its importance in all it has done for me without picturing it as a golden age from which I’m now on a downward slope. So if you are an ex-athlete who has struggled with similar thoughts, remember your past achievements not as peaks from where you have fallen, but as monuments that remind you of the greatness you are capable of and the potential of your future…

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