"After all of that glory, all of that triumph, it was a short walk back to my room. Hundreds of parents and professors and coaches and students were still milling about as I stepped in and closed the door. I had already packed up most of my things. The walls were bare concrete blocks again. My bed was stripped. My desk was cleaned off and my duffel was full. I suddenly felt incredibly sad. I sat down on the edge of the bed and took a big deep breath. I didn’t want to leave. What the heck am I going to do now? I thought. For all of my big dreams, big goals, big hopes, I hadn’t spent any time thinking about what I was going to do once I graduated. I guess some part of me, right up until that moment when I stood up and cheered and threw my hat in the air, maybe some part of me didn’t fully believe that it was ever going to happen. I prayed for it to happen. I convinced myself that I knew it would happen. I willed it to happen. But now that it had, I sat there dumbstruck. I felt so happy, so fulfilled, so overwhelmed, so proud – and so lost. What am I gonna do now?"
-Rudy Ruettiger, Rudy: My Story
When I graduated college and my track and field career ended, I had no idea who I was and what I was going to do for the rest of my life. Did I peak at 22? Would I have to get a real job? That felt like giving up on everything I’d ever dreamed of…it felt like I was accepting the fate of disappearing into the world, being someone who would always be less than. I thought my one true calling in life was to go to the Olympics in the triple jump. That one thing I dreamed about every night, set goals for, focused on, never lost sight of. When reality set in, I was nowhere near that caliber of athlete. The furthest I’d ever jumped was five feet short of Olympic qualification. I believed, though, that like Rudy, I could will this dream to come true. But, as my graduation from Oglethorpe University loomed closer and with real life fast approaching, I had to come to grips with the end of my organized athletic career and prepare to enter the corporate world.
Going on job interview after job interview after I graduated, I was both unexcited about the prospect of getting a real job and simultaneously overlooked by every employer I sat in front of. I believed that I would be set apart from other applicants simply because of my athletic background, but I wasn’t. Oglethorpe provided me with all the tools I needed to succeed post-grad, but I lacked any experience off the track and out of the classroom, because I chose to solely be a student-athlete. I didn’t have the necessary internships or jobs that would qualify me for the next phase of my life. These rejections had me feeling ill-equipped to even set foot on the path I was apparently supposed to be on next.
The truth of the matter was, I didn’t even want the jobs I was applying for. The only thing I ever wanted to be was an athlete. I felt valueless, lost, and completely ashamed, believing that what I had to offer the world died with the competitor I once was when I jumped my final triple jump.
I set on a long, painful, tear-filled, journey toward rediscovering myself, and it lead me to the world of entrepreneurship, the world of podcasting, and into the calling I realized I was meant to fulfill all along: to relentlessly keep moving forward through my life by helping those individuals stuck in the same rut I was in along the way. To do this, I created the Keep Moving Forward podcast, where I have the remarkable opportunity to interview current and former collegiate and professional athletes who successfully made the transition out of the sporting world and into the real world. Their paths there are riddled with obstacles, filled with tears and pain, but most importantly, their stories are marked with the undeniable truth that every single thing they learned as an athlete helped make them who they are today as a person and sustained them through whatever career path they’ve found themselves on.
From Mario Andretti to Sarah Quinn, the moral of the story holds true: your identity is not rooted in the athlete you are, but everything you’ve learned has helped shape you into the capable, driven, goal-oriented, passionate, valuable individual that you’ve become.
Which brings me to you, Mr. Johnson.