Retiring can be difficult. But stepping down from a tremendously successful career in your thirties can be particularly challenging.
A new book "At the End of the Day" by RTÉ Sport's executive editor Paul Byrnes charts the impact that retirement has had on the lives of the biggest names in sport.
In this extract, former Irish boxer Kenny Egan discusses leaving the ring and starting a new career.
Kenny Egan won a silver medal at the Olympic Games in Beijing. He now works as an addiction counsellor and as a Fine Gael councillor in South Dublin. He lives in Dublin with his wife Karen, their daughter Kate and Karen's daughter Kelis.
I retired in 2013 but there have been times since then that I’ve thought about coming back and returning to the ring. In the initial stages of retirement, I felt I was still fit enough, I could go back into camp and make a comeback. There is also an element of regret that I didn’t go professional looking at a lot of the Irish boxers now, such as Michael Conlon, who are doing so well. If I had spearheaded that back in 2010 then who knows, but I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind at the time. I made a decision to remain amateur until 2012 and try my best to get to London, but sadly that didn’t happen. At that stage, I had enough travelling around the world, competing, trying to make my weight and not really getting on with life. I was pushing thirty and I felt I had nothing to show for it. Yes, I had an Olympic silver medal but you can’t walk into a bank with a medal and say you’re looking for a mortgage. It was a massive dose of reality when I did retire in 2013.
At the beginning, I was blaming the IABA for not hiring me as a coach but it was my own fault. I had no education. In hindsight, I should have been studying while I was competing but that never entered my mind. I was just so focused on being the best, winning an Olympic medal and fulfilling my dreams. I had no time for study. I now encourage all young athletes to study while training and competing. There are certainly no guarantees in sport. The reality is that you might not win an Olympic medal, you mightn’t even qualify for an Olympic Games. You could end up with nothing. There are so many boxers I know who got beaten in National finals and just disappeared. That was it, it was over. I was lucky. I won titles. I won an Olympic medal.
I remember my last fight, losing to Joe Ward at the National Stadium in February, 2013. He was better than me and I admit that. He was hungrier and an exceptional talent. There was a great atmosphere in the stadium that night, but I was beaten fair and square and knew that was it for me. I had enough of boxing and walked back to my corner to tell my coaches. After that, I went back into the centre of the ring, took the microphone from the master of ceremonies and announced my retirement.
Everybody stood up and applauded. There were people there who weren’t old enough to see me win my first National title. It was nice too because it was a full house and the place I’d won my first National title back in 2001. Thirteen finals later, the show was finally over and I was handing over the mantle to a young boxer with great talent in Joe Ward. I woke up the following morning knowing that I was now a former boxer. It was the end of one chapter and the start of another. But what would I do now? All I knew was boxing. After I retired in 2013, I found it very difficult to fill the void. Boxing had been my life, it was all I knew and all I ever wanted to do. I continued to train which included running, sparring and bag work. I really wanted to maintain my fitness and my shape.
Body image is such a big factor for athletes when they retire because they are so used to looking fit and healthy. It can be difficult looking in the mirror a couple of months after you retire and asking what have I done to myself? There’s low self-esteem, low self-worth and often hate. I’m now 20kg heavier than when I fought so it’s important I keep moving and eating well. However, life is busy now. I have a wife, a family, I’m a local councillor in the area and now a qualified counsellor. I no longer have the luxury of training twice a day, then resting followed by eating and training again. Those days are well and truly over. That’s an athlete’s life and sadly I’m not an athlete anymore.
Being a local councillor has been very interesting. I enjoy going to meetings, putting in motions, etc. But it’s still all very new to me. It’s a different type of fighting. Trying to get things done sometimes can be very frustrating in politics. I’m enjoying being a counsellor too and would love to set up my own practice some day or work at the Irish Institute of sport helping athletes. Having that piece of paper finally is so important.
After I retired in 2013, I approached Billy and Zour about working with them and getting involved in coaching. However, there were no vacancies at the time. I waited for a position but nothing arrived. I did a couple of sessions on the house to help out but I knew I was worth more than just a slap on the back after winning an Olympic silver medal.
I told Billy I couldn’t hang around and I left. I had to do it. Shortly after that, I started college. The personal development of what I’ve learnt about myself and where I’ve come from and where I am now has been amazing.
Even when sports people retire and move into good jobs, I still don’t think they’re happy. You’re leaving behind something great, something you’ve loved doing for so long. It’s like a death in your life. Half of me died after Beijing. The drinking, the partying and the madness was just a way of forgetting about the end. When I officially retired in 2013, half of me said thank god because that was it now. Boxing was no more. All athletes will tell you we don’t think about retirement until it’s staring us right in the face. A high-performance athlete at twenty-six is at a slippery slope to retirement. That’s the world of sport. You are in and out very quickly. Planning is the key to retiring. It’s going to come at some stage for every athlete across every sport. You don’t think about it when you’re in the mist of playing and competing for the big prizes. Everybody is patting you on the back and there is no talk of such thing.
However, the clock keeps ticking unfortunately for all of us and you do have to hang up the gloves at some stage.
"At the End of the Day" by Paul Byrnes is published by Lettertec Books and is on sale nationwide.