For the End Game, There’s Game Plan
(left to right: Chandra Crawford, Neil Smith, Blythe Hartley, Will Dutton)
There are many common threads woven among the athlete experience that bind athletes together in an unspoken but profound way: voluntary physical suffering, heart palpitations on the starting line, elation in victory. But perhaps the most shared and unifying thread is the inevitable end game: the end, whether by choice or by fate, of a lifetime dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in sport.
The way of transition is a challenge unlike any other faced in sport; a journey that every athlete must make. Blythe Hartley, 2004 Olympic bronze medalist, describes her transition from diving to the ‘real world’ as the most difficult challenge of her entire career. “I knew I was going to retire after 2008, but I didn’t prepare. I knew it was looming even though I finished on a high and loved my sport. It was a difficult time, I wasn’t clear.”
For Will Dutton, 26, a long track speed skater and CSI Calgary athlete, the end came by choice after a disappointing 2014-2015 season, where love of sport waned and injury swallowed his progress. He pursued carpentry but it wasn’t long before the desire to compete returned. “I missed sport. My love for speed skating came back, but I was also asking myself “Where do I want to go with my life?”
For Hartley, Dutton and countless other CSI Calgary athletes struggling to answer that question there is Cara Button, Game Plan Advisor. Game Plan is Canada’s national athlete total wellness program supporting and empowering high performance athletes to pursue excellence during and beyond their sporting career.
Button nurtures relationships with the athletes throughout their careers, which helps her craft an individual approach to supporting each one through what can be a tough ride from sport to life. “I’m a mom to 300 young adults!” she laughs.
The skills gained from being an athlete endure for a lifetime but transitioning athletes can’t always see or appreciate how to apply them to a new career. It is Button’s job to help athletes realise their potential after sport. “We offer the resources but the onus is on the athlete. Athletes forget that they have all the skills. Sometimes they just need a little push and some one-on-one time to help them focus.” she says.
Neil Smith, the COO of Crescent Point Energy in Calgary, has supported CSI Calgary athletes for years. He is working with Button to help create employment opportunities for current and transitioning athletes. “One of the most important things to me is that athletes are willing to risk failure” he says, “I guarantee that the skills developed as an athlete are specifically those needed in a new career.”
At a recent networking event jointly hosted by CSI Calgary and Crescent Point Energy, current and retired athletes had the opportunity to meet industry professionals and learn some lessons from a panel discussion with Dutton, Hartley and Smith.
For Hartley, now a successful HR Advisor at ARC Resources, the support from Button and the CSI Calgary was invaluable. “I was very lucky to have the support from the CSI Calgary in that time, it was so helpful. It’s possible to get through it.”
With a plan for the future, Dutton is now in school and training for the next Olympics. In his first season back he won five World Cup medals, something he credits to his newfound sense of purpose. “I started to believe in myself. Having something that I believe in made my performance so much better, I had something else to focus on.”
Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary
Written by Kristina Groves: @kngrover
Photo by Dave Holland: @csicalgaryphoto