What to do next

Written by Sam Palmer

I clearly remember the day, waking up after I’d decided to walk away from my career as an Elite Athlete. After building my entire life around training 30 hours a week, suddenly there was a huge hole in my world. I had no idea what to do next, my days were empty and although it was nice to not have wake up at 5am for morning training, it also felt like there was a big void. I felt so incredibly lost and the life I knew no longer existed.

As an elite athlete, life revolves around training, it’s your everything. It’s the reason your alarm goes off in the early hours, it’s what you think about all day every day and before bed. Most your actions in everyday life are in some way related back to training, to what you need to do to reach your goals. It truly is a lifestyle, a commitment that brings joy and happiness along with sweat and tears. The journey is an emotional roller-coaster, one that doesn’t stop until the day you retire from competition.

In my athletic career I learnt so much, resilience when things didn’t go to plan, what it means to be a part of a team, how to guide and support each other, how to motivate myself when no one was around, I learnt things about myself and things about others, all of which were such valuable experiences.

But when I retired, I had no idea of what to do next. When you’ve been so used to training between 20-30 hours every week for as long as you remember and your life has been formed around being in the gym every day, then suddenly none of that is necessary anymore, the feeling is indescribable, it’s tough, its emotional and the question remains, what do you do next? How do you fill the gap?

For me, I chose to travel, because I simply didn’t know a life outside of the gym. From the age of 6 it was where I spent most my time, it was my normal, and I didn’t know how to step into the ‘real world’. I’d been a waitress, worked in a supermarket, done a casual job in accounts, all of these to fit in around my training, but none of these were jumping out as a career pathway for the future. There was no support available, no one to turn to for guidance, no one who knew or understood the emotions I was feeling.

I travelled for a while, gained more life experiences, and eventually landed some opportunities coaching here in Australia. That led onto an opportunity at Gymnastics NSW, where now, 8 years on, I feel so incredibly lucky to be in a position where I have an opportunity to support athletes both in and out of sport. I work to help the Gymnastics NSW high performance squad members link with services that can assist those facing the same decisions I went through alone, both during and after my competitive days. To point them in the direction to receive guidance and resources to transition into everyday life after a career in sport, ensuring they don’t feel lost or overwhelmed.

As an athlete, the goal posts are forever changing, sometimes in our favour, other times against us. At times we have to re-evaluate and take another path; remembering that when one door closes another opens. I am grateful to be here, supporting the next generation of athletes, sharing my experiences, understanding the difficulties that athletes are often faced with, and putting the skills learnt throughout my journey as an athlete, into practice.


Having worked at Gymnastics NSW for over 7 years, Sam currently manages the Trampoline and Tumbling High Performance Programs. After competing Tumbling on the International circuit for 9 years, gaining 3 Individual World titles, 2 Individual European titles, 7 World Cup Medals and leading teams to 3 medal placing’s on the world stage, Sam migrated to Australia in 2009. She has since worked across a number of areas of Gymnastics and now works within the High Performance sector.

To find out more about the NSWIS Athlete Wellbeing & Engagement program, Click here