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Saying Goodbye to Sports: Navigating Life After Being a Division 1 Athlete

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Rutgers chapter.

As an athlete, people know you by your sport or the number on your jersey. You spend so much time dedicated to practicing and perfecting your craft that pretty soon your whole life revolves around it. You schedule your classes around practice, you take classes so you can have eligibility to compete, and you say no to invites from friends and family to do stuff because you have obligations with your team. The student athlete life, as much as it is rewarding, is also very draining. Stress is a part of life, but when is it time to hang up your jersey and say goodbye?

Finding yourself outside of your sport is something athletes may struggle with when moving on from high school and even college athletics. I recently went through this for the second time in my college career. For two years I ran division 1 for my previous school. Yet, between the school not being the right fit for me and getting injured towards the end of my sophomore year, I decided to transfer. Transferring meant not only leaving behind my school, but also leaving behind running. It was a tough decision, but ultimately I made the move because putting my happiness and sanity first seemed to be the best option.

At my new university, I was still not fully healed from giving up running. It was the thing I loved and invested so much time into. While all of this still at the forefront of my mind, I saw an ad for the rowing team and decided to give it a shot. It was a division 1 sport and that in itself is what enticed me. I was still going through an identity crisis and couldn’t give up my identity as a student athlete, so I tried out. 

I made the team as a coxswain (the person who steers the boat), and was once again apart of a team. I was still not fully recovered from my running injuries, so for a while I was content with not running and focused my efforts on rowing. In my mind, as long as I was a division 1 athlete, running didn’t have to matter; I just wanted the clout and to feel like I belonged to something important.

After nearly a year on the rowing team, I needed to have a reality check with myself. I wasn’t happy, I was mentally and emotionally drained. I put my all into it and worked hard everyday to improve, but I felt like I wasn’t getting better, nor was I feeling fulfilled. Days started to drag on and every morning I woke up with a dark cloud over my head. I loved my teammates and they are partially what kept me going for so long. However, the fact that I started to hate my time at a school I transferred to in order to be happy didn’t sit well with me. Once my emotions started to impact my physical health is when I sat down with myself and came to the conclusion that it was time to let go of rowing. 

In the end, I realized that I was so set on staying on the team for all the wrong reasons. Coxing ultimately wasn’t for me, but I’ll admit it: I did it for all the little perks that came with being a student athlete at a big school like Rutgers. I came to Rutgers to be happy and enjoy college, but I wasn’t, all due to a sport I started six months prior. I gave up so much time, declined fun plans with friends, neglected my classes, and felt a constant bout of anxiety all the time for a sport that I just started. It was no longer something fun that I enjoyed learning. With all of that in mind, I finally felt comfortable giving up my title as a “student athlete”. 

Though it wasn’t for me, I ended up learning a lot about myself and life through rowing and being a student athlete for three years. “Student athlete” is just something you put on a resume; no one cares or knows unless you tell them or they ask. At the end of the day we are all human and have our own hobbies and interests. Being an athlete makes you no better than the person next to you. In general, college athletics were a good experience making me more well rounded, but in the process of trying it out, it made be realize where my real passions are. With my departure of sporting on an official team, I’ve taken on a new approach to life free of labels and where I have time to try new things and put more effort into the things that bring joy and fulfill me. 

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