Broward County

When their playing days are over, this is how athletes keep in shape

For the Miami Herald

Lauryn Williams was in elite physical condition … until she suddenly wasn’t.

The former University of Miami sprinter — the first American woman ever to win medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympics — recently started her career as a financial planner. During her Olympic glory, Williams won a silver medal in the 100 meters at the Summer Olympics in Athens in 2004, won a gold medal as part of the 4-by-100 meter relay at the Summer Olympics in London in 2012 and won a silver medal in the two-woman bobsled at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in 2014.

In her new career, the 5-foot-1 Williams, 32, has been spending more time sitting in her office instead of pushing a bobsled or running down a track. When her level of training went down, her weight went up: Williams gained 20 pounds in the past year.

“After retiring as an athlete, I have to figure out what good health means to me now, and it’s more complicated than I thought,” Williams said. “I’ve only known one way to work out — and that’s full throttle. But that type of workout is no longer necessary for me.”

Rob Herzog, director of fitness and sports medicine for Memorial Fitness Centers, said Williams is far from alone. Lots of people struggle with the transition from rigorous training to everyday life, whether it’s a retired athlete or someone who has had a life-changing circumstance such as starting a family or changing work hours.

“I went through it myself,” said Herzog, a former college baseball player at Central Michigan. “But what gets misunderstood is the idea that athletes who competed in college or professionally are always in great physical condition. Depending on the sport, they sometimes just have a specific set of skills that makes them good for that role.”

What Herzog recommends for anyone wanting to get into better shape is to start with getting an assessment on your overall conditioning from a fitness expert. The goal is to get your body balanced for “solid human motion,” Herzog said.

Former athletes, Herzog said, shouldn’t look at retirement from sports as the time to let go and relax.

“Their goal should be to maintain as much muscle strength and as much cardiovascular endurance as they had during their playing days,” Herzog said. “They shouldn’t settle. They shouldn’t say, ‘I’m retired … now I will just go for walks.”

Like Williams, Ray Shipman is an athlete who is making the adjustment to life after sports. Shipman, who went to Monsignor Edward Pace High in Miami Gardens, enjoyed a brief stay in the National Football League, playing three games in 2013 as a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints. A hamstring injury cut his career short.

At 6-foot-5, Shipman had a playing weight of 240. But his weight ballooned to 280 pounds in his first year as the manager of adaptive sports and recreation for Memorial Healthcare System.

Being out of football took more than just a physical toll on Shipman.

“It can be depressing,” Shipman said. “I had been preparing my whole life to play pro sports, and then it was gone in a second. I was at a crossroads, but I couldn’t let it confine my thoughts.”

Shipman, 26, decided to make a change and has lost 15 pounds in the past 10 months. One of Shipman’s secrets is taking that competitive spirit that once made him a pro athlete and converting it into motivation.

“Just because you can’t tackle anyone anymore doesn’t mean you can’t tackle your health,” Shipman said.

Shipman said his diet was the first thing to change once he made his commitment to better health. When he played pro sports, he ate large quantities of food. He needed the strength and weight in a sport in which nearly every offensive lineman checks in at more than 300 pounds.

Now, he eats a small meal every three hours. He brings his lunch to work instead of going out to eat and he has cut back on carbs.

In addition to changing his eating habits, Shipman has made an effort to work out. Sometimes that means using part of his lunch break to squeeze in exercise, and he’s now working out five days a week. Yet despite playing in the NFL, Shipman realized he lacked flexibility.

“That’s been my biggest downfall,” said Shipman, who is addressing this area through yoga. “I’m trying to focus on that now just so I can bend down and pick something up without hurting my back.”