Early in the fall, Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton discussed retirement while on a hike.
Neither had chosen to quit track and field yet, but each thought, if my spouse came to his or her decision first, how would that impact me?
“I would have felt bad just leaving him alone in the sport because we’ve always done everything together,” said Theisen-Eaton, the Olympic heptathlon bronze medalist. “I didn’t know what it would be like for one of us to be a normal person and the other not to.”
“What we both determined was, we can’t let that guide our decision,” the two-time Olympic decathlon champion Eaton said Thursday. “We tried not to influence each other.”
Then in November, the Canadian Theisen-Eaton was on a run near their Oregon home when it suddenly hit her.
“Like a truck,” she said, according to CBC. “Like a gut feeling that I didn’t want to do this anymore. I didn’t feel excited about the thought of going back to practices.”
Theisen-Eaton still wasn’t sure about retirement, so she kept the thought to herself. Until later that night. Eaton told Theisen-Eaton at dinner that he didn’t want to do track and field anymore.
“I remember my mouth dropping open,” Theisen-Eaton said. “I was shocked, but I wasn’t shocked by the fact that he said he wanted to retire, because I knew that was coming. He had expressed to me that year or even the year before that he was finding it hard to motivate himself, and he didn’t love it as much as he used to.
“But I was shocked because we had not talked about it. It just happened to be that morning that I had a gut feeling that I didn’t want to do it. He told me his reasons why. Then I told him about my run that morning.”
Eaton was not hesitant to speak up, despite their earlier hiking conversation.
“It did cross my mind that maybe if I said this, it would influence Brianne,” he said. “But she took time to decide for herself, which was good.”
Eaton had no doubt at that dinner that he was done. Not only the lack of motivation and passion, but also the feeling that his body was beginning to shut down, according to ESPN.com. Eaton dealt with ankle, hamstring and quadriceps injuries in 2016.
Theisen-Eaton took two more weeks to make sure she would retire with her husband. She called her sports psychologist the morning after the dinner. Among a series of conversations, she was most impacted by one line.
Athletes are the only people who die twice.
The reason you’re second-guessing yourself is because as an athlete your retirement is very hard, the psychologist told her.
“Once you retire, you have to become this totally different person,” Theisen-Eaton said. “You have to create a new identity. You have to find a new community to belong to. You have to go into this world that you know nothing about.”
And death is unavoidable.
“If you do one more year of track, and you’re going to be miserable because you’re not enjoying going to training and you’re not looking forward to the competition,” Theisen-Eaton said, “first of all, you’re going to be miserable for that year, waste a year of your life, and you’re not going to prevent this transition from happening. You’re just going to delay it.”
The Eatons began telling their closest friends and family a month ago. It all led to Wednesday’s announcement.
The reaction, especially from social media, left her in tears.
“Sometimes you don’t really see or understand how many people are watching you on TV or how many people are at home streaming something, how many people are supporting you, how many people care,” Theisen-Eaton said. “I think that really showed [Wednesday]. That’s what made me emotional.”Follow @nzaccardi