Retirement came in mid May 2015, nearly six months to the day. It was surreal back then and nothing has changed. I probably didn't allow myself enough time to digest what it all actually meant soon after my last game. I had been playing rugby at some level since the age of six and I would hate to guess at the number of weekends I have spent with my boots on. It's been a massive part of my life. It became me and shaped who I was. Every decision from the age of seventeen was made with rugby in mind. What I ate, what time I went to bed, where I was going, who I was with and more.
On 16 May that disappeared with the last blow of the referee's whistle on a sunny afternoon in Oxford against the soon to be Premiership Champions, Saracens. Since, I have had one of the busiest periods of my life. It's been a good way to finish my career, I have always had something going on, I haven't had time to stop and think. Summer is gone and I am now feeling my loss. I have been very lucky to have an involvement in the media during the Rugby World Cup which has been great but the domestic season is nearly upon us and my desire to play is back.
Rugby players are supposed to be tough guys. We don't cry. We don't get bothered by much and certainly we don't get emotional about 'stuff'. It's a myth, we do, well I do anyway. Now that the buzz of the summer has gone, winter is here with the World Cup soon to be finished. What would have been a long pre season has now gone and the season is back round. I am left a vacuum. I am busy (which is brilliant post retirement) but I don't have the comfort blanket of rugby. I knew it like the back of my hand. I knew what pre season was about, I could tell you what each day would bring during my professional career with regards to the training - I loved it. Everything is now new which is fantastic but I'm certainly way outside of my comfort zone. I don't really know what I'm about anymore, that's the problem. I have this inner feeling that the game was actually part of me as a person. Tom May WAS a rugby player. Now rugby isn't there, what does that make me? It's not anything to do with fame or acknowledgement, far from it. I'm struggling to find what my main purpose is now and how it all fits together. I knew exactly what that was just a matter of months ago and I now realise I wasn't as prepared for life after rugby as I thought I was. Certainly not in terms of my emotions anyway. I knew what I was going to be doing in the 'after life' but I clearly hadn't addressed the issues mentally or thought about the changes that it would bring emotionally. The phrase "you don't know what you've got until it's gone" works perfectly.
As a player I didn't find it easy to think about how lucky I was to have the opportunity to play for so long. It's difficult to stop and think like that during your career. I found I needed my head firmly concentrated on what I needed to be doing to make sure I was getting as much as I could from my body and my game. I immersed myself daily in what I needed to be doing, the practicalities of being a professional and maybe didn't spend enough time in the 'now'. Perhaps I should have spent longer thinking about my career in general as the 'present' and how lucky I was to be in it rather than more detailed focus. I was unbelievably lucky in so many ways. I played in some amazing games, with some amazing teams and players, experienced an incredible amount, played for my country and have met some of the most amazing friends. But it's only now that I realise that. I have had seventeen of the best years of my life and I didn't properly understand that. Not until now. Now that it's gone from me.
I miss having team mates around me and the camaraderie created within a team environment. The banter was pretty savage at times but it's part and parcel of everyday life as a professional player and you grow to love the bizarre conversations saved for grimy changing rooms. That said, the businesses I am working in involve some brilliant people who have both played and love sport so that still exist to a larger extent which is great. As players we didn't just don't go out at the weekend and put our bodies on the line for each other, rugby bound us together in some way. Take the guys I played with in Newcastle. I remember those days like they were yesterday and recently we all met up to play in a 'Legends' game at Kingston Park. It was like we were back together again and I loved it. What you have as a player and the bonds you create with the players you play with will never be taken away from us. There have been special people throughout my career and I am determined not to let them go. Friends are made through sport at all levels and it's one of my post career goals to keep those special friendships going. That said, I miss being around them everyday.
I have worked incredible hard on my post rugby career life and I have several business interests including a business I am hoping will make a big impact on grassroots rugby, Everything4Rugby. Building something like this business has similar challenges to when I was playing and I enjoy that. As a player I have spent my whole rugby career being told what to do, what to eat, what to wear and what time to be somewhere. Having to solve those problems, however minor they might seem to you as readers, is something I find refreshing. I'm creating my own path and setting my own agenda which is a fantastic position to be in. I would struggle to move into a job where I am in an office all day being told what to do, it wouldn't fit with where I am right now. I really do enjoy what I am up to, it's a big change but I have loved working in the media, helping manage current players and as mentioned, working on my own business. That said, I feel like I am holding onto my old career in some way and I'm finding it very difficult to move on completely.
I enjoy training and going to the gym but unless I go every week day I feel like I am letting myself down. I know I don't have to go but it's ingrained in me. I want to eat cleanly during the week and it bothers me when I might have something that I wouldn't have eaten during my career. I don't need to worry about that but I do. I actively think about it and I know I don't have to act like that but I do and I'm finding it hard to stop. Perhaps this is going to be a slow process, it certainly seems that way. I'm trying my best to fill that void and find that meaning in my life and I hope that what I am trying to create with the interests I have off field form together to fill that void. They need to as it feels pretty big at the moment.