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Canadian Sport Institute Calgary – The clock is ticking but there is no time for regrets.” These lyrics, from ‘Heroes Tonight’ by Janji, float softly alongside video highlights from the 2016 Paralympics, as current and alumni CSI Calgary athletes look on.   The CBC montage prompts goosebumps throughout the audience, and maybe a little fear – or is that inspiration? 

The message is a poignant one for these athletes, who came together – along with esteemed members of Calgary’s workforce – for the CSI Calgary’s second industry networking event in downtown Calgary to learn about how they can best navigate the next phase of their lives.  Indeed, the clock is ticking and there is no time for regrets.

The goal of these CSI Calgary events is to provide networking opportunities for athletes and facilitate conversation about the challenging transition from athlete to new career.  One athlete who committed to a profession very early in his athletic career is Seyi Smith, a 2012 Olympian and an electrical engineer. 

Smith shared stories about his career path – a long and sometimes humourous journey that eventually led to a job as an engineer-in-training and now project manager at AltaLink, Alberta’s largest regulated electricity transmission company. 

One might assume that it was easy for an Olympian with an electrical engineering degree to find a job, but Smith met endless dead ends before finally landing his dream job at AltaLink.  The story is not uncommon – Olympic athletes often have a difficult time finding a job, despite constantly being told they have the attributes that employers are looking for.

Smith earned his degree overseas and was worried when he came back home that it would become obsolete before he could find work, while he took time to train for the Olympics.  “I started networking but I couldn’t seem to get a job.  After a while I stopped fearing obsolescence and worried more about not having any skills,” he says.

Scott Thon, President and CEO of AltaLink, hired Smith after a series of networking meetings.  He is up front about telling athletes why they are so valuable as employees. “The one secret you need to know” he says, “we all dreamed of being you guys.  We all wanted to be Olympians.” A comment made in jest, but one that elucidates how strongly athlete traits are admired and sought after in business. 

Thon lists those traits he values most – team player, strong work ethic, goal-oriented, resilient.  He also admires how coachable athletes are, how willing they are to receive feedback and work to improve.  Smith agrees, “athletes always want to get better, it’s how they win.”

Throughout the evening the group of athletes worked together to answer some pressing questions.  What are challenges/opportunities to hiring athletes who need a flexible work schedule?  What are the top three things athletes should be doing to prepare for their next job? What are concrete examples of transferable skills?

There are no easy answers but one theme emerged: the simple, essential need to take action, in whatever capacity an athlete is able to, towards the career they envision.  Thon emphasizes the importance of building a network and putting yourself out there.  “If you’re thinking about that career, market yourself – what are those attributes and who do you want to market them to?”

A sense of possibility abounds.  In the end, the crucial message that resonates is the same as in sport – do the work and you will see results, eventually.

A second CBC highlight reel closes out the evening – this one from the 2016 Summer Olympics. As clips of Erica Wiebe, Penny Oleksiak and Andre De Grasse induce more goosebumps, the Tragically Hip tell us in song: we are ahead by a century. Sometimes it’s hard to feel this way, given what was learned this night about the long road ahead. 

Transition can be overwhelming, but just as athletes persevere and struggle in sport, so too will they do so in life.  Despite the challenges that await, we are told by the great Gord Downie himself, “you are ahead by a century… no dress rehearsal, this is our life.”

Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary

Written by Kristina Groves: @kngrover