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“Personally, I never identified as just an athlete. I did sport my whole life. It was the only thing I knew but I’ve always been the kind of person that’s not necessarily that thing that I’m doing. I’ve always had other interests. For me, I was just ready and it was OK to say, ‘I did the things I tried to do as best as I could do them. Maybe there was more there and more left but that’s for somebody else now.’”
In Jan. 2017, Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton announced their retirement at the prime of their respective careers at 28 years old. Ashton was coming off defending his Olympic gold medal at the Summer Games in Rio. Brianne earned a bronze medal in the heptathlon in Brazil as well. They started a family and Ashton went back to school to pursue a degree in engineering. How did the former world’s greatest athlete navigate the job market and what were some of the challenges along the way?
Ashton sits down with Kyle Merber to open up about his own personal experience. They’re also joined by Chris O’Donnell, the co-founder of The Bell Lap, which is a program focused on helping professional Track & Field athletes’ transition into the business community. For more information visit TheBelLap.com | They are now taking applications for the Class of 2022.
You can watch the interview below:
– “I didn’t think I was that great. It wasn’t hard for me. I didn’t feel like that was me coming down to try to send emails to people I had no clue what they were working on and probably didn’t know me. I did use that success in sport as an attention grabber. In some of these emails, it was like, ‘Two-time Olympic gold medalist here. Just retired. Very interested in your field. Would you be willing to talk?’A lot of people said yes. I went on a lot of visits, saw some cool stuff and ultimately met some folks, got to San Francisco and joined a software startup. The goal there was to learn from an incredible team about how companies work… ”
– “In a lot of ways, it can be like sport. When you were in the playground doing your thing and then eventually got into running or as athletes into whatever it is, it’s not like right away you knew you wanted to do that or you knew where you could go. When I was a young athlete, I just did track and sports because I liked it. The things you saw on TV like baseball and football, you could see the end path. For track and field, I couldn’t see it. I could see the Olympics but it was so far away. I remember my high school coach brought me to the Prefontaine Classic and being in the stands around people cheering on these athletes who run, I had no clue that track could be this. Getting that exposure from a company or a business perspective is kind of the same thing. I don’t understand the ins and outs. I don’t understand the opportunities or how I fit into that.”
– “Athletes who have tried to move on beyond sport I think struggle with ‘What do I know?’ or ‘What am I doing?’ that can contribute to anything that’s not a sport. What I have found with being out of sport for five years is that what people call soft skills, employers love…Being part of a team at a big company or even a startup for that matter, the things that really matter outside of the technical skill, which is 20 to 30% of how you make progress is being able to work in a team, being able to set a goal, being able to be disciplined and relentless. Because I’m in interested in science and engineering, athletes are not that far off from thinking like scientists. The reason I say that is because when you go to practice every day, whether you’re running, jumping or throwing, the thing you do is, you say, ‘OK. Here’s the thing I’m trying to achieve. Run this interval a certain time. Throw like 50 times in the shot. Practice this one thing or try to make it further in distance.’ You go to practice. You know your technique and you’re going to do this thing to make your performance better. You do it. You look at the results and you get a measurable outcome. Then, with that measurable outcome in the field that you got from your attempt, you think, ‘OK. What adjustment am I going to make?’
Hypothesis. Test. Review. Improve. You do that so often in practice. 50 to 100 times in a day depending on how many attempts you make in your event. That training that you do in your mind over 10 years or however long your career is, is insanely analogous to how someone approaches improving or finding out something new in the field of science, engineering, start-ups and companies. All you’re trying to do is improve your product, your team or achieve something that day. Everything an athlete does is totally applied to do that. You do it a lot faster and better than most people just by way of your training.”
– “There is and should be life after sport. You have a lot more to give the world than your athletic performances. You can use that same mindset to do your next thing.”
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@HaywardMagic is the Instagram home for the true track & field diehards, dreamers and fans. They are sharing the magic of the sport and elevating the athletes that push it forward. Follow them on Instagram @HaywardMagic.
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