As the golden girl of New Zealand swimming, Lauren Boyle enjoyed a long and fruitful career winning a glut of championship medals on the international stage.
Known for her relentless pursuit of excellence and tough-as-teak work ethic, few swimmers could match the incredible record of the freestyle specialist.
Yet after retiring from the sport in August following surgery on a long-standing hip injury, the Aucklander – who was inspired to pursue her Olympic goals watching Kiwi swim hero Danyon Loader land two gold medals at the 1996 Games in Atlanta – faced the familiar question of, "What next?"
"To go from thinking about swimming every day to doing something entirely different has been a big change," admits the three-time Olympian (30), who took up a role in institutional banking with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Auckland last year, as well as working as a guest coach and mentor with the Jetstar Super Swim Squad.
Training for up to six hours a day in the pool and gym for more than 10 years reaped rewards for Lauren, who secured no less than 14 medals at international meets during her career, including five World Championship medals and the 2014 Commonwealth Games 400m Freestyle crown.
Yet despite her whole-hearted commitment to swimming, Lauren always had an eye on the future, studying at the prestigious Haas School of Business in the US and graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.
"Leaving elite sport is a massive change," she admits. "If athletes don't address the idea of having to set a new direction and new expectations for themselves, it could be a hard experience.
"I am grateful my job has gone well. I've learned a lot in a fantastic environment."
While Lauren believes her sporting background offers many transferable skills to her current role, her daily routine has undergone a huge change.
"The lifestyle of a professional athlete can sometimes be quite lonely, but now I enjoy the opportunity to really be around people every day and working together as a team," she insists.
Yet what has not dimmed has been her passion for swimming, which started when she was a youngster training at the Tom Johnson Swim School at the old Big Top Aquatic Centre – now West Wave – in West Auckland.
Lauren still swims for up to 30 minutes three times a week and while she's no longer chasing personal bests and medals, she still enjoys the sheer thrill of being in the water.
"I didn't retire from swimming because I stopped loving it – it was because my hip didn't allow me to continue," explains Lauren, who still undertakes regular rehab exercises on her hip following surgery on a torn cartilage last May.
"It feels nice for my body to move like it did."
She will also continue to engage in swimming as a guest coach and mentor at the Super Swim Squad's annual camp in April. The Auckland meeting will feature 36 of the country's most promising young swimmers who have triumphed in each of the 200m races that form part of the New Zealand Ocean Swim Series.
It is an ongoing project the Kiwi swimming legend is excited to be a part of.
"It is a fantastic opportunity for kids to be exposed to some good coaching. I love seeing people learn and to make a difference in their progression. For me, to give something back to the swimming community is very rewarding."
Thankfully, Lauren's post-elite swimming life has also opened up many new possibilities. No longer bound by a strict regime of training, eating and sleeping, the likes of which formed her existence for many years, she now has the luxury of much more free time in which to enjoy a range of different pursuits.
In recent months, Lauren has explored different forms of exercise, including Bikram yoga, and has enjoyed both pottery and carpentry classes. On her bucket list is learning how to surf and she also has the joy of a much-improved social life, which allows her to catch up with her friends more regularly.
The two-time World Championship silver medallist also now enjoys the occasional guilt-free glass of Merlot, but she confesses she eats less today than she did in her days as a swimmer.
"I'm not expending the same amount of calories today as I did when I was training," she says.
"I still eat what some people call a strict diet."
Now entering her fourth decade, Lauren is content and enjoying this newest phase in her life, but there is little doubt – whatever it may bring – that swimming will always form an important part of her life.
"I just love to swim," she says. "Hearing the sound of the water in my ears and refining my technique to feel how it helps me move is like a meditative process."
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