Have you ever undergone an extreme amount of happiness while also experiencing a hint of heartache? Have you ever felt so thankful but also wish you could rewind the last four years of your life? Have you ever been so encouraged and simultaneously felt frustrated that what’s left behind is exactly that: left behind?
If you’re a ‘retired’ college athlete, I’m sure you answered yes to all the above, or at least to some degree, have been engulfed in this series of emotions of which you are left to untangle. It’s a strange dichotomy between latching on to every once-in-a-lifetime opportunity you were afforded while in uniform, and developing the inherent belief that, even though the show goes on without you, your pride and happiness must remain unscathed.
For the retired college athlete population as a whole, jealousy is not an anomaly. Toss all negative connotations associated with the word aside and what do you have? A population whose experiences meant so much to them that they wish they could do it again. A population whose experiences are replete with life-altering moments that they wish they could replicate one more time. A population whose experiences, as now witnessed from the stands, walk away jealous they can’t spend their whole lives anticipating something unlike any other day: game day.
It’s a type of innocuous jealousy- if there is such a thing. It’s a type of jealousy that yields the absolute best in our ‘retired athlete’ selves because it stirs up sentiments of which we are forced to come to terms with. Although these feelings may hit us like a ton of bricks from time to time, it’s more so a wink and a nod to what truly matters: not you, but your team, your coaches, your university, your fans, and whoever else played a role in making your college-athlete experience so special.
It’s nearly impossible not to experience every emotion in the book once your playing days are over. But where every ‘retired athlete’ far and wide should channel their energy into are the people who continue to carry out whatever legacy they left behind. We are not swept under the rug nor are we forgotten. Rather, we are one piece of a jumbo puzzle neatly tucked into place, while the rest lay scattered on the table until it is known where they fit into the enigma.
What it comes down to is this: our past should not thwart our ability to completely immerse ourselves in the now. Frankly, something probably went wrong in your four years if you aren’t just as anxious on game day, just as excited to pump up your teammates when facing a good team, or just as eager to congratulate them after a win. All is not lost. These are the cards we are now dealt- why not jump in with two feet? Why not dilute any salt in our wounds by radiating a pride so thick that absolutely nothing gets in our way?
Besides, we owe it to our people. We did something only a very small percentage of athletes get to do, and we surely did not do it alone. Once we are able to sort through these feelings, intertwined with a wide array of contradictions, the rest seems to take care of itself. We quickly learn that although one very important chapter in our lives has closed in one sense, it is also welcoming us back with open arms in the other sense. Our playing days are over, yes. But our pride and happiness simply cannot and will not ever be replaced.
Our new normal isn’t so bad.