Life after the Olympics
After years of pursuing athletic dreams, what are the options when the days of training and competitions are over? Two Olympians share their stories.
Kristina Groves (Kin’04, MSc’15) started speed skating when she was 11 years old and spent the next 22 years training and competing around the world. Before retiring in 2011, Groves earned four Olympic medals. As she hung up her speed skates, Groves wondered what to do next. “I struggled a lot with what I was going to do,” she remembers. “I knew I wouldn’t be a speed skater for the rest of my life. But those first two years were tough because everything I knew was wrapped up in sport.”
Nearly every Olympian tussles with that transition. After devoting themselves with laser-sharp focus to their sport, athletes often delay retirement because the road ahead is unclear.
Beyond the podium
For Chandra Crawford (EMBA’16), that shift was pretty smooth. In 2005 she created Fast and Female, a non-profit dedicated to keeping girls 8-18 years old engaged in sports. “During my cross-country ski racing career," Crawford says, "I got sponsors for Fast and Female and then hired amazing people to run it. I was able to fit in a few hours of work each day between workouts – an ideal balance.” In 2006, Crawford won Olympic gold in Torino, and eight years later she retired after three Olympics and 13 years on the Canadian National Team.
In order to ensure the long-term success of Fast and Female, Crawford recognized a need to expand her management and leadership skills. So, she enrolled in the Executive MBA program at the Haskayne School of Business, graduating this spring. “It was hard to spend all my time working on weaknesses and feeling like a fish out of water that first year," Crawford says. "But day after day I learned so much that has made me a better leader for Fast and Female. This intense and revealing program has launched my skills and self-awareness to new levels. Every single thing I learned was valuable: accounting, finance, leadership, human resources, data modeling, and strategy. Some days in class, I felt like the content was speaking directly to me.
Meanwhile, Groves is also enjoying a new path. After spending four years as the speed skating analyst for CBC Sports, she looked into programs at the Haskayne School of Business, discovering the Master of Science in Sustainable Energy Development, a unique inter-disciplinary program co-operated by Haskayne with UCalgary’s Faculty of Environmental Design, the Faculty of Law, Schulich School of Engineering, and the Faculty of Graduate Studies. “I have always been interested in sustainability and green energy," says Groves. "During my career I was involved with Clean Air Champions and the David Suzuki Foundation. Especially because I had flown around the world many times as an athlete, I felt compelled to develop and invest this next phase of life in green solutions.” She is now the project ambassador and founding board member for the Alberta Solar Co-op, a publicly-owned solar power initiative.
Groves is also consulting for an electricity consultancy, writing a column for the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary, and spending quality time with her two-year-old daughter, Maisie. “Life is not always a straight path,” she says. “UCalgary has been an awesome home for me. My program helped me put my athletic skills in a new context. I always felt the university held me in its arms."
What’s her advice for others struggling with transitions in their lives? “Remember, everyone goes through this. Transition is the human condition. You have to wade through, and it sucks. But tap into the resources you have and you will find your way,” she smiles.