After years of pouring every ounce of energy into their chosen sport, the challenges for elite athletes to adapt once it’s over are all too apparent. Confirming her official retirement from swimming in April, three-time Olympic gold medallist Stephanie Rice spoke to be. about some of the health, fitness and nutrition changes in life post-pool, and how she has learnt to live for the now, not with her eye on the next sports prize.
“It’s been tough – when I was training I had a very strict routine with my health and exercise,” she says. “It was always a big necessity, in order to swim well, to eat the right food at the right times, and obviously exercise. And it was very unbalanced. Right after the London Olympics, I kind of wanted to go the other way and not exercise, eat the foods that I had deprived myself of for so long. After a month I got over that as well.”
Transitioning from vegetarian to vegan and back again, it’s been a search for the right balance, and along the way she has educated herself on smaller quantities and learning to enjoy the foods she has wanted to eat, not those prescribed for an Olympic swimmer.
Much more than just a physical fitness adaptation, the mental health of athletes plays a vital role in how they’re able to cope in the years following sporting success. For Steph, meditation has been an important practice.
“I began meditating probably eight months ago and I love it – I’ve noticed a huge difference since starting. I did my first meditation retreat the other week and I really liked it because I’ve never really done anything like that for myself; it’s usually going away for holidays or a friend’s party, but it was really nice to do something for me.
“It was almost challenging in that respect because it was really slow, and I don’t usually like that, but it was a good counter-balance to bring things into perspective. It has not only helped me with stress and fatigue and tiredness, it has helped me set intentions for the day and pick up on insights in myself.”
While the obvious benefits of such a structured and disciplined start to life will naturally enrich any career opportunities that arise post-retirement, Steph touched on a major element to competitive sport she has had to unlearn, in order to feel a sense of purpose again.
“Sport is so end-goal focused. There’s always something you’re striving for and you always know what’s around the corner in terms of meets and training. Moving into normal life, it’s just not like that. I have no idea where I want to be in 10 years’ time, I have an idea of what I want to achieve, but there’s just no way I can set an end goal and work backwards from it. That’s a huge change for me, and it was quite overwhelming at the start because I wanted to know what the end result was and the more that I was searching for it, I wasn’t finding it.”
Turning to the most influential person in her life – her long-time coach and mentor Michael Bohl – has helped immensely in handling these sorts of challenges.
“He coached me for 10 years so we’ve been a really strong partnership for a long time and he probably knows me better than anyone else, including my family. He’s always been someone that I go to and sort of just knows when things aren’t right for me.”
With an open-minded approach to wellness (including alternative therapies like kinesiology and reiki) combined with the practical advice of a business coach, Steph uses lots of different strategies to learn more about herself.
Full of ambition, her future plans include an exciting partnership with Russell Athletic, where she is supporting their expansion into the world of exercise apparel with her own clothing line. “I’ve been so fortunate to be able to work with quite a few brands throughout my career. I stand for health and fitness and that’s what they do – it’s really authentic.”
After three years in the making, Steph will also be launching her own children’s swimwear line at the end of the year. Along with selling swimwear, it will provide her with a wonderful opportunity to educate our future swimming champs and their parents through swim clinics and mentoring programs.
Check out the Russell Athletic Platinum Performance range at russellathletic.com.au