Susan Hesk.                

                  Where do retired sports people go?

Following the career of a winning sports person can be exhilarating. It’s almost as if you become that famous rugby player/tennis champion or Olympic sprinter. With their seemingly endless reserves of youth, stamina and intense focus, watching and cheering for your chosen athlete becomes an obsession. Witnessing their rise from champion, to super champion, to world champion is thrilling. Adrenalin fills lounges and pubs each time a sporting victory is achieved. Voices cheer, back slapping and spontaneous jigging erupts. Successes are posted all over social media within minutes.  Internationally, front page newspapers; tell stories of record braking success.

Ever wondered what happens when infamous sports people retire from their dedicated training schedules and constant pressures to win? What happens when their time trials reveal mediocre results and back, knee or muscle injuries start impinging on performance? They retire. Competitive sport being their primary source of income means that their financial modus operandi might also retire.

Let’s take a look at two infamous Olympic athletes and find out where they are now. Remember Mark Spitz, born 1950, the then fastest free style swimmer in the world? He won seven Olympic medals and in1972, at the Summer Olympics in Munich, broke the world record. Fit, determined and powered by lightening, he propelled through water like a speed boat. One can only imagine the number of dedicated training hours in his schedule, his mental tenacity, talent and sheer consistent determination.

Now, at sixty nine Mark is a campaigner against the use of drugs in sport.  He coaches and mentors young aspirant swimmers. In 2008 he  presented Michael Phelps, the new title holder of the fastest swimmer in the world, with an Olympic medal. Mark has slowly and silently slipped from stardom into almost oblivion. Mention Mark Spitz now and a handful of people may remember him.

A similar situation rest with our own home  grown Gonda Beatrix. Springbok show jumping  champion ,who in 1992 competed in the Barcelona Olympics. What a feat. Especially as at the time, South Africa was amputated from the rest of the world due to discriminatory – exclusionary Apartheid policies. Gonda took South African show jumping to new heights with her avid professionalism, sharp focus,  courage and tenacity. She was a winner of note. Televisions all over the world beamed her magnificent jumping skills at the Barcelona Olympics. Her career spanned forty years. How often do we hear her name today or see her on social media? Her unique jumping techniques are recorded in a book she wrote in 1992,  with friend and jumping companion, Julia Attwood- Wheeler titled:  Jumping to success.  Gonda is now seventy six. She continues to mentor and coach young aspirant show jumpers.

Knowledge comes with wisdom and wisdom comes with age and experience. It’s not something that arrives when we reach a certain age, it’s a process we work on throughout our lives. It is hoped that we have all surfed the crest of our own hay days and are now in a unique and sought after position to pass on knowledge. To write our own sporting stories and to mentor always. In the words of Mark Spitz(1988) “ Old Olympians just never sort of die, they just sort of fade away” It’s my take that yes, their fame and finite sporting body may fade away , but the knowledge and unique skills accumulated through experience and over time,  can never die. Their stories will live on indefinably. So hears to you Mark ,Gonda and all the other retired sports people here and no longer here. We salute you.