What Is Your Transitional Moment?

“You didn’t make the cover but I think you’ll be pleased with this week’s issue,” said the man wearing a navy blue Sports Illustrated polo shirt.

I had been picked out of a crowded subway train traveling underneath the streets of Barcelona, Spain.

“Wait, what?” I say.

A fellow train passenger standing nearby asks the man in the polo, “Who’s that?” To which he answers, “It’s either Strausbaugh or Jacobi. A few days ago they won the gold medal in whitewater canoeing.”

“Do you have your medal? Can we see it?” the passenger asks.

I handed the medal over to the man and then a bunch of people huddled around him, which opened up a space between me and a tall man with red hair leaning against the door of the train.

He asked, “Do you know Buck and Norm?” He was referring to two US canoeing legends, Gold Medalists themselves, who were preparing for their final Canoe Sprint events at the 1992 Olympic Games.

“I see them around Newport Beach when they train,” said the tall man.

Someone in the huddle returned the medal to me. The tall man asked to see it too. I handed the medal to him as we connected the dots between the athletes about which he asked.

“Very cool,” he said as he looked at the medal. Then he put it back in my hand. “Congratulations.”

“My stop is coming up. My name is Joe. Nice to meet you,” I said. We shook hands.

“Nice to meet you too, Joe. I’m Brad Lewis.”

I became very emotional, very quickly. As I choked back tears, I said, “Brad, I know this won’t make sense to you right now, but you played a huge part in this medal. For a year now, our coach has read to us passages out of your book before practice sessions. Do you have time to talk?”

Brad won an Olympic Gold Medal in the Doubles Sculls at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. A rebellious spirit who took great pleasure in shaking up the northeastern rowing establishment, Brad wrote about his gold medal story in the book, Assault on Lake Casitas.

As we sat and talked in a quiet Barcelona subway tunnel, I shared with Brad his influence on our success and asked lots of follow-up questions to the stories he shared in his book. The sequence of events felt like something out of a fantasy movie.

In a hunt for gold medal guidance, I asked Brad for some advice “If you were in my shoes, what would you do next?”

I waited for an answer about speaking engagements, hiring an agent, or endorsement deals. What Brad said next stuck with me more than any other part of our conversation.

“Think very carefully about your decision to continue racing. Everything changes now.”

Brad wrapped up our conversation and stepped onto the next train. Then, his train left the station.

Transition is a traveling companion you can never shake. It pokes at you the moment you become too comfortable. Like when you don’t move, don’t expand or don’t listen to your true voice.

Transition will happen. Your surroundings are guaranteed to change. Your options? Lead your change or be led.

This week in Rio, 10,000 of the world’s best athletes confront their own transition.

What is your transitional moment? And onto what train will you step?

It is never easy to let go of a cycle of work, an achievement, relationships, or perspectives. So, choose your transition before it chooses you.

As America’s first ever Olympic Gold Medalist in Whitewater Canoe Slalom, Joe promotes strategies and shares stories for living and performing at your best, doing the work that matters and engaging with purpose. His platforms include performance coaching and consulting, professional speaking, broadcasting and his weekly newsletter, “Sunday Morning Joe.”