It was mid-July 2014, just about three years removed from my football playing days at Concordia University. I had just made some major changes in my life and things were going well from a personal stand point, despite a few good habits haven fallen to the wayside – including my once regimented training schedule from while I was at school.
On this particular summer afternoon, I had some time off from work and figured I’d dust off the workout gear and see where I stood. After a brief warm up, I thought I’d start things off as any guy would: under the bench press. After I breezed through some low weights I decided I’d get under 225lbs – a longstanding measuring stick among footballers to see where you stand strength-wise.
A few cracks of the knuckles, and I confidently slid under the bar. My spotter gave me a lift, and I was off. What I felt next – other than the bar on my sternum – was the crushing guilt-laden weight of three years of physical-neglect, crashing down on me. At that point, it wasn’t a matter of IF I was going to get the weight up, it was a matter if the SPOTTER could react in time to get the bar off my chest before one of my lungs collapsed.
It was horrifying, humbling, and downright embarrassing. My workout partner’s teasing laughter also brought the point home: life after sports is an interesting beast. Something you’ve worked at your entire life is stripped away from you seemingly overnight. Most of us are lucky enough to know when it’s our last game so that we can cherish it and soak in the moment. Some of us do not have such luck. Regardless, dealing with this change of lifestyle is never easy.
Speaking for myself, at first it was a blessing. My body had gone through a lot of punishment and it had been difficult balancing school with a grueling football schedule that included games, practices, film study, meetings and, of course, mandatory weight training. The time off was relaxing and not having to worry about 6am workouts was a nice reprieve.
As time passed, the relaxation somehow morphed into a dormant and sedentary lifestyle. I would saunter off to the gym every so often when I was in the mood for it, mainly going through the motions while I was there. I would convince myself I was still in shape; riding off the hard work I had put in for years before.
Another year elapsed – I could tell that my energy and confidence levels were lower, my stress levels higher, and I really didn’t have a good nutritional plan. However, since my weight didn’t really fluctuate too much, I continued to view myself as an exception to the post-athletics norm. Since the scale didn’t change, what I was doing must have been keeping me in fine shape.
Fast forward to that 225lb bar crushing down on me and shedding new light on who I had let myself become. After that, when I looked into the mirror, my whole perception has changed. I was embarrassed at myself, disappointed and, most of all, pissed off. I couldn’t believe I had let a lifestyle that had been a part of me for so long, slowly slip away unbeknownst to me. I thought back to all the work I had put in over the years. Countless hours spent at the gym trying to overcome odds and major setbacks to allow myself the chance to play at an elite level. It was all gone, in three seemingly short years.
For the first time in my life, I no longer identified as an athlete.
That change in perception was all it took for me to want to change. Instead of making excuses for my lack of activity, I was now angry when I looked at myself. I had put too much work into my past accomplishments and I was not going to idly watch as I turned into what was no me. I don’t know if it’s considered fat-shaming if you’re saying it to yourself, but whatever it was, some choice words spoken audibly to myself drove the point home.
In that moment, I found an internal motivation I needed to hold myself accountable. Unfortunately, the reflection of a slob in a mirror where an athlete had once stood was what it took to get me back on track – but sometimes, that’s what it does take! I don’t want to say ‘It was as simple as that’ because there have been highs and lows – but the trend remains an upward one.
Since that July 2014 turning point, I’ve improved my strength to a level above that of my playing days. I stick to a meal plan that works for me, continue to keep my motivation levels high and do not let fatigue deter me from a workout. Motivation really is key because without it, I know how easily my past habits would creep back into my life. It’s obviously easier to sit around and binge Netflix, pick up fast food – and it’s certainly easier to pat yourself on the back and say it’s not that bad. If you’re not willing to have an honest conversation with yourself or get angry at yourself for losing the fire that once made you an elite athlete, then there’s a good chance you’re not ready to call yourself an athlete again – yet.