Connect with us

International

Ashleigh Gunning Blog: Even the sun sets in paradise…

Ashleigh Gunning
Ashleigh Gunning

Ashleigh Gunning has retired -- with no regrets.

The amazing journey I’ve been on the last few years has come to an end. I always said a couple things about playing… I said that I wanted to play till I was 28 and I wanted to play till I loved the idea of doing something else more. Well, I turned 28 this past April and I love the idea of starting my career of being a college professor, working towards a PhD, and settling down so much that it just might be more than playing and being away.

At the beginning of this season I was homesick. I’ve been away from home for 10 years and don’t remember having ever felt that way. So, I prayed about it. God and I had a similar conversation to what we had at the end of last season when I was trying to decide if I should play one more season or not. I said, “I am scared to walk away.” God said, “In my time.” I said, “I’m scared to make the decision.” God said, “I’ll make it for you.” I felt sure at that moment that something out of my control would happen and I’d end up going home during the mid season break. I didn’t know that it’d be an injury but I felt confident that my head or my knee would be involved. I knew that it would all be OK though. I wasn’t scared and I knew that God would fully resolve and heal whatever it is that would close the book on life as a professional athlete.

Right now I find myself unable to play and going home at mid-season break because of a concussion I suffered in a game six weeks ago. I’ve realized that I’ll never be fully OK with walking away, but the setbacks and ensuing lessons I’ve learned along this journey have taught me to make the best of it and that it’ll likely turn out better than my wildest dreams. It will take time but my head will get better and I’m thankful that I have enough personal support to be able to walk away before the concussions become too much.

There are a few truths that I’ve learned and would like to share:

This was a privilege. Being an athlete is a privilege. Doing what you love each day is a privilege. It’s true what they say, “Love what you do and you’ll never work a single day in your life.” I haven’t worked a single day in the last five years. I’ve trained, pulled two-a-days, done overnight road trips packed in self-driven mini vans, I’ve played through pain, and I am thankful for each experience. It’s not normal to get to play for a living. The privilege began when I was 4 years old and first started the game of soccer; it’s continued everyday since. No matter what sport you play or what profession you spend your days doing, be thankful and grateful because I believe without a shadow of doubt it’s exactly what you’re suppose to be doing.

Saying goodbye ain’t easy. I know God had me here for a reason and I did my best to make the most of it. Over the last year or so I’ve had the feeling that God’s plans for me were beginning to change a bit. It’s been scary and exciting at the same time. At the end of last season I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue playing or not… I took about a month off after the season and spent a lot of time praying about it. The conclusion I came to was that I wasn’t OK with the idea of walking away.

Now that I’ve decided to retire I think I’ll never be fully OK with the idea of walking away. Part of me will always want to continue. Part of me will always miss the competition and camaraderie that can only come from sports at this level. I think there will be times that I’ll wonder what it would have been like and where it would have taken me if I continued — but I’m at the point that a larger part of me is just thankful for where it has already taken me and the way it has shaped me and made me grow.

I’m smiling as I’m walking away. I’ve always promised myself that no matter how or why my career was to end, I’d never be one of those people who says, “I played for a few years but my knee/hip/foot/back/etc. gave out so I had to quit. But, I would’ve been great.” It’s like most relationships in one’s life, it will eventually come to an end and it doesn’t have to be tragic or broken. Sometimes things just end. So, if you were to ask why I am retiring now I’d say with a big smile on my face, “Because it is time.”

Sacrifices are worth chasing a dream. When having a conversation about retiring with a friend of mine, I was told to think about what the 22-year-old version of me would have given to be where I am now… that comment literally made me stop in my tracks. At 22 my college career had just ended and I faced the big decision of soccer or the real world. A lot of people say they would give anything to make their dreams come true. I literally did. I spent all my money, I borrowed money from my family, I drove across the country multiple times, I skipped class (I had already graduated) to train, I called in every favor I could, I’ve made sacrifices in every relationship in my life, and I knew somewhere in my heart that I was suppose to keep playing. Last year I wrote a blog, ‘Letter to the 16-Year-Old Me,’ trying to explain what I know now and wish I had known then. Well if I was to write, “A Letter to the 22-Year Old Me” I wouldn’t change a single sacrifice I made.

Not knowing what’s next. Although I knew it would happen it feels like this decision has come upon me pretty suddenly and I would be lying if I told you that it doesn’t scare me. I am applying to PhD programs for next fall because I’d like to become a college professor and consultant; in the mean time, I have absolutely no idea what I’ll be doing. I know it’ll work out and I know that I’ll be OK — sports have taught me about believing in a good outcome and dealing with less than ideal situations. So, with that being said, if you know of a great job opportunity for someone with a bachelors in communication and journalism and a masters in sport leadership who loves people, loves to work hard, and has an uncommon desire to encourage others, send them my way! 🙂

A Million Thank You’s. The greatest part of all of this has been the people I’ve met along the way. To each teammate, coach, trainer, supporter, fan, and friend I’ve met along the way, THANK YOU. I am forever humbled to call you friends and forever grateful for your friendship!

Even the sun sets in paradise…so the shining stars can be enjoyed in awe.

Comments

Your account

MORE EXTRA

More in International