There comes a time in all professional athletes’ lives when they have to hang their jersey (or swimsuit or tennis skirt) for the last time. They have to say good-bye to the screaming fans, the five-hour workouts, the cameras and all the glory that comes along with the job. But what remains, long after the baseball bats or basketballs have been put away, is a long list of lessons learned. Lessons about pushing the human body and setting goals through teamwork and discipline. We found a few members to share their thoughts on life after the pros.
Jeff Cirrilo, major league baseball
What was the most challenging thing about playing professional sports? The mental and physical demands of playing 162 games in 182 days.
What was the greatest reward of playing professional sports? I was able to achieve my dream of playing Major League Baseball and compete with and get to know some of the greatest athletes on the planet. The lifestyle is not too bad either.
What did professional sports teach you about your body? Your body is your biggest commodity. Athletes realize that to maximize their efforts on the field, they must treat their bodies like a temple—stretching, hydrating and building core functional strength.
What about mental strength? Everyone at the professional level will have slumps and struggles. The ones that have sustained careers can minimize slumps and get out of them quicker than those who can’t. Mental strength is a huge part of the job. Everyone will deal with adversity, and it is in times like those that your mental strength is tested. Are you going to make excuses and be a victim, or are you going to put your chinstrap on and fight?
How did you know it was time to retire from professional sports? I knew it when I would go home after the games, and my kids were back in Seattle. I missed them tremendously.
Do you miss the rigorous training, or do you find relief in knowing you can be a little easier on your body? I miss the training and today have a hard time motivating myself to train like that. When you are playing, during the off-season, you are recovering; then you begin to train mentally and physically for the rigors of a professional season. It’s like training for a 162-game boxing match.
What do you know now about training or your body that you wish you knew when you were a budding athlete? Bigger is not better! My best years were when I would play squash, go to stretching classes and work on core functional strength. Especially when I was older, in my mid-30s, I found the excess weight was hard on my back, and my muscles wouldn’t fire as quickly. Are you now engaged in philanthropic or community-based work? I have a golf tournament every year in Wisconsin for family shelters and [to stop] bullying in school. I ran a homeless shelter for a week and that opened my eyes; I feel like I have been blessed in so many ways, so I am always looking to serve. I have coached every sport from flag football, soccer, AAU hoops, LL Baseball and Bellevue Youth Football, although I am not very good at football.
What is one misconception about professional athletes that drives you crazy? That athletes are malcontents who don’t deserve the lives they have. I can tell you that 95 percent of all current or ex-athletes are some of the most passionate people you will ever meet. The reason that we were successful in our field, despite the impossible odds of being a pro athlete, is we actually have a passion and drive to be successful. We understand dealing with failures and recognize effort.
What advice do you have for young athletes? Never take anything for granted. Respect your body and spend more time on the process than the outcome. Play because you want to play, not because of what your parents want or peer pressure. If you are passionate about something, give yourself every chance to be successful and don’t quit when dealing with adversity. Lift less, and do more core and quick-twitch movements for sport. Trust your instincts; they are rarely wrong!
Detlef Schrempf, national basketball association
What was the most challenging thing about retiring from professional sports? I think it’s a process because you’re used to having a schedule every day. All you had to worry about was getting up. Someone was telling you what to do: you have to work out, lift, stretch and get treatments. You have a pretty good schedule you live by, and then it’s all over and you have to figure out for yourself what to do. I think everyone goes through different stages. I know lot of ex-teammates who just stopped being active for various reasons; they put a lot of miles on their bodies or had various injuries, knee problems, ankles, shoulders—you name it.
Do you find it a relief at all knowing you can be a little easier on your body? I think life was easy. Guys complain about how hard it is, but not if you love working out, taking hits, pain; you have to love all that stuff. I think it’s easier when you like it and someone tells you what to do and you get paid for it. What was the greatest reward of playing professional sports? One reward is that I still have fairly good discipline about what I eat and being fit. For a person at my age, I’m still in decent shape, and I think that’s because of my background growing up in athletics. The other thing I am able to take advantage of is to have an impact on the community. So we started our foundation 22 years ago and built relationships with sponsors and supporters, and it has stayed very strong.
What has professional sports taught you about mental strength, and how did it carry over into your new career as a wealth manager? That’s a good question because I went to college, but that was a lifetime ago. After you play basketball for 20 years, you might as well say you’re starting over. I got into business, and first it was a venture fund and now wealth management. I did it really without any background. But I’m a grinder, and I worked and worked at it. I embraced it, and now I really enjoy helping people. I like building personal relationships and how you can see the impact you can have. I have also met some very, very interesting people.
Which is more challenging: business or professional sports? There are different challenges. You can never duplicate the emotional highs and lows you get playing sports. Making or missing the game-ending shot in front of 20,000 people; how do you accomplish that in business? I don’t know, maybe people can compare it to closing a big deal, but you can’t get that adrenaline. So you look for other successes.
Do you miss the audience? Yeah, when you think about the highs and lows, and you go through some major lows too, that feeling is what it’s all about. There were exciting, big games where you can’t sleep at night because you’re so pumped up. I also recognize though that things like that are great, but it’s also not healthy for your whole lifetime. It’s tough to take. There’s got to be some balance to it. If I could, I’d play basketball my whole life, but the body isn’t meant to do that.
What do you know now about training or your body that you wish you knew when you were a budding athlete? At the time, there was no program. I lifted hard, really hard. I was doing everything from power cleans to squats to bench-pressing 300-plus pounds, all that stuff that’s more likely for football. I started to do plyometrics when I was traded to Indiana from Dallas and that changed me as a player; it made me even more athletic. Now, most of the guys don’t lift heavy; it’s more about the core stuff, explosion stuff. Also, I never took a day off, and now it’s all about rest. I didn’t know what that meant. The diet, too. People said to eat healthy, but we had no idea what that really meant. I thought, I’m not going to eat dessert, but I’m going to have steak and potatoes with everything on it.
And how did the Detlef Schrempf Foundation come about? It came about due to necessity. When we came back to Seattle in ’93, the new thing was celebrity golf tournaments. And it became too much because there were so many requests, and I thought, I can’t do all this. So we started a foundation, and soon we were getting requests from all kinds of organizations, from those benefiting kids to veterans to diabetes, cancer, you name it. So we came up with a mission statement all about children and families. We focused on the Northwest, and it just continued to grow from there. We work with roughly 130 or so charities over the year. Most of the groups we work with are not government-funded, so they have limited resources, and for some we are a huge part of their annual budget. We put on events and raise money through ticket sales auctions, sponsorships. We’ve done the St. Patrick’s Day Dash, a golf gala, Taste of Main and Nordstrom fashion shows. We’ve had the same team about 22 years.
Out of all the causes to choose from, why did you settle on helping children? When we got started, we had two babies, and that’s what was important to us. And we really wanted to build from within our community.
Chris Chalmers, olympic swimming
What was your greatest accomplishment in sports? Making the Canadian National Team from 1985 to 1990. I swam on the ’88 Olympic team. I also went to the Commonwealth Games in ’86, won a bronze medal in the 1,500-meter free and set a Canadian record in the 800- and 1,500-meter.
What was the most challenging thing about being an olympic athlete? The training itself. I did two hours in the morning and three hours at night every day. It was a huge workload because I was also going to school. All my friends would go out, and I’d stay and train.
What was the greatest reward of being an olympic athlete? There are a lot of moments, but one of the proudest moments was when I was elected captain at USC. It was for my senior year in 1990. Making the [Canadian] Olympic team was also incredibly rewarding because between the years ’84 and ’88 that was the whole focus. It was on making the team, and when I did, it was a huge, huge relief.
What did Olympic-level sports teach you about your body? I think the biggest thing is that you can never underestimate what your body can do. Keep pushing yourself, and you’ll push through barriers. We would have practices and you thought you couldn’t do another stroke, but your body gets used it. And you do it.
What about mental strength? I think the biggest thing is to focus on yourself. You can only control what you can control. I remember me and my coaches, we’d hear reports of other swimmers doing really incredible sets or times, and it can kind of play with your mind. You think, Am I going to be in good enough shape? In the end, you can only do what you can do and be confident in your game plan. And how did that relate to your subsequent business career? The biggest thing is goal setting. With sports, you look at these three-month or six-month blocks where you really train hard. It’s where you lay the groundwork. In business, it’s the same thing. You want to achieve very big things, but these projects aren’t day projects, they are monthlong or yearlong projects. The focus I get to approach those goals comes from going through sports.
How did you know it was time to retire? It was different back then. Now swimmers can continue on and runners can continue on past their early 30s. Back then, there was no money in swimming, and so your parents had to fund you or you had to get a real job. That’s when I decided to go to graduate school. It was tough my senior year, after going through the Olympics and three years of college swimming, my fourth year I had to focus on studies. I would have loved to continue on; I loved the sport and the people, but there was just no money in it Was it tough letting go? Yes, because your whole identity gets wrapped up in swimming. When people meet you, they get to know you as Chris the swimmer. When you get finished swimming, you have to reinvent yourself; you have to come up with a new identity. That was the toughest thing.
Do you miss the rigorous training, or do you find relief in knowing you can be a little easier on your body? I think the biggest thing is sports are very black-and-white. You train very hard and you see the rewards when you do your swim meet; you see good times happen. Sometimes life is not like that. Sometimes you work really hard and the project still fails. It’s not as black-and-white, so I miss sports in that regard. There’s a winner and loser, and when you train really hard, you do well, and when you don’t train hard, you don’t do well. It’s different in the real world.
What do you know now about training or your body that you wish you knew when you were a budding athlete? Oh yeah, there is a lot. When you’re young and going through that process you have lots of questions about what the best training is and what you need to do to get there. I’m actually working on a side project now called Swim Labs, and it’s video stroke analysis for swimmers. That’s one thing I wish I had back then: stroke analysis. Doing the wrong technique is not helpful. It is fun and great to start an endeavor that is a business of passion.
What advice do you have for young athletes? I say this to my kids all the time: if they don’t like it, don’t do it. Don’t do it for me or for my wife; do it for yourself. I think the biggest thing is if you really like it, then you’ll work hard. I’ve found there are two types of talent: natural ability and the talent to focus and work hard. And the second is the more rare of the talents.
Are you engaged in philanthropic or community-based work? I’m always asked to do things, speak usually, for swimming, and I do as much as I can. I at least always participate in Swim Across America for cancer.