Amy Begley is the head coach at the 24,000 member Atlanta Track Club. Many consider her performance at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials to be one of the greatest they’ve ever seen. In 2009 she placed sixth in the 10,000 meters at the IAAF World Championships and won national titles for 3,000 meters indoors, 10,000 meters outdoors, and 5K and 15K on the roads. Amy was a 15-time All-American and 2-time NCAA Champion while with the University of Arkansas.
In a span of a week, I came across two things that got me thinking about transitions in life. While I was in Boston for the Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women, I watched Ronda Rousey’s interview on Live! with Kelly and Michael. She talked about transitioning from her long Olympic career with no real path until she saw MMA fights and was critiquing what she saw. I thought about all the transitions and experiences I have had along the way. It had been 10 years since I ran the Tuft’s 10K as an athlete and this time I was there as a coach.
I also read a description of Suzy Favor Hamilton’s book “Fast Girl”. She talked about attempting a normal life after her Olympic running career but it was “mind-numbingly dull and frightening”. The jump or fall, in some cases, from careers in professional sports can seem like the most difficult transition in life. However, no matter what your career or sport, there are many transitions in life. Running is simply putting one foot in front of the other but there are still evolutions in a running career. Each change can teach you something.
Middle School to High School
In middle school, I ran on the boys’ cross country team because there was not a girls’ team. At first in high school, I thought it was boring just racing girls.
High School to College
In high school, I made sure running came first and the social aspects were secondary. I was so excited to go to college where all my teammates took it just as seriously as I did. That was proven wrong. I loved my team mates but Arkansas had just graduated the best athletes including Deena (Drossin) Kastor and Megan Flowers. Lance Harter was/is the coach and he was rebuilding the team. I was able to help rebuild the team with the athletes I had envisioned I would train with in college.
College to Pro (alone)
In college, you don’t know how good you have it at the time. The gear, travel, training room, medical support, training locations, gym, pool, track and training partners are all provided for you in one place. Post-collegiate running is hard and expensive if you go it alone. When my husband, Andrew, and I graduated, we didn’t have as many options for post-collegiate running as there are now. Hanson’s wanted him and Team Minnesota wanted me but we were married and needed to go to the same place. We decided to try it on our own and have him coach me.
Being coached by your best friend/husband has its pluses and minuses. Andrew knew me better than anyone and could make adjustments without even asking how I felt because he could tell. However, being on our own was always an uphill battle – not knowing which races would be setup for fast times and finding places to train or support systems was challenging.
Joining a group with resources and teammates can be a great boost to training. Learning a new coach and team dynamics takes a bit to get used to again, however the access to training facilities, a massage therapist, chiropractor and travel made life so much easier. Training alone, we thought we were working hard and doing everything we could, but the group taught us that there was so much more we could be doing with training, including adding naps and not working as much or at all.
Injury to Retirement
During a sports career, you are lucky if you get to a point where everything is going so smoothly that you can’t imagine a time when you won’t be competing. In 2009, I ran a PR in almost every event. I felt like I could continue running at that level for 3 more years. I never imagined I would not be running in 2012. I had a lot of races on the bucket list that I kept putting off till the next year, but the next year is not guaranteed.
Retirement to Coaching
Now what? You spend so much of your time committed to a goal that you are not looking past it.
Very few athletes talk about the “black hole” after the Olympics.
Every bit of your energy and focus was on that goal. If you didn’t focus on it, you couldn’t attempt to be the best in the world. For a lot of Olympians, there are no goals for after the Games so you feel like you have entered a black hole. Athletes have to come down from the emotions of the event and start over either on their four-year plan for the next Olympic cycle or their post-Olympic career.
For me, I was injured before the 2012 Olympic trials and had to start my planning early. I didn’t know what I was going to do. My degree was Exercise Science/Biomechanics with the plan to go to physical therapy school. However, my science classes were more than seven years old and the P.T. programs wanted me to redo some of them. I was not about to sit through organic chemistry or physics again.
I also could not watch NBC for most of the year due to Olympic references. I got lucky and found the programs that the USOC had started. They had career counseling that included a career coach and online seminars. The USOC revamped that program in April 2014. According to the website, the program now includes:
- Career planning and development
- Job-placement assistance
- Transition counseling and support
- Networking opportunities
- Academic advising
While I was working with the USOC career coach, I found a project to keep me busy while I figured out what I was going to do with my life. The Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) wanted to do an oral history project of the Women Pioneers of Distance Running. In 2012, there was a lot of buzz around women’s running due to it being the 40th anniversary of women officially being able to run the Boston Marathon. In talking to these women, many who were never allowed to compete in track and field, I realized the transition I was going through was normal. However, my career was easy compared to the fight they had to be recognized as athletes. I am grateful for the opportunity that I had to talk to so many amazing women. The project will be on the RRCA website in 2017.
There are two things that stand out the most from the transition from my pro running career to working (college coaching). The first is that networking is key. I applied to a lot of jobs, but in the end I got a position in part because I was recommended for it. I was really fortunate to become the head cross country coach and assistant track coach for the University of Connecticut.
The second thing was balance, which I am still working on. As an athlete, there is a check list of things to do in a day or at a workout. When the list is complete the workout or day is over. However, in a job, the list is never done and the job is never over. It is hard to shut down and stop working.
As an athlete you are used to giving 100% and doing it right until it is done. But after athletics, there are no defined finish lines.
College Coaching to Club Coaching
Working with college athletes is a rewarding year round job. There is also a large book of rules and paper work that goes along with working with those athletes. I learned a lot in the college system and a lot of rules have changed since I was in school. It was fun being at meets and seeing coaches of the teams I used to race against still doing what they love. It was also very clear that there were very few woman coaches.
When I was contacted and encouraged to apply for the coaching job at Atlanta Track Club, I was hesitant because I felt like I was betraying the women in college coaching by giving up a coaching position held by a woman. (UConn Track and Field did hire a female coach after I left.) But I was also pursuing a job that no woman held. There were no elite club teams coached by a woman, until now.
I gave up a head college coaching position for a new professional elite club team coaching position. When asked why, my response is that I am able to help a wider variety of runners and have a bigger impact on the sport for all age groups. I also get to coach with my husband, which was one of our goals. We work with the entire life cycle of a runner with Atlanta Track Club from our Kilometer Kids program, the In-Training programs for beginner runners, the new elite team and the masters track and field team. This job covers the entire sport of running and I love it.
Through all the transitions in life and running, I had an amazing support system thanks to my parents and Andrew. They were there for the good and the bad. My parents used to tell me before races, that the sun will come up tomorrow and they will always love me. That simple phrase could bring calm to any storm going on in my brain. No matter where you are in your journey, find that support system to help you through the next transition, even if it is just putting one foot in front of the other to finish a race.