Hey all, Lauren here. I’m so excited for you to read my interview with Jen Sinkler! I believe in Jen’s message that women should be unapologetically strong. Plus, she’s a pretty kickass gal, so I wanted to make sure you all get a chance to meet her.
OH!! She’s also a former member of the U.S. rugby team, and in the interview Jen shares what she’s up to after “retirement” from rugby and what she channels her competitive nature towards these days.
If you’ve not yet been introduced to Jen, read on! Then check out her website (www.jensinkler.com) and get in touch with her via your social media outlet of choice listed below. Enjoy!
LH: For my readers that don’t know you yet, could you quickly introduce yourself? Maybe share what sport you played, the level you played at, and what you’re up to now that you’ve “retired”?
JS: I spent 13 years playing rugby, including a 10-year stretch on the junior and then senior national teams. I represented the U.S. for both sevens and fifteens.
Sevens, if you’re unfamiliar, is a shorter, speedier version of the game with far fewer players on the field — generally, you’ll see the smaller, faster players gravitate toward sevens — while fifteens games are longer, more crowded and include more “smashmouth” play.
What I love about rugby is its inherent inclusiveness of many body types. Especially in fifteens, you will find just about every body size and dimension, and everyone plays a necessary role.
Sevens is the version that made it into the Olympics for 2016, so you’re about to start hearing a lot more about it.
Rugby has also gone through a major makeover over the past 15 or so years. When I first started playing in college at the University of Northern Iowa in 1997, it was still primarily a social sport — drinking and debauchery was pretty standard postmatch.
Over the next few years, our team transitioned from that into a legit high-performance sport, culminating in back-to-back national championships in 2001 and 2002 (I cocaptained the first, but had graduated for the second).
Up until recently, it was still largely a player-funded endeavor, however — even on the national teams. Thankfully, by the time I retired, we were getting better funding. For the 2009 Sevens World Cup in Dubai (my last international event), it went beyond basic expenses and we were actually making money.
And now, the men’s and women’s U.S. teams have a presence at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, and they make an annual salary. Still tight, but progress.
I always pursued work that allowed me to travel, including a nine-year stint at Experience Life magazine.I was their editorial director of fitness up until one year ago, when I struck out on my own and started my website. It meant leading a bit of a double life between training for rugby and a demanding career, but both were rewarding.
These days, I train clients at The Movement Minneapolis, I write fitness stories for a number of major national magazines, and I provide a wide array of health-related content at my website, Thrive With Jen Sinkler (sign up for my newsletter at www.jensinkler.com).
LH: A question I always like to ask is this – how do you stay in shape these days? I’d be ridiculously impressed if you were able to keep up the same type of training schedule you had while you were playing.
JS: I can train more now, actually! Of course, that’s because my job centers around fitness, so I’m constantly writing and trying training programs and workouts. It’s to the point that I wonder if I’d be better than I used to be if I started playing again right now! That competitive nature doesn’t just evaporate when you hang up your boots, right? I’m not serious about it, but it’s fun to think about.
LH: What was the most difficult part of your transition to the “real world” after your professional athletic career ended?
JS: I had to release my identity as a rugby player. I’d tried to retire once years before I managed it, but I couldn’t think of what else to be.
Meaning, my identity was wrapped up in a label I’d placed on myself. Sure, it was based on something I loved to do, but it’s a dangerous game to get too wrapped up in being over doing.
Doing (that is to say, playing rugby) over being (as in, being a rugby player) provides you with more freedom to do other things, and to be able to transition out, when the time comes.
In 2009, when I finally did retire, I still didn’t quite grasp that, so I used CrossFit as a competitive crutch to get out. Essentially, CrossFit, with its competitions and emphasis on beating and bettering your workout times, filled that void for me.
Eventually, I didn’t need that, either, because I started pouring more and more energy into developing my fitness know-how, and constantly learning new skills on that front feeds the same animal without putting too sticky a label on myself.
That means I have more freedom to evolve now.
LH: Most athletes have a competitive drive that never really goes away, and often times this gets channeled towards goals like running a marathon. Where can former athletes channel their competitive nature now besides a race?
JS: Hey yes, exactly! I think former athletes can channel that energy into learning new fitness skills — as I mentioned, that’s what I do. Athletes love mastery, so as long as you approach new challenges with an experimental mindset, it can be a lot of fun.
Or, yes, as you mentioned, you can enter competitions of varying types. What drives me bonks, though, is the assumption that endurance events are the only option. There are definitely the most options for endurance events, but not every athlete is built for or enjoys endurance training. Count me in that camp.
For those of us, there are a number of other options, such as strongman competitions, powerlifting competitions, Olympic weightlifting competitions, long-cycle kettlebell meets, masters track meets, softball and basketball leagues, and a number of other outlets for those of us with more of an anaerobic bent. (While there is a lot of running in rugby, the position I played in rugby, wing, involved a sprint, stop, sprint, stop pattern.)
LH: Sometimes it happens that once an athletic career ends, the athlete gets out of shape. What piece of advice would you give to ex-athletes that are getting back into shape?
JS: We can be our own worst enemies during this process, because our muscle memory and competitive nature kicks in and we do too much, too fast, putting us at risk of injury or severe muscle soreness (leading to an unwillingness to work out again for a while). I always scale my former athletes back from how much they want to do at first. (Don’t worry, your athletic prowess will come back — it just won’t come back the first day.)
My other piece of advice is to find something you truly enjoy doing, that you look forward to each training day. Chances are, you played the sport you did because you loved it, and there’s no reason not to approach training the same way.
And, if you find a workout regimen that you totally dig, the passion, dedication and drive that made you an athlete will be qualities you can leverage now for the more general goal of good health.
Get in touch with Jen!
G+: Jen Sinkler