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Skyler EspinozaMay 13, 2024 at 3:21 PM7 min read

When to Grit and When to Quit

When to Grit and When to Quit


Source: Erin Aldrich-Shean


So often in women’s sports, we talk about moving the needle for “the next generation.” Social media accounts post pictures of young girls with posters in the stands, with captions about “our why.” Every time I get the chance to talk to someone like Erin Aldrich-Shean, I am reminded that it wasn’t that long ago that I was the little girl watching with a sign. I am so grateful to stand on the shoulders of women who had dreams and never gave up, and did most of their sweating and dreaming with little to no recognition or visibility. Women’s sports didn’t begin when mainstream media decided to pay attention, and Erin is one of the trailblazers who has made careers in sport possible.

Erin told her parents she wanted to be an Olympian when she was just six years old. Trusting their daughter’s intuition, Erin’s parents put her in ballet and gymnastics, which gave her an early taste for discipline and body awareness, both of which would serve her in her later career. Tennis, soccer and basketball were next, with Erin’s tennis coach making a strong impression on the young athlete she was becoming. He taught her how to set effective goals, using a framework Erin still follows to this day. Volleyball and high jump were the last sports she tried, but once she took that leap, she knew where she was meant to be.

As she told me about finding her match, her eyes lit up and shoulders made a hugging motion like she was trying to hold on to the feeling of falling in love for the first time. She loved both high jump and volleyball with a passion that burned hot and fierce.



E7ye9oFUcAEl-eQSource: Erin Aldrich-Shean


She felt like each one-footed take-off approach in volleyball prepared her to fly over the bar in the high jump. Pairing the individual sport with the team environment ensured a community to fall back on, and helped keep sport playful. When it came time to go to college, Erin wouldn’t waver: she knew what was right for her and if a college wanted her to play volleyball, there had to be a spot on the track squad for her too.


This determination to do both carried her through her Olympic and professional career: she was a jumper and a blocker at the highest level through her retirement. 



It is extremely rare to decide on a career path at six years old, and actually follow through, never mind setting a goal as lofty as becoming an Olympian. But because it was all that Erin knew, it didn’t feel strange to her at all. She knew it would take work, but she assumed that the second chapter of her career would follow the same pattern: she would set a goal and then walk confidently down the path to achieving it. Erin started selling corporate real estate, became a mom to two boys, and settled in for the rest of her life. But driving with her boys in the backseat, she felt like there was another passenger in the back who should have been riding up front with her: joy. Erin was happy, but the joy and wonder of big dreams was missing in a way that made her second guess her path. 


Erin was at a turning point. Erin’s work wasn’t bringing her the joy and fulfillment that sports had, and she thought she needed a change, but she wasn’t sure she could make one. She had never quit anything in her life.



Her family had raised her to always see things through, and her decades in sport had only strengthened that early lesson: quitting is unacceptable. Would leaving her job be quitting? Would it feel like quitting? Who was she if she couldn’t see things through? Feeling stuck, Erin hired a life coach to help her chart a path towards moving joy back into the passenger seat. Through this work, Erin realized the power of quitting. By closing the door on something that wasn’t filling her cup, she was able to open a new door on Ascension Coaching. She was quick to caveat, “I’m not advocating for quitting!” (Old habits die hard.) Rather, knowing when to step back is what can allow us the space to move forward.


For the first time since sport retirement, Erin felt the fire reignite: she would help people find their way just as she had learned to find hers.


She now combines lessons she learned through sport and realizations she’s had while processing her own career to create masterclasses and personalized plans for helping people set goals, chase big dreams and find their joy. 


As these pieces were starting to fall into place, a piece from Erin’s past emerged, clamoring to make itself heard and felt. In 2019, HBO released a two part documentary “Leaving Neverland,” centered on the story of two young boys abused by pop star Michael Jackson. Erin said that as she watched the story unfold, she finally realized that the coach who had told her “she was special” and “he loved her” was abusing both her and his position of power. John Rembao had been Erin’s high jump coach at the University of Arizona, and later at the University of Texas, and he groomed her for years before ever touching her. He was a trusted adult in her parents’ eyes, and a venerated professional in the track and field world. He had the clout to hide his behavior and tamp down any effort to expose him. 


Erin never imagined making her story public, but as her memories of the abuse unfolded there was a glaring moment when Rembao told her to ignore a former teammate’s deposition against him.



She realized with frightening clarity that she wasn’t the only one who Rembao had abused, and what’s more, Rembao was still coaching high school girls. She knew that she couldn’t keep her story to herself while there were girls still at risk, and women left without closure or justice. She filed a Safesport report, and Rembao’s prominence in the field brought her story to the top of the queue. Rembao was suspended from sport and hopefully will never coach again. 


In hearing stories like Erin’s, I’m always struck by the extraordinary lengths that women go to to support one another, to make their own trauma public to make the world safer for other women and girls. To be dealing with a huge shift in the way you think about your sports career and be let down by the people you were supposed to trust while also supporting others that are going through the same thing takes an incredible amount of strength. It also reaffirms what we already know about Erin: she is a trailblazer who has made sport different.


2-erin_aldrich_highjump1Source: Erin Aldrich-Shean


I asked Erin if this experience has tarnished her love of sport, or the world of sport that she wants to pass along to her sons; to all of us. She says she sees sports like a clear glass of water: there’s so much good in it, and so many people uplifting others, but one drop of bad food coloring taints the whole glass. She believes that sport is like life: it’s mostly full of good people with good intentions, and the few bad people that taint the water don’t make sport unworthy.


She still believes in the power of sport to change people for the better, and give women and girls the tools they need to live lives full of joy.



With people like Erin choosing to dedicate their hearts and hands to bettering sport, it’s easy to see the future she does. So remember: we all have the right to drive with joy right beside us, whatever the destination.


DSC_7770-2 (1)Source: Erin Aldrich-Shean


Erin is a retired dual-sport professional athlete and Olympian and has poured her heart into Ascension Coaching. She is especially excited to bring her passion project, The Athlete Playbook, to aspiring collegiate female athletes. Register before May 15th for 40% off with the code “TAP40”. Erin lives in Dallas with her husband and two wonderful boys. 



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Skyler Espinoza

Skyler was a DI rower and coach at Columbia and Stanford Universities, and now is a Team USA athlete as a guide for a visually impaired cyclist. She is a world championships medallist, and a 2x Parapan American champion. You can read her blog about women in sports at, and follow her on Instagram @skyler.espinozaa.