Athlete Voices – Dan Richie: Dying twice

As an athlete, you die twice, the first time being the day you retire. When you’re an athlete that’s all you know. Training, eating, sleeping, competing; what little social life there is, there’s very little time remaining to look forward and think about anything else. We train for years, and in most cases it consumes our existence, sacrificing our lives, and finances, moving away from friends and family, cutting short education and sacrificing romantic and personal relationships to name just a few.

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Yet at some point we all face one harsh inescapable reality; Retirement. Most choose not to think about it in great detail, but once we’ve achieved glory or failed to reach the heights we dreamed of it all ends, irrespective of the reasons. Everything that was sac recant suddenly has no relevance, instead you’re left with a simple question. What next?

The answer is different for everyone, some suffer from a loss of identity, other from depression and liken retirement to the loss of a loved one, and others view it as a relief.

Personally I took a year out of ‘Life’, I travelled, walked my dog, went on holiday, and made some furniture. Only to be left with the same question “what next?”

Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard famously quoted, “Nothing could satisfy me outside the ring… there is nothing in life that can compare to becoming a world champion, having your hand raised in that moment of glory, with thousands, millions of people cheering you on.”

I never had that feeling. Granted when we won the World Championships there were not millions of people cheering, my parents did not even watch it live. But the sacrifices we made to achieve that pinnacle as a team were just as real. Standing as a World Champion watching the Union Jack ascend the flag pole, singing the national anthem, I felt empty, devoid of any real emotion except contentment and disappointment. I should have retired then, for reasons I need not mention. I had achieved the one goal I had strived for a decade to fulfill, but I couldn’t because of – “what next?”

I was scared; Sport was all I had ever known. Firstly as a swimmer sent to Australia by British Swimming as part of their off-shore training programme and latterly dropping out of University to Row. Sport was quite literally my life, and my goal was absolute, I wanted nothing more, I was willing to sacrifice anything for it, and I did. A “Tunnel Vision Syndrome”.

The trait coaches look for, identify, and exploit. Most athletes like myself are unaware they suffer from this and instead, we spend all of our time training, competing, generating and analysing results, obsessed with the “Gold Standard” oblivious to the cares and frustrations of those around us.

After my career in sport I was visibly, mentally and emotionally unprepared for the balanced perspective required of a “proper job” and career opportunities. I was depressed, I missed the applied focus to a goal, the stop at nothing, whatever it takes, culture that elite sport requires. At that realization I listened to an ex team mate, “Remember you can train skill, but you can’t train personality.” So instead of trying to change, I searched for a career and culture that I could thrive in.

And environment where there is the drive to practice a task rigorously, relentlessly, even when all you can see is failure until ultimately rewarded. Where the ability to achieve goals, without complaint or projecting blame onto others when problems arise, is acknowledged. An environment where I can train and develop new skills, where entrepreneurial spirit and the desire to get back up after a hard hit is celebrated, while the constant striving for balance and caring more about the team is paramount. Most importantly a career where I could display a sincere desire to overcome mistakes, make amends, and do better each day not only for myself but for the team.

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I write this sitting alone in the office, my colleagues have since left and I sit in the still, tranquil arena in which I conduct business. A world away from boats, oars, tight Lycra, large swathes of discomfort, and the occasional wailing from a mega phone. Replaced by a desk, computer, telephone, database and network of contacts. Todays ‘Gold Standard’ is to address the particular needs and challenges of my clients. Specifically tailoring searches, sourcing candidates, so as not to provide typical ‘off the shelf’ individuals but candidates who fit the very soul and essence of my clients business. A constantly replenishing ‘goal’ to provide peace of mind that the solutions and processes I employ are rigorous in nature and ruthless in execution.

I may no longer refer to myself as an athlete, but the skills, ambition and sheer desire to succeed will never abate.

Dan Richie @psd_sport