The most common question I was asked after announcing I was hanging up the fur was, “Why now?” Well, I always heard people say their goal was to retire at 40. So I figured I'd try it. And let me tell you, it was A-mazing! If you get the chance, DO IT. However I'm not the type to sit still, so with my retirement over and my new career starting, I figured I'd write down a few things I realized while on my #RetirementTour.
I didn't know it at the time, but my last appearance as Jaxson was May 23, 2015 (In case it's ever on Jeopardy) for a birthday party we awarded to a season ticket member as part of the JAGS365 program. That next week, some discussions I'd been having with my friend from a Jacksonville TV station developed into an exciting opportunity. The rigors of 19 years as a professional mascot had been piling up for the last few seasons, so I was already looking out the window like the Duck in the SportsCenter commercial. I had been working on and planning this move to media for probably over a decade, and now that repeated manifesting of my goal had materialized.
Realization - SAY IT OUT LOUD. It works!
It's one thing to get an offer and think about leaving this two-decade career I cherished, but to truly make it "real" I had to tell the team. So I met with Mark Lamping and shared my desire to move on. He asked me if I was sure, and that to make a decision like this, it might be best to take some time completely away from the job. I respect Mark and appreciate his friendship so I listened to his advice. I took about a week, and there was no doubt the time was now. However the announcement wasn't to be made for a few weeks due to both our schedules. I was excited about the future, but was also aware that this was going to be one of the most emotional life transitions I'd ever been through. Only a few of my closest friends knew what was happening at this point, and they knew what I needed.
Realization - Good friends won't tell on ya...GREAT friends will help you hide the evidence!
#RetirementTour stop 1: Golf, Guns and Good Times
You may not think those three things go together, but THEY DO! We headed to Oldfield up in South Carolina for three rounds of golf and a day of shooting clays. Everyone plays golf when they retire and I love golf, so it fit. I played 54 holes a total of 5 over par and won the most money, but as always, it was much less money than the bar tabs ended up being. They should change the saying to, "To the victor goes the bar tabs!" The clay shooting resulted in more great times, and surprisingly, no major injuries or wounds.
Realization - When your friend secures a ride home from a local and they are driving the opposite direction from where you're staying, they don't appreciate you telling them they don't know where they're going, no matter how painfully obvious it is on your phone.
#RetirementTour stop 2: Pride Week
It was a bachelor party trip for another great friend that we planned months earlier and chose Key West and those dates without knowing it was Pride Week. You might be thinking those things don't go together, and again, THEY DO! One of the best bachelor parties I've ever been on, and the best trip to Key West of all the ones I've taken. Now due to clearly unwritten laws, I have no recollection of any details except that we had a blast.
Realization - Keep an open mind and love always wins.
#RetirementTour stop 3: Crash a Cheerleader Calendar Shoot
So I'm in Key West till the 14th and realize the Roar leave out of Miami on the ferry to Bimini on the 15th. The press release of my retirement isn't coming out ‘til the 23rd. So, should I buy a ticket on the ferry and surprise the ladies? OF COURSE I should...so I did! Best decision EVER! It was amazing and exactly what I needed to process the emotions that we're building inside me about the looming retirement. I'm a known fanatic of sunsets and I didn't miss a single one while there. The anniversary of my Mom’s passing is June 17th, and at her request, we spread her ashes at sea. So sitting on a deserted beach in one of the most beautiful places on this planet surrounded by the ocean is EXACTLY where I was supposed to be. We had a great talk that day.
Realization - Being on, in or simply staring at the ocean is like a white blood cell for my soul.
#RetirementTour stop 4: The Announcement
June 23, 2015, back home in Duval. I can honestly say I've never had a more emotional and completely overwhelming single day of my life. I figured it would be difficult but I never imagined it would be what it was. I tried to read all the posts on various websites and social media and reply to the texts and emails but could not make it through them because of how many times I had to put the phone down for fear of water damage. I can't possibly explain what that felt like and I'll never be able to thank everyone enough for the sentiments you expressed.
Realization - I didn't know I was making memories, I just knew I was having fun!
#RetirementTour stop 5: It’s Not You, It’s Me
There are no such things as coincidences. Of this, I am certain. It was about a month ago, my buddy has this trip to the Abacos planned with a chartered flight, and it's all couples and families. His "relationship" ends abruptly with a cliché via text, and now there is an available seat on the plane. He asked me if I wanted it. I said yes, because saying no seemed ridiculous. We left 3 days after the announcement, with my head still spinning. I made a bunch of new friends and took plenty of time alone to process what had just happened back home. It was now real, I was done with an amazing chapter of my life and one thought became so clear by the end of the trip: I can't wait to write the next chapter!
Realization - Sports brings people together in support of a team. But, what we're really brought together to do is support each other!