Usually, when a successful athlete retires from competition, he or she might dance with the stars, play a little golf, be a television color commentator, find 10 percent of a team to own or otherwise enjoy the sunset and a pina colada from their seaside villa.
"I'm backpacking my way through Europe," said Kim Navarro, a 1999 El Molino grad, world-class ice skater who is in the middle of a eight-month ice-show tour across that continent. (Navarro's responses in this column were taken from her blog, e-mail exchanges and some intermittent cell phones conversations from her hotel room in Germany).
It's a nice gig if you can get it, ice skating four months in Germany, four months in France, last winter in Sun Valley, Idaho, an NBC television shoot in the fall, all of it sounding so dramatic and adventurous. Which of course is what Navarro keeps telling herself now that she and partner Brent Bommentre no longer are competing for a spot on the U.S. Winter Olympic team.
"When I think about choosing not to compete anymore," Navarro said through her blog, "I feel content. When I think about what I am doing now for a large chunk of my life, I feel hesitant. I am unsure if I found the perfect fit, the idea of committing to this tour life for years on end is overwhelming. But when I think of it as &‘backpacking through Europe,' it feels perfect."
All athletes, great and small, must come to grips with a life after competition. It can bring sadness, depression, confusion, feelings of displacement, among other things. For Navarro — who along with Bommentre won a bronze medal in Championship Dance at both the 2008 and 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships — the change was dramatic. For starters, she is sharing the ice now with skating humans dressed in monkey and pig costumes. Yep, Bucky, this isn't the Olympics, where Navarro and Bommentre were America's first alternates in Championship Dance at both the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games.
"In the show world," Navarro said, "not every performance is special. (In competition) each performance feels pretty important. A few shows feel good, a few bad, and most just right in the middle. I swear I skated out there sometimes and thought, &‘What are these people doing here. It is just a Sunday afternoon in Cologne. I wish they would stop looking at me. I am tired'. Whereas, during competition, I knew why they were looking at me. I was competing at Nationals."
Imagine Navarro's confusion — Are they clapping for me or for the monkey? But as is her nature, Navarro is inclined to see the glass half full rather than half empty. So it is backpacking across Europe in a "Holiday On Ice" tour bus, staying in "Holiday on Ice" hotels, working in a job in which the heaviest things she lifts are people's spirits. Like I said, not a bad gig.
"I have a job while backpacking through Europe," said Navarro, 29. "That's pretty cool. And you know what my job entails? People clapping for me. Yep, that's right — people clap for me as I backpack through Europe."
This is the Kim Navarro talking who always wanted to see a world outside of ice skating. She never wanted to be a one-trick pony who only saw life through the prism of an ice rink. On the other hand, there is a Kim Navarro who knows she'll never again experience the rush of excitement she did at elite ice skating events.
"The competition, the judges, the importance of that one moment, that makes it stressful," Navarro said. And oddly, enjoyable at the same time. Until it wasn't enjoyable anymore. That moment came last year.