Unfinished endings: narratives of the transition process of retirement for elite athletes with a physical disability

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University of New Brunswick


For an elite athlete, transitioning out of sport and into retired life can be a complex process as controllable factors (i.e. preparation, strength of identity, coping ability, etc.) and uncontrollable factors (injury and/or termination) shape the whole experience. These factors create a unique experience for all types of elite athletes. However, research on this topic seems to focus less so on athletes with a physical disability. Therefore, it is the purpose of this project to understand how former elite athletes with a physical disability adapt to life beyond their athletic career. Using holistic form narrative analysis, six former Paralympians discussed their experiences with retiring. It was found that three narrative paths emerged, revealing three approaches taken to adapt to post-sport life. The narrative of “the competitor” approached retirement as a challenge at which to complete and succeed. The narrative of “the voyager” approached retirement as a continuous journey of trial and error in discovering what best works. Lastly, the narrative of “the page turner” approached retirement as a time to further grow and enhance as a person in new domains of life. These three narratives demonstrate that importance of pre-planning, separating identity, having an adaptive coping strategy, and a favourable attitude towards retirement can characterize a positive outcome with retirement. Additionally, the three narratives reveal that re-shaping a sense of self requires building off past identities. This was accomplished by breaking down their sport identity and modifying it based on the approach for retirement taken by each participant. It is recommended that further studies of narrative analysis and retirement be developed to enhance and discover new narratives for this population given the limited number of studies on this topic.