After an injury kept her from the 2010 Olympics, figure skater Sasha Cohen had to find a new purpose

By Eileen Finan
February 02, 2018 12:00 PM
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When injuries ended Sasha Cohen’s hopes for a second Olympic medal in 2010, the future felt uncertain.

A figure skater known for her elegant flexibility — her coach once said she was incapable of putting her body into an ugly position — Cohen says her life as an Olympian was “so clear.”

“I’d wake up every morning with a plan for the day, and the year, and the next four years,” the 33-year-old tells PEOPLE. “I was on this train and everything else blurred on the side.”

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But after tendinitis in her calf kept her from qualifying in 2010, the 2006 silver medalist had to find a new focus: “Once you leave that world of being an elite athlete to find your place in the broader world, that kind of clarity is hard to find.”

Cohen had dabbled in acting — she appeared on CSI: NY and had a role in the film Moondance Alexander with Don Johnson in 2007 — but it took returning to school to find a new passion.

“I’ve asked myself a lot of questions and have done some deep work philosophically speaking, and I’ve found I’m the most happy when I have a sense of purpose,” says Cohen, who graduated from Columbia University in 2016 with a degree in political science. “My goal now is to establish a second career where I feel engaged and where I’m adding value.”

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She thinks she’s found that purpose as an associate with financial firm Morgan Stanley, where she researches disruptive changes in the economy. “It’s intellectually very interesting — I’m looking at emerging trends that will transform the way we live,” she says.

Cohen’s had her own fair share of disruptive change recently.

She’s going through a divorce from hedge fund manager Tom May, whom she married in August 2016, but she fills her Instagram with images of her adventures across the globe, the kind of experiences she never had time for as an athlete.

“I don’t miss how small my world was,” she says of her days as a skater. “It was literally my bed, the ice rink, the gym, physical therapy, my mom and my coach and my family on holidays. I missed social bonding and just that careless type of exploration.”

People’s special issue The Best of Olympic Figure Skating is available now in the Time Inc. store, on Amazon, and wherever magazines are sold.

She’s also made time for a project close to her heart: speaking up for at-risk children. Last year, she met with senators on Capitol Hill to urge continued funding for a program providing home visits for at-risk families, and also wrote an op-ed column on the topic.

“We invest so much money in the criminal justice system when it’s frankly too late. Investing dollars at an early age has the most impact, before kids fall behind,” she says.

While Cohen’s competitive skating days are in the past and her future isn’t certain, the Olympic veteran says she’s okay with that.

“In 10 to 20 years, where I see myself remains to be seen,” she says. “I’ll never be a cut-and-dry, one label person.”