Who am I without my sport?

I’m ‘the kayaker’. This is literally how my relatives know me, it’s the first thing they ask me about when they see me. All my friends know I do this sport. I mean, it would be impossible for them not to, given the number of times i’ve turned them down to train.

All major decisions in my life so far have been shaped by kayaking. My shortlist of universities was actually a shortlist of kayak clubs. More recently, I left my job and houseshare in Exeter three months early because I believed I could train better in Surrey. I chose supply teaching because the hours suited my training schedule.  

When my confidence crashed during Sixth Form, I no longer had any sense of who I was. All I knew was that I kayaked, and for the next three years I clung to the sport as the one constant in my llife, the thing that made me me. As uni slowly made me a more confident, happier person my kayaking improved as well.

The happiest i’ve been is when i’ve been kayaking best. But which comes first? I always thought kayaking well is what made me happy, but maybe it was the other way round. Two years ago I could not have imagined myself without it. And now i’m thinking about a year off. Does that make me a quitter or just more confident? I swing between two mindsets.

Part of me still wants to try to achieve my dream of making the Euros this year. At the same time I am so tired, so drained. Since recovery from major injury I have put everything into training for five years. And now I keep getting pain in my arms.  If I finish this season, I know I won’t come back, whether I raced at Euros or not. 

I read such an interesting post by Olympic Swimmer Lizzie Simmonds, Crossing the Identity Chasm. This isn’t directly relevant to me in that i’m not a professional athlete. Kayaking isn’t a career choice, trust me. However it is true that my identity is still very much wrapped up in my sport. Choosing to leave, whether permanently or not, is hard.

For so long i’ve been the kayaker. It is the reason I gave for hardly drinking and partying at uni. I’ve lost potential friendships because of it. On the flipside through kayaking i’ve met some amazing people and had some awesome opportunities. If I leave now, what potential future will I miss out on?

Without kayaking what fills the gap? Do I become a wild party girl? Sure I would love to drink without guilt, but i’ll never be a regular party goer. It’s not who I am. And those people I used to see every day (usually twice a day): coaches and training partners, who will take their place in my life?

Sometimes it’s easy to panic if you feel you have no purpose, a bit like an unattached balloon. When this happens I try to list the things that make me who I am. I love sport, I will always love sport, that doesn’t mean I have to be the best at it. I am kind hearted. I love to laugh. I love to be outside. I love animals, photography, food and competition.

I can still be, do and love all these things without kayaking. Kayaking is not what makes me who I am. If I choose to leave kayaking behind, whether for a year or longer, it does not make me weak, or a quitter. I am not throwing everything away, because who knows what I will gain in other areas of my life?

Exeter Canoe Club is where I spent a lot of my uni life, but I will never regret it, because of the amazing people I met. Also, it’s a beautiful place to paddle.
I went to Esposende, Portugal for a Surfski (ocean kayaking) race. I’d like to get to know this side of the sport more.
Milfontes, Portugal. I was here for a training camp. I loved it, mostly for the stunning location and the people.


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