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Updated: Wed, 26 Feb 2014 19:15:40 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Olympians after the Olympics: What the road to retirement looks like



Former Olympic skeleton silver medallist Jeff Pain also won three world championship medals during his career. Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press

Former Olympic skeleton silver medallist Jeff Pain also won three world championship medals during his career. Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press

Athletes focused on the Olympic dream often spend years in the public eye, but there comes a time when the cheering inevitably stops.

Retirement was a transition that came naturally to Duff Gibson, who was 39-years-old when he won the gold for skeleton in Turin.

"My body was telling me it was time to be done,” said the Calgarian.

“I also had my dream performance right at the end." 

With an established career as a firefighter, Gibson was able to shift his focus to his family without regret.

Jeff Pain, who trained in Calgary and now lives in Vernon, B.C., won silver in that same competition. But his journey to retirement proved far more difficult, he says.

As the favourite to win gold, Pain was disappointed with second place.

"In the moment, I was questioning those runs and wondering, how could I make those mistakes on the most important run of my life?"

Pain trained for another four years and made it to the Vancouver Games, but was injured and missed the podium entirely.

“I was angry and frustrated and disappointed in myself, and I felt like I let my family down, myself down and the country down; it was all of that and I lost my focus."

Getting help

Pain says he was deeply depressed for six months. Without an Olympic-sized goal to achieve, he was unable to complete even simple household tasks.

His wife, Ali, encouraged him to seek out the help of psychologist Karen MacNeill.

A good portion of MacNeill’s practice is helping athletes through big transitions such as retirement.  

“When your complete self-view, self-focus, self-worth is all based on you as an athlete, when that role is taken away you feel empty, you feel lost, you feel overwhelmed." 

Four years later, Pain says he is finally feeling like himself again. He now sees his silver medal as the huge accomplishment it is.

He's now found his passion in coaching others, including two international skeleton teams at Sochi.

"Working with other athletes, I absolutely love watching them do better, compete to be better. It's amazing." 

He hopes speaking about his struggle will make it a little bit easier for the next generation of athletes to step off the podium. 

Career crash

Mike Robertson, who competed in snowboard cross in the 2010 Games, says he is still searching for his next passion.

After earning silver at the Vancouver Olympics, Robertson had a series of crashes, resulting in serious concussions.

"Watching the Olympics on TV the last couple of weeks, it was really hard at some points."

He had planned on Sochi being his opportunity to defend and maybe even surpass his performance in Vancouver, but he retired from competitive snowboarding at the age of 26. 

“The months after that I was sitting in my basement, alone in the dark, just kind of staring at the wall trying to sleep off my headaches and just suffering, basically alone,” said Robertson, who lives in Canmore, Alta.

"[That was] definitely the lowest point I've had in my life. It was a big struggle for sure, kind of realizing my dream and everything I worked for is slowly slipping away."

He's gone back to school and, like Pain, wants to help athletes who have suffered career-ending injuries.

“I'm excited for what the possibilities are that are out there. I don't have a clear-cut path yet, but I'm happy and looking forward to those next steps."

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