Advice to Elites, by Steve Holman

PC: Brian J.Myers@Photo Run

Steve Holman is renowned as an anti-doping advocate, a champion of athlete rights, and served on the USATF board. An Olympian in the 1500m in 1992, Steve’s PRs of 3:31.5 in the 1500m and 3:50.4 in the mile from 1997 are still top ten all-time. He holds an MBA in Finance from the Wharton Business School and is now an Executive at Vanguard.

It is hard to believe that it has been 15 years since my last competitive race on the track. My two daughters only know about my running exploits through old pictures, news clippings and whatever else they can find on Google. Time has passed very quickly, but my memories and passion for the sport of track and field remain strong.

HolmanTFNAs I’ve gotten older, I have more aches and pains, but I also feel I’ve gained the benefit of experience and wisdom. I wish that I could go back in time and offer my younger self some guidance and advice, particularly about making the transition to life after a competitive career.

Since I don’t have a time machine, I’ll offer that advice to all of you.

After I decided to stop competing after the 2000 season, I eventually made my way to graduate school to earn a MBA, which led to my current career as management executive for a large financial services company. But my transition was far from easy or smooth. For almost two years after I “retired”, I struggled with coming to terms with the end of my track career, and finding direction and purpose for the rest of my life. I’m sure I was like most former professional athletes who find it difficult to create new identities for themselves at mid-life.

So, while this journey can be challenging for everyone, there are a few things I’d suggest that might make it easier for those of you who are going through this experience, or will soon.

First, don’t wait until your running career is over to decide what you are going to do next.

Even though you are focused and busy with your training and racing responsibilities, you can always invest some time in exploring professions, industries or even potential business opportunities that may be of interest to you. Learn as soon as you can what is required to break in and be successful in your chosen field.

There are many online resources that provide insight to various professions, but the best way to explore and start to position yourself for your next career is to leverage your visibility and distinction as an elite athlete to build a vast network of people who can help you. Reaching out, talking to people and learning directly from others is one of the best pieces of career advice I can give. Trust me, your status as an accomplished competitive athlete will open a lot of doors, all you have to do is ask.

HolmanProBuilding a strong network is important for two primary reasons; you never know which one of your connections will lead to opportunities, so it is critical to have as many as possible; and over time your goal is to identify specific mentors and advocates who are ready to invest in your post-athletic career.

I remember from my days on the circuit that, at times, the training and racing schedules could be intense, but I also recall that elite track athletes also have a fair amount of down time. Obviously, if you have a family, or another job, your priorities might be a little different. Otherwise, use your down time as wisely and constructively as possible. It is extraordinarily easy to waste vast sums of time with nothing to show for it. Consider using some of that time to pursue enriching activities – like taking classes online or getting certifications – that will help prepare you for the future.

I know making a living as a track athlete can be hard; the prospect of having “disposable income” is an unlikely scenario for some. However, if possible, live below your means and save for the future. That future may be in a few years when you are in transition and need savings to sustain you through the stage of building your next career. Or that future could be years down the road at traditional retirement age – invested wisely, those early dollars you save will be worth substantially more 40 years later. A little sacrifice now gives you more options and freedom in the future.

Hope these tips are helpful!

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