Meryl Davis: Finding New Purpose After Life as an Olympian

“O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,” I mouth the words, watching the American flag being raised over the Olympic Park. It’s February in southern Russia but the evening’s cool rain feels unexpectedly welcome. It’s enchanting. What’s more, it is grounding me in the moment. I close my eyes. Remember. The small drops of water give tangibility to the night. Something I can touch. Something to distinguish this night from all other nights. To distinguish it from a dream. “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

The last note echoes in my ear for a moment before I hear the crowd’s cheers. I spot a few signs, posters and banners written in English, scattered throughout the massive gathering inside the main square of the Sochi Olympic Park. This is the moment, I think to myself. Take it in. I feel the weight of a gold medal around my neck and wave to the crowd as I’ve seen Olympians do on television so many times before. I’ve also been on the podium before. Standing one step down at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games with my lifetime skating partner, Charlie White. It feels like a century ago now. It’s been a long, hard four years.

“Please pick-up your medal boxes on the table to the left of the stairs as you exit the stage.”

I hear the announcement over the loudspeaker, first in English followed by French and then Russian. I’m surprised. In my mind, the moment had seemed infinite. When I imagined it, the scene felt supernatural and always out of reach. Now I’m here, stepping off of the podium, walking through the rain and following Charlie into the holding room backstage. I feel confused and slightly lost. An unfamiliar feeling of unpreparedness. Together, we had trained for the performances and for the highest level of competition. Planning, preparation and readiness, that’s who I am. That’s who we’ve had to be since we started this journey as hopeful young skaters over 17 years ago. As we begin the walk back to the Village, I realize, I hadn’t prepared for the “after.”

I lie in my bed in Plymouth, Michigan, draped atop my own soft, mangled nest of linen and down. It’s just before 7 A.M. on a Wednesday and the sun peers delicately through the white, wooden blinds of my bedroom to dust my lavender walls and bedding with light. I haven’t set an alarm today and have nowhere important to be. The gentle breeze of my ceiling fan has wisps of my dark hair dancing back and forth across the left side of my face. As a little girl, or even a teenager, I loved nothing more than when my mom would come into my room early in the morning to let me know that it was a snow day. “Keep sleeping,” she would say softly. “No school today!” I would curl-up tightly and pull the comforter close, floating slowly back to sleep.

Today is not a snow day and although my bed is no less cozy than it once was, I feel ill at ease. I turn over to grab my phone off the nightstand, moving as little as possible. I finally grasp it with the tips of my fingers and let them aimlessly begin browsing for an episode of some mildly interesting television show or a movie to watch. I never get to do this. Enjoy it, I think to myself. A single tear escapes. I lie on my left side now and the tear absorbs surprisingly quickly into the cotton of the pillowcase beneath my cheek. Unmoving, my face rests in the warmth of the damp fabric. While it feels good to be emotional (my normal stoicism being a necessary source of strength for so long), this is a sadness I haven’t anticipated. An emptiness. Hadn’t I achieved what I wanted? Hadn’t I lived the dream? I close my eyes and fall asleep.

You hear stories of athletes who say they knew from a young age that they wanted to be a champion. Despite appearances, that isn’t me. Sure, I could envision wild successes when people would ask the predictable “Do you want to be an Olympian when you grow-up?” or when watching a competition on TV, but I lived for progress. I didn’t have an exact goal in mind, but day by day I knew I was doing whatever it took to get “there”—plus a little bit of drama, stress and struggle along the way. Perhaps I enjoyed that, too. I was working towards something big and that gave everything meaning.

After spending my life deep in the pursuit of a dream now realized, I find myself hollow, empty, vacant, and without purpose.

In the old days, I’d begin mornings by slipping my legs slowly off the bed, so sore. I loved that feeling, though. I’ve always loved that feeling. Even now, it’s those full days of training that feel like my “real life.”

By 8 A.M, I’d be full speed with Charlie on the ice. Despite the low temperature in the rink, I’d break a light sweat. The hours passed and even my sports bra and loose tank top became suffocating. My arms and legs were heavy with fatigue, my lungs burning from the constant rush of cold air. I struggled to regain my breath. At times, I’d catch a glimpse of stars in the corners of my eyes. That’s when I’d know it was working. Progress.

When I’d get the invites from my high school friends for quick catch-ups while they were in town, they probably knew I wouldn’t come. We’ve been friends for nearly two decades and I rarely did. I have absolutely no idea what I did to deserve friends who are still nice enough to ask. “I’m just so tired,” I’d often reply in our group message. “I’m sure you understand.” They always did. They also know me well enough to see right through my texts. I was exhausted after training, but I also like being by myself and they recognized that. I was recovering from a long day on the ice and preparing for the next. This had been my purpose, my routine, and my comfort zone my whole life.

Today, I have nothing to do, nothing to do tomorrow, and I’m so incredibly uncomfortable with that.

My friends are gathering tonight and I wish I wanted to go. They really are amazing. Wasn’t this kind of the point of it all? Work now, play later? But it wasn’t. At least not for me. “Ugh, I can’t,” I write, slightly adjusting my usual reply. A total lie but the best I can come up with. “Can’t believe I’ll miss you guys again but hopefully I’ll catch you around the holidays.” Now that I’m not training, I wonder what they think.

Before the Games, when I did spend time with friends, I mostly gravitated towards the ones I’d made through sport. I’d get dinner with my girlfriends who had been there before. The ones who understood the training and dedication from the inside. Even without having known them as long as those incredibly kind, thoughtful and lifelong friends from school, I felt closer to skaters. These were not only friends but former athletes who supported my pursuit with a deep understanding and empathy for the challenges I regularly faced. Most of my closest “skating friends” having already retired, they would often share anecdotes about the specifics of their respective, post-retirement challenges. Marriage, career, motherhood, etc. No matter the nature of the stories and independent of the various challenges each woman faced, almost every conversation would include some sort of comment referencing a belief that everything was simpler “post skating.” To each of these women, their new and respective challenges felt small as compared to their years of trials faced in rigorous training and competition on the ice. “Everything is easy after skating,” they so often said. Puzzled, I would nod in agreement as if we were on the same page.

Now that I’m here, nothing could be further from the truth.

I suppose I never fully understood why I was so dedicated to skating. I always knew I loved it and that the “sacrifice” never really felt compromising. While others looked forward to the post-competitive days of “freedom,” I could rarely relate. It wasn’t until I stood atop that Olympic podium that I understood. There was nowhere left to go. For me, working towards my dream was my freedom. All my life I’d been in the pursuit of betterment. That was all I needed. In some way, I always felt that the chance to chase that dream was a gift.

Once upon a time there was something noble about skipping a grade school sleepover, a friend’s birthday party or a senior trip to Cabo. Indeed, there was even something productive about a lazy afternoon in bed. Stretching, recovering and watching Netflix. These were the respectable, logical and responsible choices to make as I embarked on my seemingly insurmountable quest. Now, the quest is won and I can finally be “normal.” There is no day of training from which to recover or forthcoming competition for which to prepare. I have possibilities, choices and time. I loathe all of it. How disappointing.

In the four years since the Sochi Olympic Games, I’ve struggled in ways I hadn’t imagined.

To find one’s self working towards discovering a new place in the world after living with such a defined sense of purpose can be quite alarming. Forced to uncover an identity and know myself outside of the world I’ve lived in all my life is a struggle.

Even though my competitive career ended on the best of terms, draped in literal glitter, glory, and gold, I must mourn the life I leave behind. Athletes are creatures of habit. We obsess, we analyze, and we grow. It is not the rigors of the process that intimidate. We love a challenge. In finding new goals, a new mission, and a new sense purpose, I find myself lost.

Having stepped away from competition after the 2014 Sochi Winter Games and officially transitioning into competitive retirement in February of 2017, Charlie and I have continued to skate professionally in figure skating tours around the world. While we’ve lived incredibly busy, demanding, and rewarding professional lives, I’ve worked hard to find new passions, interests, and goals beyond the ice. Truthfully, it is only now, four years later, that I find myself gaining my footing and feeling confident and comfortable in my post-competitive life.

When I’m not working to find my next act, professionally, or in school, finishing-up my undergraduate degree in anthropology at the University of Michigan, I’m embracing the opportunity to enjoy my personal life. Recently engaged, my fiancé and I most enjoy our time outdoors with our 1-year-old Minisheepadoodle puppy, Bilbo. While I still don’t have a clearly defined career path in mind, I’m now finding myself exhilarated by the possibilities and moved by the freedom more often than I am weighed down by the uncertainties.

There are still some days that I long for the comfort and familiarity of my old life, devoting myself fully to something I knew, something I was good at and something I loved, but I’ve learned to accept that that was who I was then. I desperately want to grow in new and different directions. I want to embrace new challenges, open myself up to a world of fresh possibilities. I want to learn something unexpected. I want to surprise myself. This is who I want to be. This is who I strive to be now.

https://www.self.com/story/1-minute-rule-made-my-life-a-million-times-easier

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Accepting Your Past

from http://www.5lovelanguages.com/2014/05/accepting-your-past/

Accepting your past

May 1, 2014

The prophet Jeremiah asked: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?” (Jeremiah 13:23).  The obvious answer is ‘no.’ Some things are unchangeable. Perhaps the most influential unchangeable factor in your life is your history.  Your parents, good or bad, dead or alive, known or unknown, are your parents. That fact cannot be changed. Your childhood, pleasant or painful, is your childhood. Our history is not to be changed, but accepted. We waste our time and energy when we ponder on what might have been. Admit your failures, accept the failures of others, and ask God to help you do something good with your future. No matter what has happened in the past, you can have good relationships in the future.

Seeing Others as He Sees Them

From http://www.prodigalmagazine.com/page/7/#sthash.ue0kdDtc.dpuf

Pulling my car into the drive-thru line at Starbucks, I wondered why it was a dozen people deep. It wasn’t raining, yet it seemed everyone was driving through today. I was transporting three dogs to the groomer, and there was no way I could leave two wild Shih-tzus and one crazy Bichon alone while I went inside for my daily dose.

Millie, the Bichon, sat on my lap licking the window.

As I peeled her away from the glass, I saw the woman.

She sat across the parking lot, leaving just enough room for a thoroughfare, as she too was waiting in the Starbucks line. I smiled, and gestured to her. It went something like this: “Are you next, or am I?” Really, I was fine either way.

She was not.

Thinking I was trying to snag her spot of next up, she gunned her Suburban, rolled down the window, and let out a string of expletives that made me blush. Millie barked back a retort.

“Go ahead, please,” I said. “I wasn’t sure who was first.” I pulled Millie back onto my lap, so she could see I had been dog-distracted and truly didn’t know who was next.

She didn’t buy it. She continued with the name calling without taking a breath. I won’t write them down here, but the main mantra shared initials with the number one social networking site.

Then something really strange happened.

Instead of getting mad or yelling back at her, a sense of empathy invaded me. I looked at her again, and this time I saw someone different, someone who wrenched my heart. Her eyes were red and puffy. Her hair was pulled back in a natty ponytail. She held her phone in her palm, glancing down at it every few seconds. And she was driving that big ole’ gas hog of a Suburban, my own car of choice when I had three kids at home and a carpool.

Dear God. I was looking at myself ten years ago. Same car, same ponytail. Same frustration.

We’ve all been there. Dog vomits on the sofa. Both kids have strep throat. The garbage disposal chooses today to break, when you are trying to disintegrate moldy fridge leftovers.  Husband is mad because you forgot to pick up the dry cleaning and he’s going on a business trip. Sound familiar?

And by the way, was that him she had been talking to or texting?

She gunned forward, just to show me that she could.

I left her a wide berth, smiled at her splotchy face. She shot me a sideways scowl, mouthed the mantra again.

Pulling up to the loudspeaker behind her, I said “I want to pay for whatever the woman in front of me has ordered. And please tell her I hope she has a better day.” I meant every word.

The woman idled in front of me for a good four minutes, talking to the barista who had leaned out the window. She shook her head and handed over a bill. She drove around the side of the building slowly, this time no gunning. Hmmm.

“No takers, huh?” I said to the barista as I pulled forward.

“Nope. She said she couldn’t believe you wanted to pay for her drink after all the names she called you. She said she couldn’t allow it, and said to tell you she was sorry. She felt really bad.”

“Did you tell her I hoped she had a better day?”

“Yep. She said thanks— that she already was.”

“Good to hear.” I smiled and handed her a dollar to put in the tip jar.

As I drove away, I began to cry. Not because I had been called so many terrible names, but because God had answered my very recent prayer—which was that He would allow me to see people as He sees them, not as I see them.

That I might be able to see the hurting inside, instead of just the hurtful outside. And maybe a few tears were of gratitude and amazement that He always shows up with an answer when I sincerely ask.

Effective Practice

8 Things Top Practicers Do Differently

Who I am in God

From http://thenewbart.tumblr.com/post/77623919773/proper-i-d-required:

Did you know the enemy most likely has a better grasp of who you are in Christ than you do?

Roughly 2 years ago, a couple of dear friends helped me realize this. Daily they would remind me who I am in Christ. Constantly telling me I’m holy, righteous and redeemed. And you know what? Over time I started to believe it. Maybe that’s what it means to set your mind on things above.

Here are the scriptures my buddies were constantly pouring over me.

I believe if you stand around truth long enough, it just might change you. So by all means, stay a while. The truth has certainly changed me!
My Identity in Jesus Christ

John 1:12 – I am a child of God (Romans 8:16).

John 15:1,5 – I am a part of the true vine, a channel (branch) of His Life.

John 15:15 – I am Christ’s friend.

John 15:16 – I am chosen and appointed by Christ to bear His fruit.

Acts 1:8 – I am a personal witness of Christ for Christ.

Romans 3:24 – I have been justified and redeemed.

Romans 5:1 – I have been justified (completely forgiven and made righteous) and am at peace with God.

Romans 6:1-6 – I died with Christ and died to the power of sin’s rule in my life.

Romans 6:7 – I have been freed from sin’s power over me.

Romans 6:18 – I am a slave of righteousness.

Romans 6:22 – I am enslaved to God.

Romans 8:1 – I am forever free from condemnation.

Romans 8:14,15 – I am a son of God (God is literally my “Papa”) (Galatians 3:26; 4:6).

Romans 8:17 – I am an heir of God and fellow heir with Christ.

Romans 11:16 – I am holy.

Romans 15:7 – Christ has accepted me.

1 Corinthians 1:2 – I have been sanctified.

1 Corinthians 1:30 – I have been placed in Christ by God’s doing; Christ is now my wisdom from God, my righteousness, my sanctification, and my redemption.

1 Corinthians 2:12 – I have received the Spirit of God into my life that I might know the things freely given to me by God.

1 Corinthians 2:16 – I have been given the mind of Christ.

1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19 – I am a temple (home) of God; His Spirit (His life) dwells in me.

1 Corinthians 6:17 – I am joined to the Lord and am one spirit with Him.

1 Corinthians 6:19,20 – I have been bought with a price; I am not my own; I belong to God.

1 Corinthians 12:27 – I am a member of Christ’s body (Ephesians 5:30).

2 Corinthians 1:21 – I have been established in Christ and anointed by God.

2 Corinthians 2:14 – He always leads me in His triumph in Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:14,15 – Since I have died, I no longer live for myself, but for Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:17 – I am a new creation.

2 Corinthians 5:18,19 – I am reconciled to God and am a minister of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:21 – I am the righteousness of God in Christ.

Galatians 2:4 – I have liberty in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life I am now living is Christ’s life.

Galatians 3:26,28 – I am a child of God and one in Christ.

Galatians 4:6,7 – I am a child of God and an heir through God.

Ephesians 1:1 – I am a saint (1 Corinthians 1:2; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2).

Ephesians 1:3 – I am blessed with every spiritual blessing.

Ephesians 1:4 – I was chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blame before Him.

Ephesians 1:5 – I have been adopted as God’s Child.

Ephesians 1:7,8 – I have been redeemed and forgiven, and am a recipient of His lavish grace.

Ephesians 2:5 – I have been made alive together with Christ.

Ephesians 2:6 – I have been raised up and seated with Christ in heaven.

Ephesians 2:10 – I am God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do His work that He planned beforehand that I should do.

Ephesians 2:13 – I have been brought near to God.

Ephesians 2:18 – I have direct access to God through the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19 – I am a fellow citizen with the saints and a member of God’s household.

Ephesians 3:6 – I am a fellow heir, a fellow member of the body, and a fellow partaker of the promise in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 3:12 – I may approach God with boldness and confidence.

Ephesians 4:24 – I am righteous and holy.

Philippians 3:20 – I am a citizen of heaven.

Philippians 4:7 – His peace guards my heart and my mind.

Philippians 4:19 – God will supply all my needs.

Colossians 1:13 – I have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Christ.

Colossians 1:14 – I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins. The debt against me has been canceled (Colossians 2:13,14).

Colossians 1:27 – Christ Himself is in me.

Colossians 2:7 – I have been firmly rooted in Christ and am now being built up and established in Him.

Colossians 2:10 – I have been made complete in Christ.

Colossians 2:12,13 – I have been buried, raised, and made alive with Christ, and totally forgiven.

Colossians 3:1 – I have been raised with Christ.

Colossians 3:3 – I have died, and my life is now hidden with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:4 – Christ is now my life.

Colossians 3:12 – I am chosen of God, holy and dearly loved (1 Thessalonians 1:4).

1 Thessalonians 5:5 – I am a child of light and not of darkness.

2 Timothy 1:7 – I have been given a spirit of power, love, and discipline.

2 Timothy 1:9 – I have been saved and called (set apart) according to God’s purpose and grace (Titus 3:5).

Hebrews 2:11 – Because I am sanctified and am one with Christ, He is not ashamed to call me His.

Hebrews 3:1 – I am a holy partaker of a heavenly calling.

Hebrews 3:14 – I am a partaker of Christ.

Hebrews 4:16 – I may come boldly before the throne of God to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

1 Peter 2:5 – I am one of God’s living stones and am being built up as a spiritual house.

1 Peter 2:9,10 – I am a part of a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own possession.

1 Peter 2:11 – I am an alien and stranger to this world that I temporarily live in.

1 Peter 5:8 – I am an enemy of the devil. He is my adversary.

2 Peter 1:4 – I have been given God’s precious and magnificent promises by which I am a partaker of the divine nature.

1 John 3:1 – God has bestowed a great love on me and called me His child.

1 John 4:15 – God is in me and I am in God.