Being an athlete is an identity. It is time consuming, energy consuming, and when you are passionate about your sport, it is emotionally draining. Long gone are the days where you had to cancel plans because of practice, where you had to go to physio to prepare for a competition, or when you could feel the soreness in your muscles from a great morning practice while you’re sitting in your math class. I remember all of the sleepovers I had to cancel because of Saturday morning training, but I look back on these memories with rose coloured glasses when I wake up on Saturday morning and wish I had somewhere to escape to so that I could avoid doing copious amounts of homework or laundry that has been piling up in the bin. When you stop doing your sport, you lose many important parts of your life, but also of yourself. My fellow ex-athletes remember the feeling of pride as they looked up and saw their parents cheering them on in the stands. Those nights with your teammates where you participated in pre-competition rituals feel as if they’re from another life. It’s a surreal feeling to look at something that would be the first thing you would tell someone about yourself when asked what you do, and feel like you have no connection to that part of your life anymore.
There is a gap in my identity where I used to describe myself as a figure skater. Even now as a student, I’m unsure if anything will ever fill that gap in my soul where my sport once was. The part of me that has been lost for myself, as well as many others, is made more real when we put on our clothes from high school and they fit differently (thank you, university). Or the first time you see small children doing your sport and say, “I used to be a figure skater”. There are times now when I put on my skates and I feel at home, and everything feels so natural, and I wonder if that’s a metaphor for what happens as you get older. In high school, everything seemed so predictable. You wake up, go to school, go to practice, and repeat. When you get to university and start living in the real world, your sense of certainty is stripped from you. You have so many choices about where to work, what to do, and who to be. No wonder it’s comforting to remember a time when you felt like you knew what you were doing.
Unlacing my skates and hanging them up in the locker room is one of the many things that university has taken from me and my fellow students. This reminder that I was once an athlete has made me reexamine my identity and realize why we’re all here in university. When you’re a kid, your identity is given to you. You are a figure skater, a student, a daughter, a friend, and none of these seem to be your own choice. The purpose of university is to create your own identity. It is only natural that we look back at the identities we used to have, and wish for a time when things were more simple. For those of you that are athletes, this time of year is going to be a reminder of who you used to be, and an even scarier reminder that you may have no idea who you are right now. For those of you who were never athletes, maybe you have a different hobby you had to leave back with your previous self, or maybe you just wish things were as simple as they used to be. My own realization that I no longer consider myself an athlete shook my identity, and I wonder if one day I will be as sure of things as I used to be. I’d like to offer as much comfort as I can for those of you who are feeling the same as I am. We have all of the opportunities in the world to be whoever we want, and as scary as that is, it is incredibly exciting. Although you are not who you were four years ago, you are also under no obligation to be that same person ever again.