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After retiring from swimming, Stephanie Rice felt lost. Now, she's found a new love.

When Stephanie Rice announced an end to her swimming career in April 2014, she tried to avoid the word 'retiring'. To her, it suggested the end of everything, as if she, at the age of just 25, was off to live out her days on a beach somewhere.

In truth, the Olympic champion had no idea what was in front of her.

Speaking on sports podcast The Howie Games, the now 36-year-old said she languished for almost four years in a sort of professional "no-man's-land", with nowhere to direct the drive and passion she'd felt for her sport.

"I applied for jobs, and when I put on the résumé 'three-time Olympic gold medallist', I never got past the first application stage because I'm sure people look at it and go, 'That's cute, but what skills do you have and what experience do you have in this space or sector?' 

"I don't have any skills that transfer, and that is really hard. Because you've literally worked so hard to refine those skills to be amazing and the best in the world, and now that means nothing."

During that period, when people asked Rice what she was doing with her life beyond the pool, she had no answer.

"I was lying the whole time, saying wishy-washy things like, 'Oh, I still do a bit of speaking and I do some brand ambassador work and a little bit of coaching'. Literally, those three things would take up five days of my year," she said. 

"Really what I wanted to say was, 'I have no idea. I have no direction. I'm lost.'"

Since the dark days of 2014, Steph has turned her careers as a public speaker, sports commentator and brand ambassador into a more comprehensive gig. 

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And ten years on from her personal crisis, she has also announced a new partner. Here's what we know about Steph's life now. 

Professional athletes, and the risk of 'identity foreclosure'.

Life after retirement is notoriously fraught for professional athletes.

Australian basketball legend Lauren Jackson previously told Mamamia's daily news podcast, The Quicky, about her struggles after a devastating knee injury prematurely felled her career in 2016.

"I walked out of the Australian Institute of Sport and I immediately felt empty," she said.

"I had to get off all the medication that I was on [from a knee replacement], and completely restart my life. I was a 30 something-year-old walking into life completely untrained, unskilled and dealing with a whole lot of baggage."

Sports psychologist Dr Matthew Pink explained to Mamamia that this crisis is called 'identity foreclosure', in which a person becomes too singular in their sense of self.

Stephanie Rice, for example, was so eager to reclaim her identity as an athlete that, after leaving swimming, she briefly flirted with the idea of becoming a professional tennis player.

"I was searching for that one thing that would make me relevant again," she told The Herald Sun. "I knew how to do the athletic thing, I knew how to be resilient, I had all the skills to be a high performer, plus, tennis players compete until they’re older, they make a lot of money, they travel. It was ticking so many boxes. So I called up [retired Wimbledon winner] Pat Cash and asked him for tennis lessons. 

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"At the end of the two weeks [of lessons], I realised it wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t want to do all the hard training again, slogging it out. I didn’t want to start from ground zero. I wanted to be good at it already. That's the big problem: athletes are used to being so good at something, that when you’re not good at something it feels like it doesn’t go with your identity of being a high achiever."

Rice can laugh about it now. Some time spent overseas and reinvigoration courtesy of seminars from controversial self-help juggernaut Tony Robbins helped her find happiness and satisfaction with her new life.

But she has acknowledged that she will likely always mourn the person she once was.

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Three years ago, she shared that sentiment in an Instagram post about the unique pain of watching the Tokyo Olympic Games from afar.

"After swimming, I felt lost, depressed, irrelevant and as though I had achieved the pinnacle of my life at 24 and everything moving forward would be far less exciting and special," she wrote alongside a video in which she wiped away tears.

"So in order for me to move on, I had to completely let go of the person I was as an athlete and rediscover myself without the title of being 'a swimmer'. This bought up loads of deep-seated insecurities that I was able to hide [behind] the validation and recognition I got by being a gold medallist.

"Honestly, now, after doing so much 'work' on myself, I truly am so so happy and content. I love my life and the people in it. But watching the Olympics reminds me of the person I was back then and it’s still hard not to feel sadness that that part of me is gone and isn’t coming back."

Steph Rice finds faith. 

As a part of her journey, Stephanie Rice has connected with a sense of faith, sharing the news of her spiritual reawakening. 

"Old me would never have believed I would be here, in this position, knowing God, sharing His glory so boldly and speaking on stage in churches," she shared on her social media. 

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"Even still, right now, I am blown away with how much my life has changed over the past 6 months since being saved...I am the happiest I've ever been, more at peace, content and calm."

She hashtagged the Kingdom City church, a Pentecostal church founded by Mark Varughese. 

Her life now looks brighter, after finding love when she least expected it.

Things are now looking up for Rice. The Olympian recently went public with her new relationship, revealing she has been dating Mark Lassey, a father of three and pastor, for nearly five months now.

Sharing the news on Instagram alongside a carousel of photos of the couple, Rice expressed that despite their different lifestyles, they instantly connected and their relationship has flourished ever since they met.

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"When we met almost five months ago, we both knew this was different!" she wrote.

"Because of the complexities of our lives, we wanted to keep these first few months between close family and friends, and enjoy the wonder of falling in love." 

Rice, who recently relocated to Dubai to advance her career, credited a mutual friend for bringing them together. Currently, the couple is navigating a long-distance relationship.

"We come from such different backgrounds, so when a mutual friend saw the potential and connected us, we were both pretty unsure the other would be interested … not to mention the fact we live on opposite sides of the globe.

"But as God would have it, that first phone conversation made us feel like this was exactly where we were both meant to end up.

"Since then, we’ve been so blessed that our work has taken us around the world, allowing us to spend a few days together either side of our commitments, hanging out in different cities, meeting each other’s friends and family, and discovering what a life together will look like.

"Living halfway across the world from each other in different time zones has had its challenges (thank god for Zoom) but God has been so good and so present in every step of our journey, which gives us an unwavering faith that our future will be even more extraordinary through Him.

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"If there is one word that sums up how both of us feel right now, it’s grateful.

"Grateful for God, grateful for Him bringing us together in His perfect timing, grateful for a fresh start, grateful for the peace and strength we find in each other, grateful for loving friends and family, grateful for an amazing church and mentors supporting our journey, and most of all, grateful for each other."

The news comes after Rice's split with Dane Christison earlier this year. They had met through mutual connections at her church, but Rice admitted it was "a really challenging relationship."

"When I moved (to Dubai), I really wanted to share a lot more of the journey with you guys in real time," she wrote on Instagram at the time. "But I just was going through the deepest healing...I was in a really challenging relationship at the time.

"When we broke up, I felt the peace of God was upon me. I felt like light, I felt free, I felt happy. I felt like I can do anything.

"For the first time, I realised wow, the heaviness I was carrying was insane and I just felt like it all lifted off me and I feel like I’m in this amazing place now where I feel so happy, so content."

Feature Image: Instagram @itsstephrice.

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