‘You won’t be able to compete anymore,’ is the beginning of the lump in your throat traveling down to the pit of your stomach.
More and more, professional athletes are discussing the health issues that have left them with no choice but to walk away from the language they’ve spoken all of their lives. But as a current or former university athlete, it’s never the wrong time to look back on what your craft has built for your future.
Take a cue from former Vancouver Canucks defenseman Derek Dorsett. Dorsett was forced into a quick retirement after spinal cord issues left him in no shape to continue his career in the NHL. That shouldn’t be any reason to cut Dorsett’s achievements down, though. The hockey globetrotter was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2006 and played for Austria’s Salzburg EC in 2012. Dedicated to his craft, Dorsett played 10 seasons in the NHL, and was awarded with the Fred J. Hume Award in 2015 and 2018.
Many athletes have never experienced the deck of cards Craig Cunningham was handed either. In 2016, Cunningham suffered an acute cardiac arrest on the ice before the start of an AHL game. With talent and four seasons in the NHL under his belt, Cunningham is making the most of his knowledge as a pro scout for the Arizona Coyotes — a newfound occupation most could only dream of.
Student athletics are no different, especially if you are fresh off the ice. The NHL has recently been developing new and young players, which is your cue to remind yourself of who you played well against or scored on between the pipes. The coolest men and women are the ones with the clipboards in the audience — trust me, official and Will Smith à la Men in Black doesn’t even begin to describe them.
Physicians aren’t the last face that all athletes see before deciding to retire. Take Nashville Predators former captain Mike Fisher, for example. Fisher announced his retirement for the second time in his 18th NHL season in May this year. At the end of last summer, he’d said that choosing to walk away from the game was a hard decision, but that it seemed right. His comeback was propelled by the possibility of the Predators winning the Stanley Cup this past season. But as time progressed, it seemed his lengthy NHL legacy was all he needed, stating that “I’ve milked this cow as long as it’ll go.”
If you are a Jack or Jill of all trades, you may relate to Chad Brownlee a little bit more. Drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in 2003, the 34-year-old found his true passion outside of the barn. Well, maybe not exactly. After leaving the ice due to injuries, Brownlee now has six Canadian Country Music Association Award nominations and nine top-10 singles. His fate in country music was likely going to happen one way or another.
As a student athlete, you don’t have to drop your guitar or your love for design to fulfill your sports psyche. Being dedicated to the game can land you exactly where you need to be, but who’s to say you can’t balance a little something else too?
Another misconception about being an athlete is that you can’t pick anything too time consuming in university. Myron Rolle, drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2010, is a prime candidate to squash those negative notions.
Rolle impressively landed a neurosurgery residency at Harvard Medical School after joining the field to explore his concerns about concussions in the NFL. He now serves as a mentor, educating younger players on equipment to avoid brain injury.
The list of pro athletes thriving in retirement doesn’t end there. With determination like Rolle’s, you could not only prevent future accidents in other people’s lives, but your background in sports could also help with research and education. Ever thought of sitting on the board of a choice foundation or council? You could also start workshops or lend your skills as a sports broadcaster, or even join The Varsity as a writer!
As a former pupil of your craft, you don’t have to strip yourself of the athlete title. Training your whole life is something to take great pride in and creates a whole new set of avenues you could venture into. If you sit with the thought for even just a minute, it’s an extremely great quality to have — even if the pro league isn’t cutting a piece in your résumé.
If I could give you any advice on considering the highway of careers, it would be to take the long way home — it’s a beautiful one.