Give yourself time to grieve
Written on the 30 January 2019
I officially and publicly retired from international boxing 1 week ago today (22 Jan 2019). Nine months after my last appearance in an international competition ring. In my heart I always knew the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast were going to be my last competition. You may wonder why it took me nine months to make an official announcement. Well, it was because I wasn’t completely comfortable saying “I don’t box anymore”. I had not worked my way through the grieving process yet. It took me nine months; for some it takes less time and for others it takes many more months, and maybe even years. Our athlete identity has been with us for years and years, why should we/do we expect to not feel some sort of loss even when we make the choice to call it a day on an athletic career?
I use the term “career” very loosely – amateur boxing in New Zealand is a truly amateur sport. There is no organised government funding. My small team and I fundraised. In the early days, I studied full time and worked part time, completing two university degrees this way and then worked full time as a physiotherapist for 85% of my time as an athlete over the last 16 years. What I am ultimately getting at is that I have developed a life and identity outside of “Lex the Boxer”: I have also been known as Lex the physiotherapist and Lex the boxing gym owner and now I am Lex the guest speaker and Lex the mental skills and wellness coach. Even though I am multiple things (as we all are), I have still needed time to grieve for Lex the boxer. She has been a vital part of who I am for the last 16 years. She has helped grow me into the confident woman I am today. Without Lex the boxer there is no me as I am today. I will forever be grateful for my time as an international athlete.
Working through my retirement grief process
The first week after I got home from my last international, I sat on the sofa in my gown eating ice-cream and Oreos with milk every day while I read a book cover to cover. It had easily been a year since I last finished a book. I’d have a shower and then just get back into my pjs, – nothing else was accomplished. I needed time to decompress from the hype and craziness of a major multisport games. I needed quiet. It took me a few weeks, but eventually I realised I needed to say goodbye to the life of Boxer Lex– she will always be a part of me but my life was not the same now that I wasn’t training and competing anymore. I had to accept the uncomfortable emotions I felt. There were many moments of uncertainly about whether retiring was the right decision, sometimes frustration because I didn’t have answers for what next yet and periods of just being blah. In these times I could not even bring myself to do the things that used to bring me joy like cooking a meal or exercising.
5 Concrete things that helped me work through the grief of retirement
- Making plans with friends ahead of time so I had something to look forward to.
- I reached out and asked for some guidance. I have two wonderful mentors, people that give their time – one in the business/career world and one in the sport leadership and governance world. We have a conversation every few weeks and they give me guidance.
- I did some volunteering – helping other people is powerful and it helped me find meaning in life again.
- Returning to my nightly routine of writing in my gratitude journal and the appreciation for the simple things in life.
- Accepting that I don’t have to have all the answers right now. I had a general idea of where I wanted to head. I didn’t have the exact map but I continued (and am still) working towards this metamorphosis. Change is not to be hurried so having the patience and knowing that, when the time is right the details will become clear to me, has been essential.
In my time and in my words
Announcing a retirement is a very personal thing – it has been for me anyway. This time it has been on my terms and in my words. (In 2016 I had thought I was done with boxing but did not get the opportunity to announce it myself. A person from stuff.co.nz wrote a short piece “Kiwi boxer Alexis Pritchard retires after 13 years in ring”. That person did not even have the decency to call me and ask me about it. Reading it annoyed and upset me. Maybe I should be pleased someone else took notice??? Er, no. Not cool at all; it took my power away.)
The time must be right. It needs to feel correct. The announcement gives you a release from the previous part of you and a springboard to do the next thing. For me I needed to be comfortable answering the question, “So what is it you are doing now?” This is where I am now: “I share ideas and tools to help you embrace your fears, to empower you to live your life well.” “Sounds wonderful and how exactly do you do that?” “I am a Mental Skills and Wellness Coach and really enjoy sharing my knowledge when I am a Guest Speaker at events and I love working with everyday people”