NEW YORK -- It's only been two months since two-time Olympic gold medal-winning decathlete Ashton Eaton and Olympic bronze-winning heptathlete Brianne Theisen-Eaton officially retired from competition, but the power couple has already set new goals for the future.
While they both continue their roles as national ambassadors with Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Team In Training, they are looking to start an educational institution in the United States that would act as a pathway between high school and college. With their sights set on high school graduates in the 18-20 age group, they said the institution will have athletic requirements and be open to students who can't afford college. Theisen-Eaton is also launching a website to provide a medium for people to understand their diets and what would work best for their systems.
In a candid conversation with ESPN.com, the Eatons talk about those post-Olympics plans, life with their new Bernedoodle puppy, Zora, and how their dynamics have changed as a couple:
Question from ESPN.com: You've been out of the Olympic bubble for a while. Change of heart?
Ashton and Brianne: No change of heart.
Ashton: Life is pretty good. We knew that it was close to the end for us. But we decided (later on) that instead of being close, it was the end for us athletically. So now we are just kind of doing our own thing, figuring out what we are going to do next and trying to move on.
Q: How is life postretirement? You have posted on social media that you've been hiking, traveling quite a bit.
Brianne: During last fall, we traveled a lot. We hiked a lot. We went to the Amazon, which was cool, and then we did Machu Picchu. Our travel schedules were so crazy, we never really had time for ourselves to just figure out what we might want to do next, so we kind of slowed everything down and spent more time at home.
Q: So, what does comes next?
Ashton: We are thinking of starting some kind of an educational institution to bridge the gap between high school and college, because there are a lot of people who don't make it to college, and I think even the ones that do, for the most part, they are kind of like, "What am I doing here? What's the purpose of this?" And so, just making a system that helps people identify their purpose and getting the skills to accomplish it.
It would be a pretty dynamic institution. ... I think it would have a lot of requirements: You have to do something physical every day. It would be a campus -- a pretty big campus -- and people could stay there. Also, this would be good for people who couldn't even afford to go to something like a university. I would like a lot of land for it. I know the U.S. system the best. I know what it is like to grow up in the U.S and the education system here, so it would probably be here.
Q: You've been doing a lot to help kids. Anything new you have in mind apart from the educational institution?
Brianne: I like to cook, and I am really into food and food education, because obviously in North America we have obesity problems that need to be addressed. There are a lot of people out there who are confused. We have a lot of misinformation from the food industry. Not only does information need to be given to educate people about how food actually works in your body and how your body digests it, but also make it super simple. ... We have a website that we (posted) stuff on when we were athletes: weareeaton.com. On June 1, I am relaunching that with the same URL to start this and see where it goes.
Q: After having specific goals all your life, what do you do now to fulfill the drive?
Brianne: I feel like the drive has worn out for a little bit. We are just enjoying not having to do anything. We've been going out once a week with friends. It's definitely getting channeled into other things, with Ashton's interests and mine.
Ashton: It's a nice feeling to feel like you're actually contributing to the world in a more practical way. In sports, you are just doing something, but it is entertainment. You are not giving much outside of inspiration. To actually say, "OK, now I have the chance to give something that's useful and that would help your life," it's kind of nice to have that goal, instead of just having a personal one as an athlete.
Q: You've had such strict training regimen all your life. What do you do to stay fit now?
Ashton: I think trying to be healthy is a good motivation.
Brianne: When we are working on something and we are flustered and things are not going well, and even if we just go for a run, our mind becomes more clear. We do some of that. It needs to be a part of our daily life because we function better when we go out and done something. It's just we do whatever we want to do. If we feel like going for a run, we go for a run. If we feel like going for a hike, we do that.
Q: Is there something you did that you've always wanted to do, but never got a chance to because of track?
Ashton: We did snowboarding this winter, which was amazing.
Brianne: We are hooked on it. Our friends have been trying to get us into climbing. We haven't done it yet, but we've talked about mountain biking. We have been trail running, which we couldn't do before. We've done more hiking.
Q: Ashton, you said in an interview once that both your emotional levels are always up there. Now that you have some time to reflect on the emotional roller coaster you've had, how do you think you did it?
Brianne: The way we were, we were like, "OK, this is the goal. You achieved it." And an hour later, or if we are lucky, a day later, we were like, "OK, next thing." We never sat down to think and say, "OK, we reached that goal." We were always like, "OK, cool, what are we doing tomorrow for training?" It can be bad in a way because we never once soaked it in or appreciated it. This is the first time we have taken a step back and said, "Wow, we are actually satisfied with what we did." We realized it by, all of a sudden, taking a step back after Rio from being so focused to, "OK, what next?" and both of us realizing, "I don't know if there is something that we want to do."
Ashton: It was mission accomplished. Let's do something else now.
Q: You've always worked toward making decathlon/heptathlon more popular and accessible by being great athletes. How do you think you're going to continue doing that?
Ashton: I think we set a bar for people to shoot for. You're going to probably see a lot of women from Canada who are probably really inspired by Brianne. I think that kind of moves the event forward, because there is nobody who's done anything like what she's done in that country. And same thing for me in the U.S. People who probably never thought about doing it might get interested in it.
Brianne: We will always be involved in track and field because we love the sport, whether it is just going to future Olympics, or events, and supporting people. I don't know how or when I'd get involved in this, but having been to two Olympics and seeing some of the issues around it and athletes' rights -- seeing my sponsors not get recognition for all the support they have given me, that bothers me, and that needs to change. If I were to become really involved in the future, it would be something around that angle. It is hard as an athlete to (speak) about that because you are worried about what consequences there will be for you. The question of "Am I going to be able to compete?" comes up. Being outside of the sport now, there's nothing that can happen to me now.
Q: You have a new puppy now. What is it like having a new member in the family?
Ashton: Zora is great. She is teaching us a lot about ourselves.
Brianne: She is a good dog. Our whole day's schedule revolves around when she eats. We have puppy classes on Saturdays; those classes wear me out, and I don't even do anything.
Q: No chance of Mars, but maybe a trip to the moon is in the cards?
Ashton: I still think it would be good to go check it out. I was never really a space kid who wanted to be an astronaut or anything, but the first few people who landed on (the) moon, those people are awesome. It's probably not in the cards. (He looks to Brianne and smiles.)
Q: You've said in several interviews that you both are very competitive, even at home. Who usually wins at home?
Brianne: Sometimes, we won't go for runs together, but we will go for runs separately. We've never been distance runners, so we never tracked how fast my lap is. Now, Ashton will go for a run and he will say, "I went three miles," and I will be like, "How fast did you run?"
Ashton: She is actually faster than me long distance. So, it's pretty much, "I am not going to run with you anymore." (Laughs.)