A couple of athletics stories caught my eye over the last couple of weeks, bookends for a topic I’ve thought about a lot lately.
A week or so ago, Ashton and Brianne Thiesen Eaton, Track and Field’s ultimate power couple, announced their official retirement from the sport. It was not unexpected, but it was still a bit of a shock to realize that they and we had reached the end of an era, at least in the world of multi-events.
While both athletes were at or very near the top of the podium at global events, Ashton, with world records, multiple Olympic and World Championship golds, and a long unbeaten streak, was arguably the greatest multi-event athlete the world has ever seen. Add to that the fact that he is highly intelligent, articulate, and unfailingly polite and he probably is one of the most admired athletes in Track and Field. And finally, with such a resume he still managed to carry himself with the enthusiasm and eagerness of a big kid. We have been lucky to watch him all these years.
The other story was about Ed Whitlock, the octogenarian whose age-group distance running performances are so impressive that scientists want to study him to figure out why he doesn’t seem to be aging like a normal person.
At first glance, these stories don’t seem to have much in common, but it struck me that the Eatons’ choice to retire was not because they were washed up, but because they had done what they wanted to do and were eager for a new adventure, whereas the 85-year-old wasn’t ready to retire because he saw age itself as providing him with new worlds to conquer, i.e., no sign of retirement on the horizon.
I think retirement used to mean what happened when you were washed up, over-the-hill, and just wanted to spend your last few years snoozing on the porch. But that’s not what it is anymore. Now retirement is when you’re itching to do something else, like be the first man on Mars (that appears to be Ashton’s new ambition).
In other words, retirement is a lot easier for the kids than it is for old fogeys. Speaking for myself, the older I get, the less interesting “retirement” from running seems to me. Of course retirement from the day job seems a lot more appealing, but that’s to allow me more time to run!
Well, I suppose you can retire at any age, but if you want anyone to pay attention, retire young, at the peak of your game and with a world of novel opportunities ahead. Don’t wait until everyone already assumes you’re retired because by then it will be too late.