Detaching identity from career is the secret to making it long term
Four-time Olympian Hunter Kemper announced his decision not to pursue a record fifth Olympic Games in triathlon just four months before the Rio Games.
Strong enough to finish in the top-20 at four consecutive Olympics, Hunter opted to withdraw from a qualification race held in Yokohama in May after a period of soul searching about his Olympic dream.
It seemed to Hunter "doors were beginning to close" to a world-record fifth Olympics in triathlon since the sport was added to the Games in 2000.
Shoulder injuries had affected his swimming since 2011, and a lengthy recovery from a toe injury saw him drop from the fifth-ranked American down to the seventh.
To avoid causing further harm Hunter said he planned to "take the next couple of weeks to take a deep breath, enjoy my family, and start planning for the rest of my racing season".
"My prayer has been that this journey would be very clear," the 40-year-old said on his website.
"After much soul searching, I've realized that I need to find peace in knowing that my goal to make it to five Olympic Games is no longer possible."
Competing at this level means training in all three disciplines every day. Hunter's weekly training adds up to 25-30 kilometres of swimming, 100kms of running and 400km on his bike.
Undoubtedly, sustaining that effort for over 19 years as a professional triathlete is something special, and for Hunter, the source of his endurance is his relationship with God.
"On the days when I don't think I can run another mile, or when I don't think I'm able to cross the finish line, I always remember that God does not grow tired or weary. Anything is possible with God," Hunter says, referencing Philippians 4:13.
"As long as you put your faith in God," he adds, sharing from Isaiah chapter 40, "He will 'renew your strength' — He will not let you grow tired. Put your trust in Him and you will 'soar on wings like eagles'."
Growing up, Hunter says sport was his life, which clashed with his family's habit of attending church. At age six he started running and was competing in triathlons by age 10.
Before long, every weekend was taken over by trips to sporting events — swim meets, tennis tournaments, triathlons, soccer matches.
But for all the joy sport and winning gave Hunter, during his university studies he realised something was missing in his life.
At university his best friends were Christians because, he says, "there was something different about their lifestyles that I liked to be around".
After graduating in 1998 he moved to Colorado Springs near the Olympic Training Centre, where the arduous training led to a dramatic conclusion.
"I realised that I wasn't living my life the way that I wanted to," he remembers. "I was a slave to my sport of triathlon. My life felt empty.
"During the summer of 1999, after going to church early on a Sunday morning, I came home and gave my life over to Christ," Hunter says.
"I knelt down before Him in the bedroom of my rental home and confessed to Him that I could no longer do it on my own.
"I asked God to forgive me of all my sins. I gave all my 'stuff' over to Him. I cried a lot that day; not because I was sad but because I felt free. On that summer day my old self was washed away and I became a new person in Christ. I now know that nothing is impossible with God."
Knowing God's purpose for his life changed the way Hunter competed in his first Olympic games in Sydney, Australia.
He says he no longer thought it was his own strength getting him across the finish line, but rather abilities given to him by God.
To those who think winning a big race or getting your name in the media is the way to happiness, Hunter says, "Money, glory, and fame don't fulfil you. It's so fleeting and it lasts for such a short period of time, if at all."
Instead of letting winning be his sole goal Hunter has detached his security and identity from his career, and he says it has helped his performances.
"It's not my job that defines me," he explains, "and it's not the work I do that defines me as an athlete. Me being a follower of Christ means that God loves me for who I am, and it's a great feeling."
The first American male to achieve a No. 1 ITU world ranking, he was the USA Olympic Committee's SportsMan of the Year and Male Triathlete of the Year in 2005.
He has won seven U.S. national championships and the honour of the longest-standing (resident) member of the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado since he joined in 1999.
Whatever place he achieves in future races, Hunter says, "the first thing I want to talk about is that I couldn't do this without getting that strength from God."•