Two-time Olympic gold medalist and decathlon world record holder Ashton Eaton and his wife Brianne Theisen-Eaton, a Canadian Olympic bronze medalist in the heptathlon, could not sound more relaxed.
The couple announced their decision to retire from track and field in January. When you’ve won two Olympic golds, five world titles and own the world record, there’s little left to accomplish in a sport that requires world-class dedication to stay at the top.
Since retiring, the Eatons have explored other projects including consulting on nutrition, participating on Ninja Warrior, assisting a clean water initiative, attending a video game conference and much more.
The Eatons have also teamed up with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training and stopped by the Sports Illustrated offices to catch up.
Chris Chavez: Retired at 29 and 28 years old, what was that process like transitioning from the life from being world-class athletes to regular average civilians?
Ashton Eaton: It was not that hard for us to be honest. It’s been a pretty easy transition. We have never really missed practice and we’ve been pretty excited to pursue the next thing. For me personally, it hasn’t been that tough.
Brianne Theisen-Eaton: Same for me. I think we were both just so ready to move on to the next thing. We’ve been excited about what’s to come next. I think it’s been easy and we’re having so much fun. There’s so much freedom now to do whatever we want.
CC: Did you anticipate any sort of challenges like the urge to work out hard every now and then?
BTE: We talked to quite a few people before we decided to retire. A lot of them told us that it would be difficult because we’re going to have to redefine who we are since you not belong to a community. So we have to create all that and it can be really hard. We were preparing for the worst but we haven’t experienced any of that.
CC:Has there been that type of interaction at a restaurant or at the supermarket where someone asks you ‘What do you do?’ How do you go about answering that since you’re now retired?
AE: That’s a good question. Mostly I say, “We used to do sports” or I say “Nothing.” So it’s like “Oh, what do you do?” and then I say “I don’t do anything.” (Laughs)
BTE: Mostly, I say that we’re in the middle of a transition phase to figure out what we’re going to do.
AE: That’s actually a question that we brought up to help us understand what we were going to be feeling. When someone asked us before, ‘What do you do?’ then we’d be proud to say that we were an athlete and I did this and that. Right before we retired we said that when someone asks us that, it’s going to be like, ‘I don’t know.’ It’s not hard but it is different.
CC:Being an athlete at any level and particularly at the elite level, you get into routines. You wake up around the same time. You work out at a similar time. A friend of mine was a college runner and after he stopped training regularly, he had to figure out when was the normal time to do things like shower. Have you picked up on things that have shifted in your day?
BTE: I remember coming home one day at around 3 p.m. from doing something and Ashton kept saying, ‘I gotta go for a run. I gotta go for a run.’ and he had been saying that since the morning. Then he mentioned that it’s really easy to do absolutely nothing. Some of the big things that we both realized was that we both don’t have to eat like we used to. We still eat super healthy but it’s OK if we’re hungry.
AE: It’s the timing.
BTE: Yeah, if we’re in the middle of doing something and we’re really hungry, we can wait an hour. It’s fine and we’re not going to die. Before, we thought that we had to eat at that moment. Sometimes we eat two meals a day. It’s not a priority I guess.
AE: We can stay up as late as we want. We can be tired. We can be hungry. It’s not that bad.
CC: How often are you still working out and what does that consist of? [Olympic silver medalist steeplechaser] Evan Jager has said that when athletes take long breaks, he starts to feel and look chunky. Have you felt the same way?
AE: Pretty much since we retired, we’ve basically done something every day. Brianne is a little more active and tends to do stuff a couple times a day. I either run or do a fitness circuit.
BTE: It’s whatever we feel like doing that day. I like to do yoga. I also do high-intensity training classes like Orangetheory and fun stuff with friends.
CC: So there’s no urge whatsoever for a comeback? Lindon Victor of Texas A&M just broke the collegiate record in the decathlon. That doesn’t get you nervous to maybe stay in it a little longer?
BTE: You know what we were actually saying? We left the sport at a good time because all these young people are coming up and I can’t keep up with them. (Laughs)
AE: Pretty much.
CC: How much is coach Harry Marra enjoying retirement and do you stay in touch much?
BTE: I think he’s really enjoying it. Of the three of us, he was probably the most dedicated, impacted and stressed out by things. He lived and breathed track. We would find a way to get away from things. I guess just not having that stress and thinking about it 24/7 is good.
AE: We saw him a few weeks ago and he’s good. He’s hanging out with his family and doing some coaching consulting.
CC:The competitive nature of an athlete just never goes away though. What are some of the activities that you’ve tried to channel that into nowadays?
AE: Hmmm...I don’t now. I’ve always just competed against myself. I think it’s more of just choosing a good challenge and a good goal and then surpassing the standard. I think we’re both developing our own personal goals at this point.
BTE: We’re both working on our own separate projects now. I definitely can see that athlete’s determination coming through in things because I’ll work from 6 a.m. to midnight. We’re perfectionists and activities need to be done in certain ways.
CC: With regards to some projects, how serious is this hope to someday go to the moon or to Mars?
AE: I think if all other factors were excluded, I’d probably be trying—
BTE: Meaning his family.
CC: Well, why are you so against it?
BTE: Because I don’t want to go to Mars. If he goes to Mars, we’re pretty much not together anymore.
AE: Well she’s concerned that there’s no way of coming back. There will be ways to get back.
BTE: It’s not a for sure thing.
AE: Nothing is a for sure thing! It’s not a “for sure thing” that we live to see the next day.
BTE: I don’t even let him ride a motorcycle!
When it comes to finding these other challenges that are somehow linked to sports, I think a bit about Ryan Hall. He retired young as well and then just recently ran seven marathons on seven continents in seven days. Is there something that extreme left in life for multi-event athletes like you?
AE: I’m not going to be doing anything athletic. Athletically, I think I’ve challenged myself where all I know everything that I want to know about myself in that regard.
BTE: I’ve always said that I wanted to run a marathon but I’m not sure if I’ll do it. I’m not a distance runner at all. I’ve also thought about a triathlon but we’ll see.
CC: You’re working with Team in Training, what’s the plan with that for this year?
AE: Throughout our athletic career, we’ve been involved with groups that do good and attach an athletic element to things. So the Leukemia Lymphoma Society told us about Team in Training and it essentially invented the idea of raising money through races. They’ve raised over a billion dollars in their three decades of existence. We decided we wanted to be a part of it because we can motivate people to get fit and can help save someone’s life.
CC: You’ve ruled out doing anything crazy athletic but would you do some sort of marathon relay with them?
BTE: That would be cool!
AE: A marathon relay would probably make more sense for us. Right now, it’s cool because they’re expanding the activities that you could raise money through like hiking, climbing and cycling. We’ve gotten into those things outside of track. There could be some opportunities outside of running.
CC: You guys had that one hiking video last year just before you announced your retirement.
BTE: That was insane. We could barely walk for days after that. I thought I ripped my hip. I remember Ashton saying, “That’s the most sore you get before going to the hospital.”
CC:Worse than when you broke the decathlon world record in Beijing and had to run a fast 1,500-meter?
AE: It’s just a different kind of hurt because we had never trained those muscles before.