Sport is a theatre of dreams, but while competing, many athletes forget about the alarm clock waiting to ring and wake them up to normal life. If I am no longer an athlete, who am I? How do I structure my life now? Can I find new meaningful goals? How will I earn money? These are some of the tough questions athletes are faced with when they transition out of sport. The problem is that many are left to figure out normal life by themselves, because retirement is an often-avoided topic in the sports world.
Waking from the Dream is a collection of retirement stories from 18 of South Africa’s greatest athletes from across sporting codes, that provide some answers to the hard questions. The athletes give insight into the challenges of the transition, what they would do differently to prepare for it, and how they have managed to build a life apart from sport.
“For 16 years (half your life!) soccer will dominate everything you do; and now, overnight, it’s gone. Waking up outside of that structure is going to be a big challenge. You now have to decide for yourself what to do every day, and what sounds so simple in theory, is so much more difficult in real life, because in the end, all you really want to do is play soccer. Losing the game will create a void in your heart, which will be difficult to fill.”
– Phil ‘Chippa’ Masinga – Bafana Bafana legend
“I forgot about tomorrow. I didn’t plan for the future because the present moment was too good. I had to learn that there was life after sport and you needed to prepare for this life.”
– Hezekiel Sepeng, Olympic Silver medallist
“I ended up being a multimillionaire by the time I was 30, but by 32, was well on my way to bankruptcy. By the time I became World Champion in 1986, I had started making real money, and as people say: more money, more problems. People crawled out of the woodwork when that money started coming in. Everyone wants to manage you, advise you or offer you an investment opportunity; and of course, everyone wants to take their cut or commission. One of my big disappointments in life has been getting into business with friends and being let down, time and again, by the people I trusted.”
– Brian Mitchell, 14 x World Champion boxer
“Penny explains that only after 10 years of retirement, did she feel that she was emerging from a long dark tunnel and seeing the light of a ‘normal’ life again. After swimming practically every day for a large part of her life, Penny didn’t get into, or near, the water for many years after her last race in Sydney. This was partly because the prying eyes of the public would be everywhere, and she didn’t want to have to be Penny Heyns the swimmer anymore, partly because she hated it, and partly because she had lost confidence in herself, which was a surprising addition to the difficulties that retirement brought.”
– Penny Heyns, triple Olympian, 14 x World Record Holder