Tuesday evening, during our monthly Saluki FCA large group meeting, we included a Skype video talk from two recent SIU Swimming alumni. Justin and Jessica Wolfe were both leading members of their teams and of the Saluki FCA huddle during their days at the university. Both had shoulder surgery while in their collegiate swimming careers and shortly after graduating, I was privileged to marry them to each other. Justin swam well enough to qualify for the Olympic trials and gave a tremendous effort, but did not qualify. They now live and work in Mankato, Minnesota.
Several times as they were at Saluki FCA meetings over their careers, we talked about the danger of performance based identity and the trap that it can be for competing athletes. They were both well aware of the challenge that it would be to them and walked confidently into their post-competition years. They spoke with our current student-athletes in a tremendous way about the transition between competitive sporting live and what happens after one’s career is over.
Jessica spoke of how much more difficult it is to make friends outside of sport. For her whole lifetime she had friends automatically, they were teammates and they spent dozens of hours together in the pool weekly. Once in the working world, she wondered, “How do I meet people and make friends out here?” Even this tremendously bright, extroverted, friendly, and beautiful young lady found it a difficult transition from her life on swimming teams.
Justin spoke of the difficult transition from a life of chasing personal performance records, training, and the immediate results measured by a stop watch to a life with fewer measurable results and performance standards. Though he knew in his mind the dangers of a performance based identity, it still affected him. He made a couple of statements that were particularly helpful. He said that the end of career in swimming was like, “writing right handed for my whole lifetime and then having to suddenly write left handed.” He also said that for most of his life if someone asked him, “What are you?” He would say, “I am a swimmer.” Now he struggled with who he was. At first it seemed awkward to say, “I am an engineer.” When talking with people about swimming, he now says, “I am still a swimmer; I am just a different kind of swimmer.” His mentality is still that of a swimmer, even though his daily occupation is being an engineer.
Thankfully for these two, they have firmly grounded their ultimate identity in their relationships with the Lord Jesus. Their mentality as swimmers will likely continue for their lifetimes, but their identities in Christ will last for eternity. Let’s be faithful to help the sportspeople we serve to navigate the perilous waters, the furious rapids that accompany the end of their sporting careers. They will most certainly deal with a loss of identity, if they speak about it or not. If we help them see the danger of the approaching rapids, they are better prepared and more likely to ride them safely to calmer waters.