Crossing the Line Summit: We speak to the Founder, Gearoid Towey

Crossing the Line Summit: We speak to the Founder, Gearoid Towey

The Final Whistle is privileged to announce that Managing Director Greg Mumm has been invited to be a guest panellist on athlete career transition at the Crossing The Line Summit on February 25th.

Greg will be in esteemed company, with the likes of Greg Louganis (diver), Kim Brennan (rower) and Dan Vickerman (rugby) on the bill.

In the leadup to the event, we chatted to the Founder of the company running the event, Gearoid Towey of Crossing The Line, about his own career as an Olympic rower and how he coped with transitioning out of sport.

Gearoid, you are a former Irish Olympic and World Champion rower. What are some of your good memories from your days as an elite athlete?

The wins were great obviously, the feeling of it all coming together on the day it mattered was good. I also enjoyed being on the road with my team-mates, some of whom became close friends. You share a bond with people when you battle together.

I enjoyed the travel aspect too, but probably most of all, we were being paid to be as fit and strong as we could possibly be so we could race hard. Having that purpose and drive – working towards 4 or 5 really important days of the year – was a great thing. I miss that sometimes.

What are some of the things you learnt from being an elite athlete?

I think dealing with setbacks has been a great skill that was developed over time. When I was a younger athlete I was fairly hot-headed and dealt with setbacks through a mix of anger and needing to get it right. As I got older I realised that setbacks were only negative if you couldn’t use them as a learning experience.

I also learned that human beings are amazing creatures – we are able to adapt to pretty much any physical pressure or change that is forced on us. It is usually the mind that has trouble keeping up.

Also, learning that confidence is achieved through doing the work. If you’ve done the work and you know it, your confidence is sky high and everything will be fine. This is the same across any profession that requires a level of performance.

How did your rowing career come to an end and how did you deal with it?

I chose to end it when I did. It was my fourth Olympics (third as a full competitor) and I knew I would be retiring at those Olympics. Looking back, I was a bit burned out, physically and mentally. An extended break might have seen me back for London 2012, but there was no room for extended breaks back then so I felt it was the time to move on.

I loved racing but I was beginning to question what I was doing with my life and once that starts to happen, it becomes increasingly hard to commit mind and soul to the training that is required at that level. Once that happens, it’s game over essentially and I didn’t ever want to compete in a half-arsed way, just because I was talented at it. It is all or nothing in that world and that was my attitude when I retired. I am still happy to be able to eat and drink what I like when I like. That novelty hasn’t worn off yet! Although I hope it does soon as I can feel the force of gravity more and more each day!

Gearoid Towey (right), pictured here with Sam Lynch, after getting the bronze medal at the World Rowing Championships in Milan. in 2007.

You founded Crossing The Line Sport a few years ago in order to assist elite athletes such as yourself to cope with the mental transition for a life after sport. How did that come about and how much of it was a reflection of your own transition?

I am still surprised that I am working in this area. I didn’t really think it was going to be an issue or that there was much of an issue. It was a reflection of my experience and thousands of others that I came across in my research. I saw a need in the sporting community and thought of a way to help. Once I saw the high levels of depression, suicide, addictions etc in the ex-athlete community and saw how little there was out there at the time, I couldn’t unsee it – especially when I had an idea to help make it better.

Nobody was talking about it when I retired so the initial idea was to create a website where people talked about it openly so that athletes can see that this stuff is a normal and regular thing for athletes all over the world at all levels.

I considered myself very well set up for transition; I had a degree, I wanted to retire and I had loads of interests outside of my sport. I still found it difficult. I realised then that the issue runs much deeper than “just getting a new job”; it is about finding a new reason to get out of bed in the morning that truly motivates you. That is easier said than done.

On paper, though, my transition was good. So I couldn’t help thinking of all the athletes who didn’t have retirement as good as me and what they must be going through. No education, careers cut short with injury etc. The issues are complex and vast in the sporting world; we are dealing with human beings and we all know how different we are to each other.

If given the opportunity again, what would you have done differently during your athletic career to prepare for life after sport?

I think I would have spent more time doing self-awareness and self-development work away from the boat, that is, getting to know myself as a person rather than relying on my identity as an athlete as a crutch. I probably bonded myself to that identity a bit too much.

Simple self-awareness tools would have been useful and understanding how my brain chemistry works as an athlete and how that impacted my mood, actions and reactions and how that might look when I don’t do sport to that level anymore. Where would I get my dopamine hit that I was getting every day for years through sport?

Understanding that letting go of the athlete life changes how you think, feel and react in the outside world is a key skill that I believe all athletes need to learn.

Less talk, more action: Gearoid founded Crossing the Line to offer a space where athletes can share stories confidentially and receive advice from experts on athlete retirement.

Who should attend the Crossing The Line Summit?

Anyone who is close to an athlete (staff, family, coaches) should consider attending. Psychologists who work in the sporting arena and students who work with athletes should also consider attending.

Why should they invest their valuable time?

There’s so many athletes and staff out there who are saying that more needs to be done in this area and that there needs to be more of a voice for athletes and ex-athletes. This is a chance to do more. The Summit is solutions-focused. We have moved on from talking about it to now trying to do something meaningful about it.

When athletes think of conferences and forums they might think of experts talking down to them, but this is an athlete-led forum where 95% of the speakers are athletes or ex-athletes with a wealth of knowledge in this area. The Summit will be as real is it gets in terms of content and straight from the mouths of those who have lived or are living the experience.

To register for this event or to find out more information on the speakers, click the image below:

Rob Flude

Rob is the Head of Digital & Communications for The Final Whistle. Born and bred in Cape Town, he has called London and Melbourne home and also travelled to 42 countries. He has a background in IT Projects and in Sports Media.
Interests: self-improvement, sport, health & well-being, eCommerce, travelling, reading, craft beer, social enterprises, writing, human behaviour.
First article: February 2016

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