Congratulations to Ryan Dungey on his highly successful racing career! He will go down as one of the all-time greats in the sport of Motocross and Supercross. While the sport is beneficial with Dungey’s participation, the sport will survive without it. After hearing his retirement speech, at his personal press conference, I am curious to see how he handles retirement. Retirement for professional athletes can be tough. Athletes define themselves by their skills and Dungey's entire life has been dedicated to the goal of winning. Once winning is no longer an athlete’s sole goal in life, depression can take hold. The identity of their professional self dies and they are forced to reinvent themselves. In the heat of the moment Dungey probably wished he was normal and didn't have the intense pressure or stress anymore. While this is true, he will still miss the adoration of so many fans. He will never be able to recreate the feeling of crossing the line to win a Supercross Championship. His life will be full of great joy and good times but the feeling of being Champion cannot be replicated.
Ryan Dungey will be remembered as one of the hardest working and determined riders in the sport’s history. This skill will help him moving forward or it will be his downfall. Unfortunately, professional athletes are not held to normal societal rules and many are socially inept. They are so used to everything being geared towards them and their goals. In retirement they are expected to instantly become regular people. They no longer receive special treatment or have an entire team geared toward assisting them reach their goals. They lose many “friends” who were there to feed off their fame and fortune. This is devastating to their psyche. Dungey will need to learn how to widen his focus. The tunnel vision required to be a Champion can alienate an athlete in regular society. Retiring athletes often have an identity crisis when it all ends. During their careers they have a team of people helping them focus and move forward. When they retire this giant support system shrinks to a few people and things can feel lonely.
In the next couple years Ryan and Lindsay will be challenged in their relationship. The divorce rate for professional athletes upon retirement is extremely high, their relationship dynamic will completely change. I have heard many people say, “He is rich and has a hot wife, life is good!” While this is true many professional Motocross racers don't have the money to sit back and reflect. Ryan has the money to allow the nothingness of retirement set in. Ryan doesn't need to enter the regular workforce and will have a lot of time on his hands. Ryan will have to find a new motivation for getting up in the morning, much like Kevin Windham. He might want to give Windham a call and allow Windham to explain the emotional roller coaster that lies ahead, and unlike his professional career this will be played out in private.
While we celebrate Ryan Dungey and his historic career achievements, I am concerned for him as a human being. I don't think Ryan will go very far from the sport, he has too much to offer. Hopefully he will make the transition and embrace his new life in whatever role he chooses. RD5 is no longer his identity, he is now Ryan from Minnesota. I personally appreciated Dungey this season as this was my first season in the Supercross media and he made it very memorable. He answered my press conference questions honestly and didn’t hide his emotions. I took a lot of heat after Glendale, but I wouldn't have it any other way. He showed his human side, something he never showed earlier in his career.
If you want a perfect example of the struggles an athlete goes through upon retirement, check out the documentary State of Play: Happiness.
(Photos by LC)