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Riley TejcekMarch 21, 2024 at 11:26 AM6 min read

From Heartbreak to Perseverance: How to Navigate a Divorce as a Professional Athlete

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Source: Riley Tejcek

 As an athlete, failure is unfortunately a part any sport that we play. While we know that failure is unavoidable, ultimately it can be part of the motivation to continue to work hard to succeed. Adversity and failure can be seen as a positive with the right perspective because we grow a lot in hardship but is safe to say, failure is never easy to accept.

I have been an athlete my whole life and my first love was the sport of softball. Softball and baseball unlike sports such as basketball involve a tremendous amount of failure. Professional softball and baseball players get paid exceptionally well to bat .300 — which means they are failing 70% of the time at the plate.

 

We would spend hours of our days trying to perfect the craft to be successful 30% of the time. 

 

Following my softball career, I commissioned into the Marine Corps and in a typical military fashion, I got married at the age of 22, to a man I was crazy in love with. He and I grew up in the same home town, met at Officer Candidate School in the Marine Corps and were both dedicated Christians. Within a little over a year of dating, we got married.

 

To this day, I do not regret any decision to get married but what happened during our marriage was a total curveball.

 

Roughly a year after we were married and we moved to San Diego for the Marine Corps, I decided to try out for the sport of bobsled, and within three years made my first National Team for Team USA.

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Source: Riley Tejcek

Professional sports forces athletes to constantly be away and travel. The military adds additional layers to this that complicates the circumstances. At times it felt hard to feel supported, as many female athletes might know, as we are constantly away from our spouses with a demanding season and training cycle. 

 

In my attempt to balance a professional sports career, military career and be a wife, I quickly noticed the relational hardship of feeling like we lived separate lives. It wasn’t until December of 2022, when I was competing in my first World Cup season, that tragedy struck and I felt my whole world crumble. It was painfully brought to my attention that my husband had been unfaithful. 

 

In that moment I remember falling to the ground staring at my phone in disbelief. As an athlete, my first instinct was to remain calm and figure out what exactly was going on.

 

“Me...?” Immediately the intrusive thoughts came in, regarding the fact that one of my most prized and stabled processions in life had just failed me. My marriage... a failure. Not just a sports error or losing a race — my whole future crumbled before my eyes. 

 

No amount of training or film review or lifting weights could solve the issue in front of me. 

 

Timing is never ideal, and within a week of finding out this information, I found myself back on a plane to Europe to compete in the second half of the World Cup in Germany.

 

Sports provide women with confidence, in our bodies, in who we are and what we stand for, but my confidence was shot.

 

I was unable to sleep and eat. I quickly started losing weight and put way too much pressure on my sport to “save me” and be “the thing that gets me through this.” Embarrassed, but knowing that I could not carry this on my own, I opened up to some of my teammates so they could understand why I was “off.”

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As a Christian woman — and someone who would outwork everyone — and speak so highly to my marriage, it all felt like a lie and I almost felt like I did not know who I was anymore.

 

I noticed that my mind was able to focus enough for bobsled, with the high demand of the speed and pace, but after practice I felt more lost than ever. 

 

Heartbroken, full of grief, lost and confused, I found myself thinking that I wasn’t enough in anything.

 

The most valuable lesson I learned in all of this was the power of what you say to yourself.

 

I would only say it jokingly but I would refer to myself as “divorced and damaged.” Words are very powerful and when my performance was declining, I really started to believe it.

But then, I found strength. I realized that through my faith, family, teammates, coaching staff and friends that I was not alone.

 

I decided that I did not want to stay “defeated” and I was absolutely not going to let “failure” define me. My marriage did fail, yes, but that did not mean that I was a failure. 

 

The first step I realized that needed to happen was to not neglect my feelings. I needed the time to “feel” and not just put on a happy face when I was not feeling that way.

 

Being real with your emotions allows you to properly process things.

 

Then I began talking about how I was feeling and what really was going on with God, my teammates, family and trusted friends. I was not going to let the negative intrusive thoughts stay in my head and gain power.

This allowed me to then change my self talk — “I am strong, I am worthy, I am enough.” No one has the power to make you feel less unless you let them. Divorce was something that happened to me, it is NOT who I am. I was forced to go through a proper grieving cycle but once that was complete it was so much easier to move forward. I think where a lot of people go wrong and where there is a lot of temptation is to run from your problems. Choosing alcohol, throwing yourself straight into another relationship, or trying to throw yourself into your sport or work which will ultimately lead to more heartbreak and delay the perseverance that is coming.

Sharing this story with you is a part of my feeling process: to fully speak to what happened to me to encourage many of you. We are strong, but we are not invincible.

 

We succeed, but we also fail and are never meant to go through failure alone. A little over a year after my divorce, I found me again. I have grown as an individual and am so much stronger because of it.

 

You are not alone and remember failure is something that happened to you, NOT who you are. 

 


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Riley Tejcek

Riley Tejcek, a Marine Corps Captain and bobsled pilot for Team USA, epitomizes resilience and ambition. A former Division I softball player at George Washington University, Tejcek transitioned to military leadership after graduation in 2019. Inspired by Olympic bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor, she pivoted to bobsledding in 2020, finding a new arena for her athletic prowess. Today, stationed at the Expeditionary Warfare School in Quantico, Virginia, she trains with her eyes set on Olympic gold in 2026, balancing her commitments to the Marine Corps and her Olympic aspirations with unparalleled determination.

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