Monica Puig had a successful tennis career, winning over 300 matches. The common emotions she experienced afterwards were relief, excitement, and satisfaction, knowing that her hard work and dedication over the weeks and months had finally paid off.
One year after retiring at 28 due to shoulder problems, Puig can still experience the victorious feelings without needing to play tennis or go on the court.
She has recently taken up the challenge of running marathons, starting with New York City and then completing back-to-back races in Boston and London earlier this year. She is determined to finish all six of the world’s major marathons by 2024 and is already halfway there.
Puig shared with CNN Sport that each time they complete a marathon and achieve a new personal best time, they become emotional and have shed tears.
“I am amazed by my recent accomplishments, as I could have easily given in to self-pity and spent my days crying on the couch. However, I chose to redirect that energy towards something more productive, channeling my emotions about my career into my work.”
Puig describes the experience of finishing a marathon as both similar and different to winning a tennis match. In tennis, the pressure is heightened by the importance of earning rankings points, international recognition, and monetary rewards.
However, the feeling of personal fulfillment she experiences from running has remained, aiding in alleviating the lasting discomfort of her departure from tennis.
Puig explains that it’s not just about proving to others, but also to herself, that she was able to overcome the challenges of ending her career prematurely without succumbing to depression and sadness.
“I was able to bounce back and discover a new source of inspiration that drives me to wake up every morning, to maintain my strength and fitness, and to also enjoy myself.”
In 2014, Puig earned a top ranking of No. 27 in the world and claimed one WTA Tour championship. Her greatest achievement came in 2016 when she captured the Olympic gold medal in Rio, making her the first Puerto Rican athlete to win gold at the Games.
Puig, a tennis player, used to view running as a form of penalty rather than something enjoyable. However, during her rehabilitation from injuries, she found it to be a helpful way to clear her mind. Gradually, she began to challenge herself by increasing the distance of her runs. What started as three miles turned into five, then eight, and eventually she even participated in half and full marathons.
Puig’s future goals include participating in triathlons and completing the remaining major marathons in Chicago, Berlin, and Tokyo. She will be competing in her first half Ironman, which consists of a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and 13.1-mile run, in Augusta, Georgia in September. Additionally, she plans to race in another half Ironman in her hometown of Puerto Rico next year.
As an amateur runner and triathlete, it has been a significant change from her previous life as a top-ranked tennis player. However, Puig believes that her past experience in tennis has positively influenced her current athletic pursuits.
“You are in competition with yourself,” she explains regarding all three disciplines. “You are your own greatest adversary or ally. Your mindset can either motivate you or hold you back.”
“In tennis, I’m not going to say my mental fortitude was my strength because a lot of the time I didn’t know how to deal with negative thoughts, but I feel like everybody matures at their own time mentally.
Participating in marathons and triathlons has greatly contributed to my mental growth and development of a can-do attitude in all areas of my life. My dedication to tennis has also instilled a strong sense of discipline in me. This discipline has been crucial in maintaining my physical fitness and staying focused on my goals.
In 2019, Puig underwent surgery on her elbow, followed by three shoulder surgeries over the next three years. Unfortunately, this marked the end of her tennis career. She attempted a comeback at the 2020 Madrid Open, but her shoulder issues continued to affect her play.
Puig recalls moments when she was unable to sleep on the injured side due to severe shoulder pain. Additionally, the constant rehabilitation and nearly four-year absence from regular competition on the tour took a toll on her mental well-being.
Puig describes the experience as a constant struggle, as if he were trying to push a heavy stone up a steep mountain and the stone continuously pushed back, making it difficult to make progress.
“I had confidence in my ability to make a comeback. Even though it was last year, I was fully committed to returning to competitive play.”
“When I met with my surgeon following my most recent time on the court, he informed me that my shoulder was not in good condition. He also expressed concern about repeatedly operating on my shoulder to fix any issues that arise.”
Puig is not yet ready to completely give up on tennis, and has expressed interest in playing exhibition matches in the future. She recently resumed practicing on the court, but had to manage the expectations of her fans. This was due to footage posted on social media which some fans interpreted as the beginning of a competitive return.
However, Puig has continued to be involved in the sport as a broadcaster, allowing her to interact with the game in a new manner from when she was a player.
“When I commentate or watch matches, I’ve observed an improvement in my understanding of the game,” she shares. “I feel more knowledgeable and able to notice and analyze things. My study of the game has also improved compared to when I was actively playing.”
I have gained a deeper understanding of tennis and I regret not being able to continue playing so that I could apply the techniques and strategies I observe and have that knowledge translate into my performance on the court.
Puig mentions that she still longs for tennis, especially when she sees her fellow players excel at grand slams.
Since her shoulder will never fully recover from the surgeries, she has learned to embrace its limitations and is working on improving her swimming technique in order to endure the demanding Ironman-distance triathlons.
Puig states, “I have acquired the skill to manage my shoulder in a new manner. I now understand that if I experience discomfort, it is acceptable to pause, to rest, and to acknowledge that I am not functioning at full capacity.”
“I often pushed through discomfort when attempting to return last year, which was not a pleasant experience. It was extremely difficult and brought me to tears.”
Over the past year, she has created “a new life” and “a new approach” instead.
Puig expresses his desire to pursue this activity for the rest of his life, citing the inspiration of older individuals who continue to participate in triathlons and Ironman races.
“I aspire to keep pursuing this goal … I cannot predict how far I will go, but the possibilities are endless.”