When Athletes For Life was born
Co-founder and ambassador Nick Youngquest shares the story of how he decided to take action and help former athletes by creating A4L.
by Nick Youngquest
It was a brisk morning in New York City and after an epic journey around the city that never sleeps, I decided to spend some time in the iconic, Central Park. The park wasn’t a place I had spent a lot of time in over the years. Being a resident of the city meant it was an area I would avoid at all costs – too many tourists being shown the sights by their guides, strawberry fields and the likes and it all seemed like too much trouble. This day was different though. My guide was there showing me the way, they just couldn’t see it.
Years had passed since I'd hung up the football boots, taken off on a journey with my ex wife to the place where dreams are made, where for most people in the city each day was a hustle. From the world’s elite business people, Hollywood movie stars and the fashion icons of the world, they were all there. A place with a stark disposition to what I had known, some living in their lavish apartments and flying high whilst others where just struggling to get by. Sure, this is evident in a lot of cities around the world but in my opinion and observation not to this level, where worlds are diametrically opposed right in front of your eyes.
New York City was a difficult place to navigate. Not in regards to taking the subway from grand central to west 4th street, but in terms of my new life. Having just retired from professional sport, I had lost the one thing I knew for so many years - I had lost my identity. I became to feel like I had no purpose, like I didn’t belong. And although I was able to transition into a new role as the global ambassador for a fragrance house constantly traveling around the world, I felt hollow.
It isn’t uncommon for athletes to have this deep sense of loss when they retire from sport and it makes total sense in many ways. When we retire, the world as we know it seems to vanish, but all the same responsibilities remain. Having witnessed so many of my former teammates and foes stumble upon difficult times when stepping away from sport, I knew I didn’t want to take that road. I yearned for something. I was desperate to belong. In some ways this yearning started to lead down a path of destruction. Excessive behavior and breakdowns in relationships highlighted to me: I needed to take action.
"That mile marker on my first ever marathon made me realize one thing: what I was doing was bigger than one person, especially me"
That brisk morning in central park was the 25-mile (40km) mark of the New York City marathon, an epic journey through the streets with 50,000 runners from around the world. I was almost home. The challenge initially had been a selfish one to take on; I yearned for the belonging for my own reasons, to feel relevant again. That mile marker on my first ever marathon made me realize one thing: what I was doing was bigger than one person, especially me. I broke down in tears because I saw my guide, a moment I will never forget. But he couldn’t see me at all, because my guide was a blind runner, and he was guiding me to the finish line of the New York City marathon and I knew I was irrelevant, but I also knew I could now make a difference.