Having a day job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Just ask Canadian Olympic swimmer Mike Brown, who for a year wore a suit and tie to work, then realized he’d rather still be in the pool.
This week, Brown, 26, announced his return to full-time swim training with the goal of competing at the 2012 London Olympics.
“After retiring, I came to realize how amazing life as a swimmer on the national team was and how much I missed the competition,” said Brown, from Perth, Ont. “I have since worked in a corporate office and realized that I will have the opportunity to pursue a business career anytime, but being a world-class athlete has a time frame attached to it. Having an opportunity to represent Canada at a third Olympics and having another shot at the podium is an opportunity I can’t pass up.”
Brown worked as a commercial real estate agent in Calgary and quite enjoyed it, but prefers being an athlete. He’s already spent eight years on the national team, highlighted by his performances in the 200-metre breaststroke. Brown still holds the Canadian record in the event at 2:08.84, set in a fourth-place finish at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Meanwhile, aerialist Kyle Nissen, who placed fifth at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, has made the opposite decision. Announcing his retirement on the same day that Brown cancelled his, Nissen is now behind a desk working a summer job in accounts payable in his hometown of Calgary. At age 30, this is his first “real” job, his first summer – ever — spent indoors. It has taken some getting used to.
“It’s been a little surreal,” said Nissen. “Right now I’m trying to expose myself to as much as I can and see what I want the next phase of my life to be.”
He also plans to take advantage of the Sport Canada program that covers up to four years of post-secondary tuition for national team athletes.
“I’m so fortunate to have it paid for, it would be foolish not to take advantage of it,” said Nissen, who will start a degree in computer science at the University of Calgary in the fall. “I’m pretty excited to go back to school.”
After 10 years on the national freestyle ski team, 12 world cup medals, four world championships and two Olympic Games — not to mention the fact that he regularly performs quadruple-twisting, triple back flips from 60 feet in the air — it’s hard to believe that Nissen could be intimidated by anything. But real life is all new territory.
“I don’t think it’s ever easy for anyone to retire,” he reflected. “After the Olympics, I knew there would be a bit of a burnout after the Games. The other guys are heading back to training camps and I have no desire to do that.”
A Canadian Olympic Committee workshop helped him recognize that the skills he learned as an athlete — stress management, teamwork and perseverance — are transferable into any profession.
Funny, I remember starting my first “real” job, too, at age 30. Coming from the world of tall, heavyweight Olympic rowers, I found myself amazed at how colleagues in the newsroom seemed so ... small. And weak. (I know, I’m mean.)
It was a weird culture shock: Bringing healthy lunches from home was not the norm, never mind encountering the few diehard smokers. It’s a reality athletes are privileged to avoid — but then have to play catch up with their careers.
Whether they delay it or bring it on, retirement’s inevitable. It’s a tumultuous step. I wish these guys well.