“When you retire, the identity crisis is very great”

At 15:58 they still haven’t opened the doors of the Club Gimnàs Molins de Rei and in its surroundings await young people, adults and a familiar face that talks with the weightlifting coach David soria, the master of the Olympian in Tokyo Marcos Ruiz (8th). Backpack on the back, Erika Villaecija is preparing to train in a part of her new life after officially leaving swimming in December 2018. “In April I competed in the Catalan Championship. I liked the nerves prior to lifting the bar. I relived those other moments of the past,” he explains.

Those “other moments” without countless. From the age of six to 34, the swimmer born in the Horta neighborhood of Barcelona was one of the icons of Spanish sport, European and World Champion and twice Olympic Diploma (Athens 2004 and London 2012). Now she combines her Human Resources work at Better Consultants, crossfit and weightlifting, a sport totally different from swimming. “The training sessions last an hour and a half, far from what my sport required. I am clumsy, used to swimming long distances. To lift you need explosiveness. I would like to continue competing because I like it, even in a master’s degree, “adds Erika, who has been passionate about weightlifting.

But in these almost three years of her tears in the pool of the CN Barcelona that autumn of 2018 to the efforts raising the bar, Erika has experienced a catharsis. “I did the same routine until I was 34 years old. The next day you say, where am I going? Even if you are strong and have your structures in place, the identity crisis is very great. It is impossible to deny it, “he underlines, and that the swimmer has counted on”the support of family, friends and with a job that I like“.

How much did it cost to click?

It is very difficult. Even if you talk to people who have left high-level sport and explain it to you, you will never know until you do. I stopped swimming as I wanted. I had a job and decided to change priorities. I had a routine and that helped me, but it is inevitable not to feel a void. You didn’t just change the chip one hundred percent. There is a moment when you realize that swimming has not existed or is something that is already far away. One day I saw on television that there was a Spanish short pool championship. I hadn’t even found out. It is at that moment where I decide that I should approach my world again. He had stopped touching water.

Why?

It is as if your life has no meaning and you must find a new reason to get up every day. It is as if you are retiring very soon and must land in another world. In my case I had training, and that helped me. But the feeling of being in shape, the competition, the objectives … That ends. I tried crossfit, now weightlifting. I was lucky enough to experience the Tokyo Games on television commenting for RTVE. Thank goodness, because otherwise I would have had a very bad time: at the opening I started crying, at that moment you realize that you are already out of this.

Once an athlete leaves him, who does the federation call him?

The Catalan Federation has behaved very well, especially its president Enric Bertran. I had no complaints. They counted on me for many things, but obviously fewer people call you. They also have no reason for it. I have been recognized, and that is appreciated because they value your career. You are taking steps towards that moment in which you assimilate that you are a former swimmer. You stay away from swimming, but when you get closer, the feedback is positive. I was at the last Open and people were happy to see me. You notice that you have left it, but that people have affection for you.

Did you turn to help?

Sure, I went to the psychologist.

Could swimming bring you a good income?

You save something, but you spend it. I bought a flat. I couldn’t make a living from swimming. It was a medium-high salary for me, and it gives you a somewhat higher pace of life. It is true that I helped my family. I can’t say: ‘I take three years without making money’. It was not difficult for me to be a normal person, but it is difficult for me to understand that I no longer swim. You realize that that other life was the one you liked.

And other colleagues of you who left you?

While swimming you see it far away, but until it happens to you… You see the transitions of a swimmer who retires, and it is difficult for everyone. When you have a job opening, you leave the sport more relaxed, as it happens in Italy. In the end we are giving a lot for the country. In Spain there are programs, but they are still very green. They follow up on you. The COE calls you every two months, they give you academic guidance and they try to find opportunities for you. There are not many companies that believe in athletes, but when they do, they are finally happy. The values ​​there you have. Years are left for these programs to work.

Erika, who has a degree in Psychology, has a pendant with the Olympic rings, a tattoo with the skyline from Barcelona and with his dog Bartolo, who passed away just the summer before retiring. The Games have been part of his life and he can only imagine “Going again but out of the pool, in some federation, training group …”. It’s what she’s sucked on since she was a six-year-old girl and dreamed of swimming better and faster. And he did it even though that life is now “far away” for him.

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