Nine months after retiring from international hockey I found myself seated in front of my therapist in a ball of tears. What had led up to this moment was nine months of questioning who I was and what do I stood for!
Some days were difficult, with the mornings being the hardest. Mornings symbolised a lot of hope for the day, but for months mine were filled with feelings of dreading each day but having to show up regardless of how I was felt. Navigating life post retirement was challenging and these days tested my mental toughness which I found was not uncommon amongst former athletes.
Had you bumped into me during those nine months and asked how life after hockey was going for me, I probably would have given you one of the following platitudes, “It’s great, I have time for passion projects, I’m going to all the events I missed out on, I don’t miss it and, and…”
Half of this stuff was true and the other half was rubbish. How could I possibly not miss the only thing I knew? But for a person who likes to “keep my shit together” I put up a front over how difficult it really was.
In January 2017, I walked away from international hockey. I walked away from ten years of a life I knew well, ten years of training schedules, ten years of tours and ten years of teammates and competitiveness. I also walked away from years of certain perks that come with being a South African Hockey player.
I am reminded of the day reality struck and when an incident at the gym lead me to the realisation that I was fully retired. I walked into the gym I had used for years pulled out my card to access the gym and it got declined. Confused and convinced that the gym receptionist had got it wrong, I asked him to try again. It was declined again.
At this point you’re probably wondering why: my sponsored gym contract had finally come to an end. The jolting feeling wasn’t so much that I’d have to pay for my own gym contract but it was the fact that it reminded me that my life of perks were well and truly over. (Hell, I didn’t even know how much a gym contract cost).
During my career I had always been conscious of “having a life outside of hockey” so that hockey didn’t define the sum of who I was but to be honest, hockey was a huge part of my life, friends and experiences.
There was no feeling quite like international sport. The thrill and edge I got from it was like no other. Constantly chasing goals and dreams with my teammates is a feeling I missed. Nothing in my life could replace it, and dealing with that was difficult.
I found myself having to navigate spaces that I was not 100% familiar with, socially and career-wise. This transition is difficult for a lot of athletes and nothing prepares you for it. Who was I? I questioned this a lot as I struggled to find a solid identity outside of “Sanani Mangisa – South African hockey player”.
This especially because I came from a space where I knew my shit and was confident about it. Suddenly I had to accept that in some new spaces I didn’t know it all and had to listen and learn.
Outside of preparing athletes for life after sport financially and career-wise, we need to prepare them emotionally. It really takes its toll and I can only hope the next generation is more equipped than I was. I can’t imagine what this must be like on a bigger scale for rugby, cricket and football players.
Who am I now and what do I stand for? I don’t think I fully know just yet but I’m having fun finding out. I’ve accepted that it’s ok to miss my hockey career, I’ve also accepted that the transition isn’t easy and I will not figure it out in just a year.
For now, I’ll find the thrill and edge in fully discovering what lies ahead in the next phase of my life.