Kelli Tennant’s New Book Tackles Very Real Issue
by Oritt Blum and Michael Sones
IF client and Time Warner Cable SportsNet host Kelli Tennant has not always felt comfortable in her own skin. In her new book, “The Transition: Every Athlete’s Guide to Life After Sports,” she shares her own story, which starts with her as a healthy college athlete. During her sophomore year at the University of Southern California, the volleyball co-captain was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, a syndrome that reveals itself in the form of long-term pain in the body, including tenderness in the joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues. It is also often linked to fatigue, headaches, depression, and anxiety.
“I lost my sport, I lost a lot of my friends, I was very ill so I didn’t feel well. It just sent me on this really bad downward spiral and I felt really lonely. It took me a long time to come out of that and realize that there was more to life than what people thought of me as ‘Kelli the Volleyball Player’,” Tennant shares.
During her time at Fox Sports West, Tennant had creative freedom to write weekly articles on different USC topics. One such week, she decided to open up to her readers about her difficult experience transitioning away from competitive sports. She had no expectations, but rather a sudden impulse to share. She didn’t even run the idea by her boss before submitting it at deadline. When it was posted the following morning, she was very taken aback by the response.
“I was flooded with comments and thank yous – even my boss emailed me and commended me for being so courageous by sharing my story. I had friends calling me crying that they were so sorry they weren’t there for me. I couldn’t believe what I had done – that I had told people that I had so many problems. I realized that it was okay to admit that I had gone through something really bad, because everyone else told me they went through it as well and had felt similarly, that they were alone,” says Tennant.
While she appreciated all the support and encouragement, Tennant had no intentions beyond the article. It wasn’t until her conversation with a close friend, Sean Farnham, that she realized this was much bigger than her story.
“My friend Sean (Farnham), called me and he said- ‘If you don’t turn this into a book, I’m going to be really disappointed in you. This is your life mission,’ recounts Tennant. “From then on, I decided that I just had to do this. It took me about five years, a lot of drafts, and a lot of doubts, but it’s finally here.”
Tennant knew that discussing her experience was a big part of the process. She also knew that to address the overall issue of transitioning to life after sports, it would require more voices than just her own. She includes stories shared by Luke Walton, Marcellus Wiley, Curtis Conway, Rebecca Soni, and Travis Hannah.
“There are countless athletes and coaches, current and former, that share their stories on the pages of this book. That’s what I really wanted because my story is very unique- not everyone gets sick- and I think a lot of others are more similar to what other people go through. I really wanted to have a collective effort of stories that so many different types of people, types of athletes, could relate to. I think I was able to do that in a lot of ways,” Tennant says.
Tennant acknowledges that there is no right or wrong way to make the transition. Her book focuses in on common theme’s between the stories and how to address them. She discusses shedding the athlete identity, the importance of networking, and using skills as an athlete in the real world, to list a few.
“My goal from day one has not been to be a New York Times bestseller, but rather how many kids can I impact with this book? I want to help them realize they don’t want to commit suicide, they don’t want to be depressed, that they want to be out in the world and find their new passion. That they realize they are valued, that they are more important than what they do on the field. To me, if I don’t put it out there and if I don’t do everything I can to get this in the hands of athletes, than I have failed,” says Tennant.
Tennant’s dream for this project goes way beyond the bookshelf. She sees the importance of schools creating programs to educate their athletes on life beyond sports, but understands that for many schools that is not financially realistic. This is her cheaper- for lack of a better word- solution.
“To have the book is an incredible resource. I know not everyone is going to want to use it, or need to use it, but I think the people that do need it the most will have it, and that’s what matters. It allows schools to help their student athletes the way they say they want to, but also not take away funds from them,” says Tennant. “I would love to see it be integrated into rookie symposiums and events that prepare athletes for what they’re about to embark on because it’s successful for only a very few. What do the rest of them do? I want them to feel prepared, that people care, that they are not fighting this battle alone.”
While Tennant’s hopes are to help other people, she admits that the writing of the book itself has helped her change.
“A lot of times, especially in this business, you sort of have to put up a wall and protect yourself. There are a lot of people that want to know everything about your life, and I’m not normally one to unveil much, so this has broken that down for me and allowed me to grow deeper bonds with people. Anytime you become extremely transparent and share something that is really tough for or meaningful to you, it breaks down your barrier and allows people into the core of who you are. I feel a sense of peace and openness from being able to do that, and, in a sense, powerful by taking control of my own story and using it for the right reasons. It’s a really awesome, empowering feeling that I want other people to have by sharing things that may not be easy for them,” says Tennant.
As to her thoughts on the final product?
“It’s crazy because you envision something and it doesn’t always turn out that way. In this case,it turned out exactly the way I thought and hoped it would. I couldn’t be happier with it.”
Purchase a copy of Kelli’s book here
Follow Kelli on twitter: @KelliTennant