Category Archives: Interviews

A Rockin’ Interview with Jen Sinkler

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 ( and get in touch with her via your social media outlet of choice listed below.  Enjoy! 

JS Interview

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

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!

Twitter:  @jensinkler
Instagram:  @jensinkler
G+:  Jen Sinkler

Inspiring Interview of the Month

What’s up everybody??  Today I bring you the newest thing at OnceAnAthlete, AlwaysAnAthlete and that is…drumroll please….  an inspiring interview!!  Yes, that’s right!  I’m out there finding other awesome people who are just as excited about fitness and health (physical, emotional, mental) as I am.  Once every month or so, I’ll interview one of these awesome people and post their answers for you awesome peeps to read.  This week is a dear friend of my, Michelle Engberg.  Read her bio then the interview THEN go check out her blog!


Bio: Michelle has been a physical therapist for almost 2 years.  She discovered a love for writing during an internship in Niger, Africa when the team decided to keep a blog of their experiences in the desert providing physical therapy alongside missionaries in the capital city of Niamey. She has since started a blog called Everyday Blessings: Seeing God in the Big and Smalls Things so she will never forget the many blessings God provides when her heart and eyes are open to see them. Feel free to check it out at:

1a. What sport did you play? How long did you play for and what was the highest level you played at?

I played soccer from the time I was 4 years old until a few months ago. I was blessed to play at the division 1 collegiate level, earning a partial scholarship for my education.

1b. Without betraying your age if you don’t want to - how many years ago did you play your last “career” game?

Almost 5 years ago.

2. Where are you employed now and what is it that you do there?

I work at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, MN as a pediatric physical therapist.

3. What was the most poignant lesson you learned from playing sports?

Playing sports provides ample opportunity for character development and lessons that can’t be taught in a classroom. One of the most poignant lessons I learned was the importance of putting the needs of your team above the needs of yourself. I was blessed with soccer talent, but earned a scholarship more because of my work ethic than because of my natural ability.

Most of my teammates were more talented than me, and even with my hard work, come game time, they were the better choice to compete in the game. It was frustrating at times to put in a lot of work with inconsistent return for my investment, but looking back it was an important part of my athletic experience. Even if my hard work didn’t earn the playing I hoped it would, I learned about discipline and leading by example.

In life, you are often more effective and productive in whatever you are doing, when you can encourage those around you to reach their potential and realize their talents.  Sometimes this happens through verbal affirmation and a positive attitude, but it also occurs when you work hard for the people around you, for the good of the team and not for your own personal gain.

4. What does your workout routine look like now? Is this different from how you trained as a college athlete?

At this time in my life, the routine part of workout is non-existent. In college, we had workouts scheduled for us, teammates to push us and workout with us outside of practice, and a goal to work towards to motivate us.

There was more time and flexibility with my schedule.

I currently work 4 “10” hour shifts (meaning I am usually at work for 10.5-12 hours depending on the day) with a 45-60 minute commute each way (or 2 hours if there is snow).  I have an active job where I am lifting patients, imitating exercises, and constantly searching for entertaining ways to motivate the kids I work with, leaving me pretty tired at the end of the workday. I try to get in workouts on my days off but due to 5 knee surgeries over the course of my soccer career, those exercises look different than they did in college.

I do a lot of yoga, riding a bike, elliptical, or going for long walks. I recently started the 100 consecutive push-up challenge, a 7 week training program. I find I am most motivated to work-out when I have something I’m working toward.

5.  Is it even possible to sustain an “in-season training mentality” now that you’re out of the college bubble and into the real world?  It can’t be done, can it?

I find it very difficult to maintain an “in-season training mentality” in the real world. When I was in college, soccer was an all-consuming part of my life. I trained like it was my job because essentially it was. Now with a full time job plus other responsibilities, the 2-hour training sessions just aren’t realistic.

6. What did your transition from your career as a student athlete to the “real world” look like?  What challenges did you face?  How did you work through them?

Initially after graduation, I went into training for a half marathon. I thought it would be a great way to stay in shape and motivated to workout. Unfortunately, a knee surgery interrupted that plan. I worked hard to rehab my knee and fell into a routine to make sure I gained back my strength.

Once that I happened, I joined rec soccer leagues to feed my competitive drive and tried to stay active. A marathon or half marathon was no longer an option if I wanted to preserve the cartilage left in my knee, so I started walking and doing yoga and was able to fall into a workout routine. Once grad school started, there was a gym on campus so I found time after class and before taking the train home to get in a workout.

It wasn’t until I started my “real job” that the workout routine became less routine. I’ve worked through it by not beating myself up about not working out, but celebrating when I do workout (and not with a big bowl of ice cream J)

Beside the change in my workout routine, one thing that struck me about my transition from student athlete to “real world” citizen was how much my life had revolved around soccer. Much of my identity was wrapped up who I was as a soccer player and when that ended, there was a bit of shift to figure out who I really was. I started to surrender that part of my identity to God, allowed him to remind me who I actually am, and watch God show up in amazing ways.

It’s been an absolutely incredible experience. I learned that my worth goes beyond what I can contribute to my team or the pleasure I took in playing a game I love. I am a dearly loved child of God, bought at a price, and capable of so much more than what can be accomplished in a 100×60 yard space. I had a small sense of this as player but was often so focused on the task at hand to embrace it. I will always be an athlete, but that is only part of my identity. I’m enjoying the life God has given me as I continually discover new parts of my identity and take on new challenges off the field.

7. What is one thing you wished someone had told you about transitioning to life after college sports?

It would have been great to get counseling on nutrition. I think education on nutrition while competing would have been great, but more so once we were done training. Most of us ate “whatever we wanted” because we’d likely burn it off at practice. That mindset became tricky when there was no longer a practice to burn off those extra calories. Sure I could go run for 30 minutes and burn off some calories, but it didn’t compare with my in-season training regiment. Plus, this girl has a sweet tooth and I would have loved to find healthier ways to satisfy those cravings than chocolate chip cookies after every meal.


Hope you enjoyed hearing from Michelle!  Tell me in the comments below, what did you struggle with as you transitioned out of your high school or college sport?

<3 Lauren