Guest post from Annabel Chaffey, ex-GBR Bobsleigh Athlete, now Account Executive at Lane 4
Having been a bobsleigh athlete for Great Britain for 4 and a bit years it certainly meant I wasn’t a stranger to life at a fast pace. But it’s safe to say I didn’t see or anticipate the changes that would come at quite the time that they did.
I predominantly competed as a youth level athlete for GB, with my career highlights including a World Number 1 & 2 ranking in consecutive years and a 4th place at the Lillehammer Youth Olympics in 2016, all achieved before I had turned 18. I was training with a view to reach the Beijing 2022 Olympics and to see what I could achieve on a senior level.
I made the choice to not do the traditional university route, instead trading a place at Sheffield with a part-time degree through the Open University, a part-time teaching assistant job at my old secondary school and a desire to focus all I could on training and getting better. Eight or so months into this plan and it unfortunately began to unravel. By the end of the summer in 2017 all bobsleigh development squad funding had been cut and then the World Class Performance funding for the women’s programme was also cut.
It left me in a tricky spot; I wasn’t quite good enough or in the position to make the financial commitment to go it alone, buy a sled and fund my own seasons but without the NGB support I wasn’t able to access the equipment or coaching needed to make sure I was good enough. The answer: I retired from bobsleigh at the grand old age of 19.
This definitely hadn’t been part of the life plan and at this point I hadn’t even considered life after spot.
My determination was instantly focused on my degree in History & Politics as that was the only other passion I had interest in. I was meant to have years until I needed to worry about what I’d do after sport, and in the meantime enjoy being an athlete, travelling to picturesque locations and living my childhood dream. But here I was, faced with the realisation that the rest of my life was actually starting now.
I chose to move on from working at my old school and spread my wings, taking a job in a recruitment agency as a way to work out more about what I wanted to do. It was great, not only did I get some basic professional skills but also got to see the variety of jobs coming in and out that we’d recruit for and decide whether:
I spent a year learning almost as much about the world of work as I did about myself. I should probably say at this point that I thought I was emotionally fine with my retirement from sport. It would take another 18 months or so before I realised I really wasn’t fine with it.
One great lesson I learned in recruitment was that talking to people and making connections and contacts could always be a help to you. It was then that I chose to reach out to a contact I had and within a few months found myself landing a role at Lane4. I had always known of the company and liked what they did and for me at this point in my life it was a case of landing the dream role.
Since being at Lane4 I’ve developed ten-fold professionally, been challenged, been supported and had some pretty big lows, including a redundancy. I had finally confronted the emotional side of my transition out of sport.
But it is safe to say I have been fortunate enough to realise that (perhaps controversially) sport isn’t everything. There was so much more to me than just ‘Annabel the Athlete’. I was and I am so many other things too, and in fact I’ve loved having the chance to embrace them earlier than lots of retiring athletes manage to.
We can be so confined to being the best athlete at that time, that sometimes we miss out on what else we can be.
Don’t get me wrong the lessons from sport are invaluable and I truly believe athletes are some of the most adaptable, determined and strong people out there. However, we can also be so much more when faced with the opportunity of life after sport.
I’m forever grateful for the lessons and opportunities I had from being an athlete and at such a young age, it taught me so much but it also made me appreciate we also have to make the most of our time outside of sport. Pursue other things you enjoy and never restrict yourself to thinking you can only be an athlete as we can’t be one forever and there’s more time in life spent being an ex-athlete than there is being an athlete. Retiring from sport isn’t the end of the track, it’s just about going round another corner.
LAPS Members can discuss Annabel’s post on our Community page.