by Steve Mesler
|Steve Mesler and Justin Olsen celebrate Olympic Gold|
This past Saturday - July 8th - marked the last day that all Olympic Teams needed to be selected and submitted to the IOC. It has been a time when hopes faded, dreams dashed, and careers ended. The challenges an athlete faces during their careers are numerous, and include the disappointment that many have felt over the course of the last couple of weeks. But what of those whose careers are ending? To most full-time athletes, sport - and training for sport - has been not just what they do - but what they are.
The transition from sport into the ‘real world’ is challenging. Lisa Szabon-Smith - in her guest post yesterday - wrote about not only the challenges she faced during her career, but how these challenges helped define her post-sporting life. In fact, she attributes much of her success today to NOT making an Olympic Team.
Steve Mesler made an Olympic Team. After a ten year career in bobsled, he retired as the United States’ most successful bobsledder of all time. He won dozens of World Cup medals, won World Championships, represented his country at three Olympic Games, and topped it off with an Olympic Gold Medal at the 2010 Olympic Games of Vancouver-Whistler, Canada in February of 2010. By all accounts, his was an outstanding career. Still though - these sporting achievements rarely equate to post-career success. I asked him to write a little about his story, and he has promised to continue with a series of posts over the coming months.
The scariest moment I faced as an athlete was when I no longer considered myself an athlete. When I retired from competitive sport after three Olympic Games, a World Championship and an Olympic Gold Medal, I was elated with what I accomplished. I decided to retire and in my head I all of a sudden no longer had the label of ‘athlete.’ When people would ask me what I was, for as far back as I could remember, I would answer with this unique thing that would almost always spark a conversation. I was special, I was different. Then one day, I wasn’t.
Every athlete goes through this – the complete loss of his or her identity. It is by far the toughest, scariest thing any athlete will experience in their career. Even though I ended my career on the highest of highs and walked away by my own doing, it didn’t make it any easier. Within a few months, once the spotlight faded, the phone stopped ringing, the emails calmed down and my support staff moved on to the next great athlete, I found myself rather alone. And often it felt like I was completely alone.
I had to deal with what I would do to fill the void left by not having something special to work towards. I loved being able to put everything I had into one goal. My favorite part of being an athlete was the fact that everyday I woke up knowing that I could get better today. Everything I did revolved around being a better athlete. How much I slept, ate, and drank aided recovery. Every single aspect of my life affected my performance and I thrived in that environment. I drank it in and it ran my life – sometimes to the detriment of those around me, though that wasn’t for me to worry about. I led a very selfish life with a very whole purpose, or at least that’s how I felt at the time…and in retrospect that was ok. It is a wonderfully all-consuming force that I still miss very much.
Every athlete goes through this, often in stages of varied length. An old friend, 2010 Olympic Silver Medalist Jeret “Speedy” Peterson went through it and perhaps couldn’t handle the lack of that force in his life anymore and sadly decided it wasn’t worth living.
|Jeret 'Speedy' Peterson|
Other athletes fumble through their transition. I was lucky. I found things that would help prop me up through the Olympic Hangover – that moment when the intoxication of being an Olympian turns to the darkness of missed or accomplished goals, which in the end often result in the same feelings. For me the greatest fears of my life didn’t last too long. But with the London Olympics around the corner, know that every athlete that is in the twilight of their career is certain they are about to encounter the scariest moment of their lives. They see it coming - and it scares the hell out of them.