What Happens to Olympians When They Get Old?

Courtesy NBC/ Getty Images – bah! I haven’t paid, and may need to soon!

My family is athletic. I’m probably, now that I think of it, the least athletic person of us all. For fun, we do things like root each other on while completing marathons, or travelling to participate in relays together. Skiing, swimming, tobogganing – any/all of this would be considered “fun”.

Growing up, my parents had athletic friends. A few family acquaintances even competed at a very high level: Jessica’s grandma won an Olympic medal maybe in the 60s, someone else’s dad played water polo for Canada. I remember my dad being so pleased that he’d swum faster in a triathlon than Scott’s mom, who’d once won a silver medal for swimming. He’d trained for months, and when he teased her about it, she laughed like: “Take your kicks where you can. I’m particularly out of shape this year.” (If memory serves, the following year, he ate her dust.)

Earlier this week, I was at a birthday dinner. A woman there used to do gymnastics and figure skate. When the Olympics were on, she chuckled: a few weeks before, on holiday with her husband, she’d had a few drinks and started trying to do flips again – flips she hadn’t done in 30 years.

From what I’ve seen, most Olympians, when they get older, have pretty nice lives. With all that discipline, it’s not like they stop competing and wash up. Instead, as they transition away from their sports, they simply transition to something else, are successful, and seem grounded and fit.

(Disclaimer: this may not prove true for Ryan Lochte.)

When you think about it, you’d have to be a pretty grounded person to derive so much pleasure from simply pushing your body to achieve sporting feats.

Apparently, after the Olympics, many of the competitors suffer a mild depression, known as the “Olympic Blues”. The Olympics itself is a huge party – it follows that you’d feel a let-down after. I mean, I even had some post-wedding blues, so I can’t imagine what it’d feel like for Michael Phelps after Beijing.

But, many Olympians recover from these blues. They take a long vacation, and then start their lives.

Instead of washing up, they do things like open accounting firms or go to medical school. They get married, have kids, and kick ass at the parent-child relay events at elementary school sports day.

I realized, as the woman told the story, that I had a hope for Simone Biles. 30 years from now, I hope she’s happily married, goes on vacation with her family, has a few margaritas, and gets cajoled into doing some handsprings again, right there on the resort’s beach, in front of her drunk, cheering friends.

I hope that for all the Olympians. I hope they all grow old and happy, and remain respected members of their communities.

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