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Life after Olympics: Christina Jones finds freedom with Cirque du Soleil

Christina Jones is now a synchronized swimmer in the Cirque du Soleil show, "O". Before she became part of the production, she was a 2008 Olympian. 8/22/16 (Courtesy: "O" by Cirque du Soleil | Christina Jones)

For most, the Olympics are a sporting spectacle that happens every four years. But for the Olympians, the Olympic games are top of mind every day. But after the pomp and circumstance, the medals and confetti, what comes next?

Most people go through a minor post-Olympic depression. Suddenly, the news isn’t focused on remarkable athleticism, inspirational backstories, and sportsmanship. Politics and war are front and center once more, and everyone goes back to their normal routines.

I never gave much thought to what would come after my Olympic experience in 2008. Of course, I had rough goals and dreams for my future, but I never had the time or energy to really hammer out the details. Every waking minute was dedicated to my Olympic dream.

Immediately following the Beijing Olympic Games, I shipped all of my belongings home in a box and took off on a month-long backpacking expedition through Southeast Asia. When I finally touched down on U.S. soil, it was time to celebrate my 21st birthday. After this succession of adrenaline-filled experiences, it hit me: what was I going to do next?

Until that moment, I had been told what to eat, what to wear, what to think, and where to be. Virtually every minute of my day had been accounted for. All of a sudden, I found myself faced with some very unfamiliar freedoms.

I traveled the world some more, started taking a few classes at Diablo Valley College, and toyed with the idea of returning to competition.

Then something unexpected happened. I received a phone call from my team's Olympic Choreographer, Stephan Miermont, who was an original cast member of Cirque du Soleil’s production “O” at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. He informed me that there was a need for a synchronized swimmer at “O”, and wondered if I would be willing to move from the San Francisco Bay Area to Las Vegas within the next few weeks.

It didn’t take me long to make my decision. Before I knew it, my bags were packed and I was off to Sin City!

It was time for me to transition from an elite athlete to an artist, Cirque style. I had pushed my body to the limits of competitive synchronized swimming, but suddenly I was presented with a whole new world and unfamiliar set of challenges.

In competitive synchronized swimming, every move is set, matched, and timed perfectly. We even take crucial gasps of air in sync! Cirque allowed me freedom to express and explore my artistic side. While we do have set choreography at “O”, we also have points in the show where we have the privilege of doing what we feel in the moment.

I will never forget learning a portion of the show which requires us to get up off the stage in a way that we would if gravity was multiplied. We have to feel heavy and really struggle to stand up. In another part, we have to "laugh with our feet.” The synchronized swimmers even get to do harness work and get lifted out of the water at “O”, and all of these new experiences made me feel alive and fresh again.

In my eyes, performing for Cirque is a synchronized swimmer’s way to “go pro”. I fell completely in love with my sport in a way that I had never imagined, and I feel privileged to be able to have a career based on the athletic skills I spent my whole life developing.

I started to wonder how my newly developed artistry and body awareness could improve my performance as a competitor, so I returned to competition in 2010 and 2015. Last summer, my duet partner Bill May (another performer at “O”) and I brought home the gold from the World Championships. I had retired in 2008 thinking I had fulfilled my competitive goals, and then there I was seven years later. I became a world champion for the first time.

I am eternally thankful for lessons I learned from being an Olympian. Among them, persistence, perfectionism, sportsmanship, respect, dedication, and the value of hard work. I feel I’m able to apply these lessons to any situation life throws at me. I’m also grateful for the opportunity to develop as an artist and collaborate with people from other countries and cultures with Cirque.

The Olympics will always be very special to me. Although I didn’t compete, the 2016 Rio Olympic Games offered a new set of challenges when I became the Olympic Analyst for News 3. I was able to study and scrutinize every facet of the Games from a new perspective, I became more familiar with sports I hadn’t been exposed to, and learned about athletes from all over the world. I was able to appreciate the Games in a completely different way.

As a 6-year-old, I had no idea my hobby would become an Olympic dream and then earn me a dream artistic career with Cirque du Soleil. What I did know was that I loved the feel of the water, the spark and energy of performing, and the challenge to improve, collaborate and perfect my skills. So, what comes next for these Olympians who are heading home after the Closing Ceremony? To me, it seems anything and everything is possible.

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