The biggest financial goal most people will ever have in their lives is to someday retire comfortably. Earning the status of no longer being financially obligated to go to work is a tall task that requires planning, discipline and some luck. The difficulty of accomplishing this feat means few people successfully live out the retirement of which they dream.
Athletic retirement is another animal entirely. While a few stars will be celebrated with a video or ceremony, many see the end of their playing days decided for them. Injuries, financial strain, and roster cuts are the cold hard reality for athletes at the professional level, all the way down to the rec league warrior.
A recent episode of the solid, if unspectacular, HBO show Ballers illuminated this reality as Spencer Strassmore (Dwayne Johnson) shared the story of how his career ended with a friend, troubled wide receiver Ricky Jerret (John David Washington). Strassmore had been an aging star on the decline who dreamed of earning the team ceremony to commemorate his loyal career upon retirement. Instead he spent his last off-season waiting by the phone, never receiving an invite back from the team he had represented his entire career. Years later, Strassmore is now desperately fighting off the classic broke ex-athlete stereotype by attempting to become a financial advisor to the pros. After two episodes, his success is still to be determined, but you never get the sense that this is a dream job or a higher calling. More likely, he has rationalized that this is the right path by virtue of his own dwindling savings.
This story is a direct foil to Johnson’s own trajectory. A man who played college football at the University of Miami and is still referred to as The Rock from a wrestling career that lasted over a decade is now a leading man. This summer he carried San Andreas $440M worldwide box office to precede his new HBO show. Having successfully joined the Fast & Furious franchise, which has another blockbuster coming out in 2017, Johnson isn’t going anywhere.
The key to this whole transformation is that Johnson leveraged his fame from the WWE into an acting career. While he’d probably never open by bragging about his roles in Race to Witch Mountain, Tooth Fairy, The Game Plan or a guest spot on Hannah Montana, the reality is that he toiled in these roles and honed his craft when the offers were still coming in. His skilled promotion and proficiency in those roles led to the higher profile work that he is praised for today.
How can I use any of this and apply it to my life?
In the world of frisbee, I have already been incredibly fortunate. I got two play for two national championship teams and have competed at the USA Ultimate Club Championships twice before my 24th birthday. I have already had my commemorative ceremony moment and video montage when I graduated from Pitt. I’m sure there are more amazing memories to be made in the future, but at some point, things will start to go south.
I help my team by making athletic plays downfield, defensively and offensively. I gain yards and score goals. While my throws have improved, I will never make the impact that some of my teammates (Pat Earles, the Thorne brothers) can when they throw the disc. My athleticism is borne from spending hours in the gym and on the track. It requires maintenance that is as, or more, grueling than the games I get to play in. The cold, hard truth is that my talent has a shelf life.
I have already had hip surgery (2013), my ankles and knees ache after games, and I can’t seem to go more than 6 months without tweaking my back and having to run to the chiropractor. While I play fewer tournaments now and have a shorter season, I seem to be traveling further for every event. Also, the highest levels of competition offer the most grueling competition and exhausting match ups.
None of this scares me, but it does make me think about the story of Robert Smith, a game breaking running back for the Minnesota Vikings who retired prematurely at the age of 28. He cited prioritizing his health as the primary motivation for leaving the NFL with the excellent quote “I’d rather walk away early than limp away late”. Now in his forties, Smith is still able to run around with his kids and doesn’t regret his decision at all. He doesn’t have a pain pill addiction or a hobbled gait.
As I start to consider a life without high level frisbee, pain-free and mobile sounds like a much more desirable way to spend my days. I want to hike mountains, try CrossFit and compete in a triathlon one day and I don’t want to shutter those future goals by focusing exclusively on my present self.
I have accepted the reality that I cannot play frisbee forever and the day I hang up my cleats (at least from high level ultimate) will come sooner than I think. I will have to find new passions and interests that satisfy my mind and competitive drive. This blog and podcast will be a big part of that. Hopefully, the trajectory will continue to point upwards, but you can trust that I will dedicate the same level of effort and focus to this project as I have to my ultimate career.
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