What’s next? Now what? Who are you outside of wrestling?
These are just some of the questions that instantaneously swept over me as I heard the final buzzer go off and saw your opponents hand be raised. You see, my now husband, had just wrestled his final match of not only his five year college career, but also his lifelong wrestling career that had begun at age five. In a matter of minutes, something that had consumed the majority of his life had come to an end. So, in that moment, and many that followed I wondered (as I’m CERTAIN he did) what’s next?
The immediate and easy answer to what comes next for a college wrestler is food. Lots and lots of food! But even more importantly than that, as much water as he could possibly drink. And once his stomach was full, and he was fat and sassy… sleep. Sleep without having to worry about a morning practice or weigh ins and no more stepping on the scale ten times a day.
But here’s the thing that I noticed, you did still step on the scale 10 times a day. You did still wake up early, anticipating practice followed by a day full of classes, study hall and another practice. For the first time in years you had a chance to chill, but you didn’t know how. You didn’t know how to go to class and then just relax. You didn’t know how to fuel your passion for competition. You didn’t know what life would be like without wrestling.
More than that, you didn’t know who you were without wrestling. You were unsure of your identity if not a wrestler. You had been a wrestler, an athlete, your whole life (and a pretty bad ass and successful one at that). The majority of your friends, your experiences, and your best memories had to do with you being a wrestler. I saw it on your face constantly… Who am I? What’s next?
Now, six short years later, I can’t help but smile as I think back. What came next was a career fueled by that same competitive passion. What came next was unwavering determination that only someone strong enough to survive five years of college wrestling can give. What came next was a love that only someone as dedicated as a college athlete could give. What came next was a life that could not be without what once was. You are a husband, a friend, a coach, a voice of strength and confidence, and now (and this is my personal favorite) you’re a dad.
What I’ve learned (or think I’ve learned from watching it unfold) is that finding purpose after being an athlete your entire life isn’t about finding a new identity, it’s about using that identify to build your life. The drive, the passion, the determination, the sheer ability to love something as deeply as you loved your sport is your identity.
Perhaps it’s not the same for all former athletes, but for us, it changed us in so many ways. We’re different after facing that time of uncertainty in our lives when the “what’s next” and “who’s next” were consuming our thoughts. We’re different now because it seems just a bit easier to face life’s continual changes with a smile and the hopeful thought of… what’s next?!