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Posted on Mon. Jun. 30, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Retired series: Akers starting to make the transition

How do athletes make the move into retirement?

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Few professional athletes get the choice when to retire, and every other one is usually angry about it. Injuries happen, age limits their physical abilities or employers decide they no longer are necessary or don't want to pay the current rate.

Even fewer leave their professions healthy, partly because they retire one year too late versus one year too early.

But what happens to someone who has had to retire and lost their dream before reaching middle age? What's next after the only thing you ever wanted to do is no longer possible? How do you plan the next 30 years of your working life or replace that competitive appetite which has driven you for so long?

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Fort Wayne's Angie (Harris) Akers never planned on retiring this year, but then she never planned on being a professional beach volleyball player, either. A chronic knee injury recently forced her from the world-wide pro circuit.

``As much as I love it and want to help it grow, it was time to think about my health,'' she said from her home in Redondo Beach, Calif. ``I feel like a bird with its wings clipped, and I hate that so much. If I didn't have this injury, I'd have loved to play into my 40s, and I think I could have.''

Akers, 37, was a basketball and volleyball star at Bishop Luers before becoming a volleyball all-American at Notre Dame.

Last spring, just before the season started, she suffered a meniscal root tear in her knee.

``I told the doctor to stabilize it so I could play,'' she said. ``We had our fingers crossed and I was able to train pretty hard and play a solid three months.''

The initial surgery forced the meniscus to lay flat, but after three months it flipped again. When she went back for surgery in December, the goal was to save her meniscus, but there was no way to save her career.

``He just now told me I can start moving around and get out and play a little bit,'' she said. ``I've put some crazy wear and tear on my body.''

Now she works for the World Series of Beach Volleyball as a social media manager helping out with digital marketing.

She also has one huge advantage to other athletes who may be retiring: Her husband Jeremy was a football player at Notre Dame and in the NFL with a few teams before he retired. He's already been through exactly what she's experiencing and made a great chef, chauffeur and servant during her recovering process.

``He's been a tremendous support,'' Akers said. ``He has been so incredibly helpful and understanding. A lot of times it doesn't feel rational, but having someone like him where I don't have to make sense and he's still there to support me is unbelievable.

What's unique about their situation is that Jeremy was a retired football player before she started her pro beach career. She was working in corporate sales, but after he retired was incredibly supportive in her attempts to follow her dream. She started playing when a former college roommate called looking for a partner.

Though she hadn't played for three years, her career was amazingly successful, being named the AVP's Rookie of the Year in 2002. In 2009, she and partner Tyra Turner were ranked as the world's No. 5 team when the tour was at its peak.

How does she replace that competitive drive? So far, she's ridden her bike and worked out with Jeremy. She's still trying to figure out what to do with her competitiveness but understands she has to do something. She can't ignore it.

``What surprised me the most was how unprepared I was for it,'' she said. ``I didn't expect it to feel the way it has, and it really has felt like mourning a death. I wasn't expecting that at all, and it has really knocked me for a loop. Every athlete knows it's going to happen, but when it happens, it's your whole identity, and it's suddenly not what I do any more. Some of us lose ourselves in it, and that part of us is now gone.

``It's really the lucky ones who make the decision when they are ready and it's right for them. Those are the lucky few.''

bsebring@news-sentinel.com


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