Olympian & Author Krista Guloien's Self-Discovery Lessons on Transitioning from Rowing

Ever been at a crossroads, unsure of your next step?

Think back to when you graduated from high school, for example. Up until graduation day, your identity had been that of ‘student.’ High school was where you met your friends and spent most of your time. The school environment provided you with all the tools and support you needed to achieve the goal of graduation.

So, graduation day comes.  You think, “What’s next?” “What are my plans for life after graduation?” “How do I navigate that transition?”  Maybe you feel a bit scared, discouraged, sad?

With graduation, your identity changed. The familiarity of your prior role as ‘student’ is now gone. You would no longer see your teachers and classmates daily.

From there on, you were on a process of self-discovery. Your mind was probably filled with questions: “Who am I?” “What am I going to do with my life?” “When people ask me what I do, what will I tell them?” “How do I describe myself on my social media bio?” “How am I going to make a living?” So many unknowns to think about!

What about where your path will lead beyond the finish line? 2012 Olympic Silver Medal winners. (c) Krista Guloien.

What about where your path will lead beyond the finish line? 2012 Olympic Silver Medal winners. (c) Krista Guloien.

Transition is something we can all relate to, as change is universal. Yet such times of major change can cause depression and fear in many, so it is important we talk about the ups and downs of change and empower each other along the way.

My guest today is Krista Guloien, two-time Olympian and silver medalist, who recently released her book, Beyond the Finish Line. As stated in her book summary: “Krista’s forthright tell-all of her journey to the 2012 Summer Olympic rowing podium, as well as what came after, will help you find closure and peace, as well as a safe place to relate, laugh and reflect on the “what next?” after sport.” Krista’s story is so important!

Through my experiences, I know many athletes of various levels who struggle with the transition from sport, yet they keep silent. I am grateful for Krista to share her story with all of us, as she is showing us there is so much strength in vulnerability!  My hope is that by reading Krista’s book and this interview, you will find comfort along your personal journey!

First of all, thank you Krista for breaking the silence and candidly sharing your struggles! Why did you choose to write your story and unmask the face of retirement from sport? 

Well, I knew it was going to be a challenging transition for me, so I thought I would make something of it. When in doubt, help people out :) That is my hope. I hope that by starting the conversation and admitting it was challenging for me, I will help others to do the same. Also, this experience is not just for athletes. Everyone has and/or will feel the effects of life transition. I thought perhaps people outside of the sport world might find the athlete angle interesting and cathartic as well. 

How did you develop the courage to stand tall and share your experiences with a global audience? 

I have always had a fearless side. I think it was that side of me that drove me to go after the Olympic dream and pursue a way of life that most people don’t. I have also realized that although I may moan and complain about it at times, I love a good challenge. Releasing my side of this life experience became very real as soon as there was a real life book printed. 

Krista standing tall and leading a group of girls & women in Victoria, April 2016. (c) Arianna Merritt

Krista standing tall and leading a group of girls & women in Victoria, April 2016. (c) Arianna Merritt

How do you deal with the loss of identity?  

Patience. You have to allow yourself to process and grieve over time. Think about a breakup. We all want the pain to go away in the moment, but you can’t rush through it. Time heals all wounds and gives great perspective. Being patient, aligning with other like-minded individuals, and having a place to be your true self and share your feelings are also very important. My advice would be: “Don’t try to deal with it alone - you are not alone!” 

So often, people don’t speak up due to the shame of the struggle or to the fear of not being seen as strong. What advice would you have for them? 

I would simply say, “Screw what you think other people will see!” It is actually a sign of great strength to share and be vulnerable. People appreciate and embrace authenticity. 

In Beyond the Finish Line, you describe the words “strength” and “weakness.” I’d love to hear your definitions for both. 

My rowing career taught me that a strength can also be a weakness. For example, I am a passionate and emotionally-driven athlete. I was attached to my teammates and to showing up for them and with them. This fuelled my fire to push myself to be my absolute best.  However, my strengths could also overwhelm me; for example, when I became oversensitive in a team meeting and/or on the water. The saying, “it is not a time to be emotional,” I don’t believe in that. Rather, I believe in the saying, “it is not a time to let your emotions get the best of you.”

 It is all about being self-aware: About knowing what drives you and makes you excel, but also about watching for how these aspects of yourself can become less productive. Then you can really dial in on your strengths. 

How do you deal with critics? 

I am sensitive to the opinions of people I care about and respect. Critics in the general sense, however, don’t take up much of my energy. Most people speak their opinion without context or deep understanding, so I take most critique with a grain of salt. 

How do you practice self-care in your daily life? 

Physical fitness is still a big part of my daily/weekly routine. Taking the time to do a 45 minute functional movement class at Movement 108, leading spin classes at Cadence Vancouver, or climbing Grouse Mountain are my top picks and make me feel more clear headed and taken care of. 

What are your new goals? 

One of the really great parts of being retired from high performance sport is that I can truly diversify and set other goals! Whether it is breaking 40 minutes on the Grouse Grind or doing a three-day juice cleanse to see what happens - these are things I didn’t have the mental or physical energy to test out when I was training full-time.  

Where did you find your community after sport? 

I feel like my community is still sport. I have been able to meet different and new people within that community. Coming home to Vancouver, I have set up a solid fitness routine at my favourite places: Cadence Vancouver Spinning (where I teach) and Movement 108, where I work on muscle balance, functional movement, and throw kettle bells around - it’s fun! 

What advice would you give fellow athletes about the transition to life after sport? 

I would tell them that all of the icky feelings are 100% normal, and that they are not alone! I would tell them to reach out for help in any and every direction! Lastly, I would tell them to be patient with the progress and journey of transitioning. It takes time. 

How do you overcome the pressure you put on yourself? 

To some extent, I embrace it! It has got me to where I am today. That being said, sometimes it can feel very overwhelming and can actually work against me. These are the moments when I talk it out with people who know me and I try to remember to take a deep breath and chill out! Haha! So hard to do! ;) 

What support would have helped you ease the self-discovery process for right after the finish line? 

It takes time to realize what is helpful. You need time to come down off of the high and routine of your sport. I think having support in taking time would have been helpful. Resources like ‘Game Plan’ can be awesome. As ‘Game Plan’ develops, it could become a great resource for athletes to use - when they are ready! 

How can you help a friend who is struggling in transition? 

By listening and being a voice of reason when the individual starts to panic or feel pressure that they are not where they are meant to be. For the longest time, I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. It was only when I would say this to my mom and she would recite all the things I was working on, that I would regain the perspective I needed.  

Thank you, Krista, for being a leader on and off the water! Hearing your story serves as a powerful reminder to be patient with ourselves as we row through the waters of life and to have a crew that will be there to support us along the way!

Having a positive mindset and supportive crew are key! If you are at a crossroads currently, know that you are the author of your story and you are in control of what happens next! See your next step as a starting point to new adventures – where will you go? :)