Running marathons saved former tennis player Monica Puig from falling into a deep state of depression and sorrow.

Running marathons saved former tennis player Monica Puig from falling into a deep state of depression and sorrow.

CNN  — 

Monica Puig has achieved victory in over 300 matches throughout her tennis career, and the emotions that followed were consistently a mix of relief, thrill, and contentment. This was a result of the dedication and hard work she put in for weeks and months leading up to the matches.

Exactly one year later, Puig is able to relive the emotions of victory without having to use a tennis racket or set foot on a court, as she was forced to retire at the age of 28 due to shoulder problems.

She has 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 now halfway to achieving her goal of finishing all six of the world’s major marathons by 2024.

Puig shares with CNN Sport that every time they complete a marathon and achieve a new personal record, they become emotional and have even shed tears.

“I have been struck by the power of my actions, as I could have easily given in to tears and self-pity while sitting on the couch. However, I chose to redirect that energy towards something more productive, using it to fuel my career aspirations.”

Puig describes completing a marathon as a unique experience, similar yet different from winning a tennis match. In tennis, there is a heightened sense of pressure with rankings, international recognition, and monetary rewards at stake.

Puig has swapped tennis rackets for running shoes over the past year.

However, the feeling of individual fulfillment she experiences from running has remained, providing some relief from the lasting sadness of her retirement from tennis.

Puig explains that it’s important for her to demonstrate that she was able to overcome the potential of succumbing to depression and sorrow when she had to end her career prematurely.

“I managed to bounce back and discover a new source of drive that encourages me to jump out of bed each day, to maintain my strength, fitness, and enjoy life simultaneously.”

In 2014, Puig achieved her highest career ranking of No. 27 in the world and also earned a WTA Tour title. Two years later, she made history by winning an Olympic gold medal in Rio, becoming the first Puerto Rican to do so.

Puig, a tennis player, used to view running as a form of penalty rather than a source of pleasure. However, during her recovery from injuries, she found that it helped her clear her mind. Gradually, she began to push herself further and further, increasing the distance of her runs from three to five miles, then to eight, and eventually completing half and full marathons.

Currently, Puig is aiming to participate in triathlons and complete the remaining major marathons in Chicago, Berlin, and Tokyo. Her initial half Ironman race, consisting of a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and 13.1-mile run, will take place in Augusta, Georgia in September. She also intends to compete in another half Ironman in her home country of Puerto Rico next year.

Puig competes at last year's New York City Marathon.

As an amateur runner and triathlete, transitioning from her previous life as a top-ranked tennis player in the world was a significant change for Puig. However, she believes that her past experience has positively impacted her current athletic pursuits.

She explains that in all three areas, you are essentially competing against yourself. You have the potential to be your biggest obstacle or your biggest cheerleader. Your mindset can either propel you forward or hold you back.

“I wouldn’t say my mental strength was my biggest asset in tennis, as I often struggled with negative thoughts. However, I believe that mental maturity comes at different times for everyone.”

Participating in marathons and triathlons has greatly contributed to my mental growth and development of a can-do mindset in all aspects of my life. My dedication to tennis has also instilled discipline within me. This discipline has been instrumental in maintaining my physical fitness and staying focused on my goals.

Puig’s tennis career came to an end when she underwent elbow surgery in 2019 and subsequently had three shoulder surgeries in three years. Although she made a comeback at the Madrid Open in 2020, her shoulder issues continued to hinder her performance.

Puig said there were instances when she was unable to sleep on the injured side due to the intense shoulder pain. Additionally, the emotional strain of continuous rehabilitation and being away from regular competition on the tour for almost four years was becoming overwhelming.

Puig plays a shot at the 2019 China Open in Beijing.

Puig describes the experience as trying to push a heavy stone up a mountain, but feeling squashed by the weight as he continued to make progress.

“I firmly believed in my ability to make a comeback. Despite facing challenges, I was determined to return to competitive play last year.”

“During my recent visit with the surgeon, I was informed that my shoulder is not in good condition. The doctor expressed concern about continuously having to perform surgeries to address any issues that arise.”

Puig is not completely ready to give up on tennis. She still has hopes of playing exhibition matches in the future. Recently, she returned to the practice court, but had to manage the expectations of fans who saw footage of her on social media and thought she was making a competitive comeback.

Puig has continued to be active in the sport as a commentator, allowing her to interact with the game in a new manner compared to when she was a player.

“When I provide commentary or watch matches, I have observed a significant improvement in my understanding of the game,” she states. “I feel more intelligent and able to notice and analyze things. I now study the game much more effectively than 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 what I have learned and incorporate it into my game on the court.

Puig became the first-ever Olympic gold medalist from Puerto Rico at the 2016 Rio Games.

Puig mentions that she still longs for tennis, specifically when she observes her peers excelling at grand slam tournaments.

She has come to terms with the fact that her shoulder will never be the same as it was before her surgeries. Despite this, she is working on improving her swimming technique to prepare for Ironman triathlons.

Puig acknowledges that she has found a new approach to managing her shoulder and recognizes that if she experiences pain, it is acceptable to pause, rest, and communicate that she is not feeling her best.

“Last year, whenever I attempted to return, I would push through discomfort which did not feel pleasant. It was incredibly difficult and caused many tears.”

Instead of what she had before, she has now cultivated “a fresh existence” and “a different approach.”

Puig expresses his desire to continue participating in triathlons and Ironman events throughout his entire life, citing inspiration from people in their fifties and sixties who are still actively involved in these activities.

“I aim to keep pursuing this… I am unsure of how far I will go, but the possibilities are endless.”