The GrovesLine

just a place where i hang my thoughts out to dry

Into the Peace of the Done

14 Comments

I remember clearly the first real speed skating race I ever won. It was at the North American age class championships in Lake Placid, New York circa 1991. It was a long track 800m mass-start race and I won it, surprisingly, beating a group of girls who, until that point, beat me handily nearly every time we stepped onto the ice to race.

I can still feel the raw disbelief, excitement and thrill of that feat as if it were yesterday. My whole body: heart, gut and mind, simultaneously merged at that glorious, fleeting instant and my insides just smiled all over. Although a globally insignificant event, it was, at the time, extraordinarily huge in my young mind. Until then I didn’t even know that I wanted to win or that I could win or that the best way to pursue winning was to not pursue it at all.

I treasure that memory now, where I first realized that maybe I had some real, albeit distant, potential to match my oversized Olympic dreams. Still, I didn’t think much about winning when I was a young skater, probably because I didn’t do it very often. I won enough times to feel that perfect rush but seldom enough to learn how hard I had to work to do it again. Looking back it’s clear to me that I stayed true to those first lessons on winning.

When I think about my career I think about the incredible amount of hard work I did to realize that distant potential. I think about the uncanny patience I maintained while slowly, methodically, and consciously working towards my goals. And I think about those brief, outstanding moments when my desire to win united with that perfect balance between intention, execution and focus, where the end result was actually winning.

Sport at the highest level is often regarded as being about winning, but over the years I found myself gravitating towards a philosophy where, to me, it didn’t always mean a gold medal. I learned I could achieve that elusive ‘perfect race’ feeling without being at the top of the podium. In fact, extricating myself from the pressure to win and seeking instead that awesome feeling is what fuelled my motivation for so long and led to so many great races.

Because of that it never occurred to me that there would come a time I might not want to do this anymore. It truly never did, not once in twenty-three years.  I always thought I would want to do this until the End of Time. So it came as a shock, and a hard truth, as, over the last few months, it slowly dawned on me that I really didn’t want to do this anymore.

Which begs the question, when is the right time to retire? For me, it turns out, the right time is when that urge to win/be my best has gently dissolved into something softer; into a less explicit and more fluid aim, where the goal is no longer to skate fast, or to be the fastest, or to be my fastest, but rather to simply enjoy skating for skating’s sake.

So there it is. I’m retiring from competitive speed skating. I’m not retiring because I don’t love speed skating or can’t fathom doing the work or can’t skate fast anymore, it’s simply because I feel fulfilled by what I’ve accomplished and am no longer inspired to strive for the same thing; my heart is full. I should not be surprised that I have changed, even though I am. Isn’t that just life, as they say? It would be more surprising, really, if I didn’t change and was driven to continually achieve more of the same.

It was difficult to make this decision for one main reason: I know I could go back. There is no doubt in my mind that I could regain the level I once achieved, maybe even surpass it (or not!). True, it would take a while and a further inordinate amount of hard work to get there but I think I could do it.  The crux of it is this: seeking the same reward has lost its luster. Knowing that I could go back but choose not to makes it that much harder to walk away, but it is also likely to be one of the most powerful decisions I’ll ever make.

At first it really bothered me that the little spark was gone. I had trouble admitting it to myself, believing that I was done. I felt like I was letting myself down. The truth is I love training, I love training hard, I love racing, I love travelling, I love the people; I love everything about being an athlete. So the fact that the little spark was fading away seemed impossible to me. But when I think about the reason I started this in the first place and that little eleven year-old girl who’s dreams were sparked by others’ Olympic stories, it would be unrealistic of me to think it could last, unchanging, forever.

So letting go became the challenge and eventually I came to realize that hanging on because I like the lifestyle and can make a decent living would be a slight to the sport and the ideals of the Olympic movement I worked so hard to uphold. Sport at the highest level commands commitment, focus, discipline, intensity, integrity and most importantly, my good friend, Little Spark. In my mind these requirements are inextricably linked, and while I suspect I will be an athlete of sorts for the rest of my life, missing one or two of them is not an option when seeking to perform at the highest level.

It wouldn’t be fair to those who support me or to my coaches and teammates or, most importantly, to myself. It took some time away, a healthy dose of brutal honesty and a heap of self-awareness for me to admit that and although I’ve second-guessed myself a number of times, no matter how I slice it I always come back to the same thing: it is quite simply, sadly, happily, the end.

A few months ago I was scouring the Internet, as we are wont to do these days, looking for a magazine subscription. Quite by accident I came across a random quote in cyberspace. Unexpectedly, these words crystallized precisely, in written form, how I feel about retiring. These words reflected back to me the clear and honest truth. The quote read,  “From the strain of the doing into the peace of the done.”  Isn’t that just lovely? It was as if a huge sigh washed over my body and I could finally let go of the strain and take hold of the peace.

Here, in the peace of the done, I now cherish every single damn thing I’ve ever experienced in this sport. To say that I’m grateful for the opportunity is the understatement of the century.

From where I started to where I finished: from losing to winning and learning to living, what a gift.

P.s. the concussion has nothing to do with my retirement.

14 thoughts on “Into the Peace of the Done

  1. Merci pour ses belles années sur 2 lames. Une belle longue vie t’attend !

  2. You have been and are such an endearing and inspiring athlete I just want to say thank you for the journey you have taken us fans on. You have always shown such strength and determination even now in choosing retirement. Congratulations on your speed skating career and best of luck for the future. You’ll be great at whatever you choose to do in the next chapter of your life.

  3. Kristina, I feel blessed to have had a front row seat to your incredible journey! You are a remarkable athlete, but more importantly, a remarkable person. So many happy “Grover” moments came to mind while I read of your retirement. The summer you interned with us in Athlete Services was so much fun, your smile, your charm, your sense of humour. So many wonderful things go in to making you the person you are. Thanks for allowing us to tag along your most awesome adventure! All the best for an equally fulfilling future!

    Christa Taylor Brothers

  4. Great post, Kristina. Took a lot of strength to write, no doubt. You may be closing that door on that one chapter, but you have many more yet to experience. Retirement is only a word…it means branching into a new direction, which can be equally, if not more rewarding. All the best.

  5. I have felt this way in life when I accomplished really big goals as well. Good on you for seeing yourself into your next big adventure in life!

  6. Thanks for the exiting moments during the last years. Keep skating on a recrational basis. The sport is too good, to quit completelty.

    Dirk

  7. thanks for all the exciting times and moments watching you on tv! It was a blast. Good luck in future endeavors :D

  8. Hey Grover, just saw the news and wanted to say congratulations on a great speedskating career! I’m sure you are aware of the impact you had on the sport and the legacy you leave behind. I have a feeling that you’ll take your success beyond speedskating and will have just as great an impact in your future endeavours. Hope to see you in the future, all the best, Stew.

  9. Kristina…just so honest, insightful and lovely. I feel your lightness and love your appreciation for what you experienced and what sport gave to you. There are many an athlete who has left their sport with a very different state of mind so it’s wonderful to read the positive state of mind and place of acceptance you are in.

    Your words reflect truly the naked beauty of sport. Thanks for sharing

    Now, after your trip south somewhere and after you have mountain biked yourself into exhaustion, come join us at CAC :)

    DLaframboise

  10. I’ve just learned on the news that you’ve retired from competing, I am sad. Although the other girls received more TV attention, it is always you that I loved watching skate.

    Unfortunatly there will be no more Groves circling on the ice but thanks for all the joy you gave me watching you giving your very best and most inspiring moments.

    I wish you luck for the future and remember if speedskating offered you all it had to offered, cycling is winking at you …………. and speedskater make also great cyclist ;-)

  11. Congratulations Kristina! You deserve a happy retirement after all that you have done (although it is weird that someone that I remember so well from High School is already retiring . . .). All the best in your future endeavours.

    Adrienne (Westley) Charlton

  12. Hey Grover, thanks for sharing your journey so powerfully and eloquently. Life change and transition is such a rich, complex and incredibly rewarding landscape to be navigating and I have no doubt that whatever comes next your passion for excellence and being your best will have you shining ever brighter! Enjoy the “peace of the done” as many new and exciting seeds begin to sprout for you,

    Ingrid

  13. inspiring.
    Your example is one of the reasons I support better funding for our amateur athletes and donate to AthletesCAN, COA, etc etc

  14. Respected, inspiring, genuine, thoughtful, articulate, appreciative and absolutely amazing were just some of the words people in Ottawa’s speed skating community used to describe you, Kristina.

    Sad I won’t get to follow your on-ice career for our new amateur sports news publication, but the thrill of seeing you race live in Vancouver will certainly always remain with me. Like the folks from Ottawa noted, surely your impact will continue to be felt for years to come – best wishes for the future!

    More thoughts from young national team member Ivanie Blondin, Ottawa Pacers coaches and Ottawa Sports Awards director are here:
    http://sportsottawa.com/content/ottawa-speed-skating-community-mourns-celebrates-retirement-%E2%80%98humble%E2%80%99-groves
    http://sportsottawa.com/content/groves%E2%80%99-%E2%80%98lasting-impact%E2%80%99-be-felt-years

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