- Created on Wednesday, 05 February 2014 14:32
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By Renat Absalyamov
None of these characters will find themselves in a list of about 2,500 athletes going to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Neither Ronald Shaver nor Andrey Vorontsov will come onto the rink or the mat and try to win one of 98 medal events, and, as a result, none of them will get recognition, money or fame.
For them, the Olympic Games is a might-have-been dream. It is tragedy, pain, memory, whatever you like to call it — anything, but a reason to make viewers drop everything, sit down and start staring at the TV in an attempt to understand how it feels to be no more than just close to conquering the mysterious sanctuary Olympia, Greece.
“I really felt at that moment my life was over,” says Shaver, 62, the Canadian national champion in figure skating in 1977, recalling an injury preventing him from the bringing a medal from the XII Olympic Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria.
Thirty-eight long years have passed since 24-year-old Shaver participated in it, but still, he remembers how being sixth in figures and third in the short program, he went to practice on the morning of the long program and tore the adductor tendon in his groin.
“[He remembers how] he begged team doctors to shoot him up with cortisone, so he could compete, but they refused,” is written in the Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame. “The tendon was torn. There was no room for heroics.”
“I started skating when I was five,” continues Shaver, adding, “And, literally, it was my dream from the age of five to compete at the Olympic Games. I worked very hard in the next few years to make it happen. So, when I was forced to withdraw — I ended up in a hospital for the remaining days of the Games — at that moment in time, I really felt my life was over.
Everything I worked for since the age of five, it just shot down the dream.”
It was one of the lowest points of his life, sadly recollects Shaver.
For about four months, he was so out of spirits that he did not want to do anything.
He did not want to train, nor did he want to put skates on his feet or by any other means relate to the figure skating sport. For six months he just spent on the injury, depression and intensive rehabilitation.
He wanted to leave figure skating, but his coach explained to him that he had put in so many years and effort in preparation that he could not simply end his career at its lowest point. It “would be very wrong, and later in life, I would regret that decision,” says Shaver.
However, it merely postponed it. Retirement was inevitable. Even triumphs at Skate Canada International in 1976 and Canadian Figure Skating Championship in 1977 were not able to prevent it.
Figure skating is an expensive sport: ice time, coaches, skates, equipments, travelling – all of it requires money, and amateur figure skating, at that moment, was not able to provide it. He was 27. It was time to get a job.
He signed a contract with the Ice Capades, a travelling ice skating show, and began his professional figure skating career.
“I had a very easy transition,” says Shaver about adjustment to a life after figure skating at amateur and professional levels. “I retired in 1977. I was the Canadian men’s champion that year. I did 10 years of professional skating with the Ice Capades … [Then] I started my teaching career: I taught in Atlanta, Ga., for a few years, Hamilton, Ont., moved to Texas and taught in Houston, Tex., and now I have been in St. Catharines, [Ont.], for seven years.”
“It was a chapter in my life I planned out,” says Shaver.
In contrast, Chris Chard, 42, of Burlington, Ont., has never participated in the Winter Olympic Games.
Like most Canadians, he always wanted to be a professional hockey player, but already at 12, he understood that it might not have been the most realistic dream.
He entered the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., and started playing hockey for the university team.
He played so well that in 1994, when he graduated, he signed a one-year contract with Basingstoke Bison, Great Britain, and moved to Europe where he played for the next five years until his retirement in 1999.
Like Shaver, Chard says he had no difficulty in adjusting to an ordinary life, which is not a surprise.
His career was not as long and significant as those of professional figure skaters and National Hockey League (NHL) players.
Unlike them, he had not grown up as a minor hockey player, as a professional hockey player or as an amateur and professional figure skater. This is how he was identified. He has never had this kind of challenge.
“If I was in the NHL, I would play until they would say to me, ‘Get out!’” jokes Chard.
At the moment of the transition, he was a 28-year-old professional hockey player who was prepared and ready to open a new page in his life. He was thinking of staying in sport and becoming a coach, but decided to continue his education and get a master’s degree in business administration and a doctorate of philosophy at the University of Leicester, Great Britain.
“My transition was great,” says Chard. “I have a great hockey career and have a great teaching career.”
Now, he is an assistant professor in the Sport Management department at Brock University in St. Catharines. His ordinary day does not differ from the day of many other Canadians. He goes to a job in the morning, works during a day and comes back home at night.
He spends his free time with children and family, and says he loves the job he has right now. However, he still misses playing in front of 5,000 people on Saturday and 12,000 people on Sunday nights.
“I still love the game; I still play the game; I do not miss the game as much as I miss the life. I miss the fantastic life.”
“You are getting paid for the playing the game you love. It is awesome,” Chard says.
Unfortunately, not all Canadian athletes can boast about their successful retirement.
At least 50 per cent of elite junior hockey players admit they have difficulties with adjustment to a normal life whereas 75 per cent of them felt lost, James Curtis and Richard Ennis say in their article for the Sociology of Sport Journal.
According to Craig Hyatt, an associate professor in the Sport Management department at Brock University, inability of former athletes to adjust after retirement can be explained by a loss of identity and status.
“You go from being an athlete who is very highly identified with being an athlete,” explains Hyatt, “This is not just a job. It has been your life since you were a little boy or a little girl.
“You play for 10 or 15 years; you have a good career; you made lots of money, but one day it stops,” adds Hyatt. “And you have not trained for this. You are not prepared for the transition. You have to learn to live like an average human being.”
Vorontsov, a student in the Sport Management program, is adjusting and agrees with Hyatt saying that it is a “very big” challenge.
“It is an inexpressible feeling. When most of your life you dedicate to the wrestling, when you see that you can achieve more, but there is only a tiny roadblock on your path to success that you cannot overcome. This barrier is money.”
Vorontsov is the member of the university wrestling team who ended his professional career right after becoming the junior Ukrainian national champion in wrestling in 2008.
A few years before the championship, his life seemed to be more than predictable: Azovmash, Mariupol wrestling club in Ukraine, National Wrestling Championship, European Wrestling Championship, World Euro Championship and the Summer Olympic Games.
He was hardly able to imagine that in 2008, the same year he won the European Wrestling Championship and took one step closer to his dream, he would face a tough choice: to continue wrestling and having no financial future or to end the career and move to the U.S. He decided to go to the United States of America.
“When I arrived at the U.S., I had exactly $35,” says Vorontsov.
“I had no job, no friends, no acquaintances and no English language skills. I ended up living on the street as a homeless in New York, N.Y., but I did not panic. I expected that. So, I was living on the street, studying English, and stealing food in order to survive.”
A wrestling match usually consists of two or three periods, two minutes in length each. His battle back was delayed for about four years until he moved to Canada.
In 1969, in her book On Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss American psychiatrist, introduced her name model outlining the five stages of grief.
According Kübler-Ross, people facing extreme situations, including change of their identity, experience a series of emotional stages.
These stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, with reorientation towards the future.
“Most likely, I underwent it,” says Vorontsov, adding, “When I finished my career, I did not say I would have never started the career again. Deeply inside, I hoped I would. I felt apathy because I did not achieve what I wanted. I began feeling angry at myself thinking, ‘Why you did not go to the European championship?’ Imagine; I am flying away to the U.S. knowing that my team is training for the championship I was able to go. It looks like you won a lottery, and by a mistake you threw it way. The garbage is already recollected and you are not able to do anything about it. The memories are not forgotten. I almost always think about it.”
In contrast to Shaver, Chard and other retired athletes, he still cherishes his hope to renew a career as a professional wrestler.
Regardless of what he is doing: studying, training with the university wrestling team or delivering pizza - every day, he looks forward to coming onto the mat.
“I cannot change anything,” says Vorontsov. “I live in my memories about it. I am delighted that I was there and that I had a chance, but I cannot do anything about it. Now, I am just trying to compensate it. In other words, I am just trying to dig in that garbage bin and find this lottery ticket.”