Life after sport is only an after-thought for most athletes. Emmy-Lou McKean learns how an Olympian is changing the game.
From the moment Kylie Gill set foot on skis at the tender age of four, she couldn’t get enough. But it wasn’t until she was 10 that she began the Freestyle Skiing program at Thredbo. It was commitment that required her family to travel five hours from Sydney every weekend in support. By the time she was 14 and had been competing overseas, Freestyle Skiing made its debut as a demonstration sport in the 1988 Winter Olympics.
After making the team for the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics in France at 18, Kylie not once thought about life after sport. Completely focused one one event after the other, or recovering from one injury to the next, life beyond sport was inconceivable.
On her first day of moguls training at the 1998 Nagano Olympics in Japan, she fractured her back for the second time a few days before the competition. Despite battling injuries all season and being in a lot of pain, she skied hesitantly in the Olympics with a back brace, plaster casts on her shins, knee braces and shoulder taping. Feeling as though her body had let her down, Kylie abandoned the skis, retired from her sporting career, aborted the remainder of the World Cup tour and didn’t ski again for three years.
Feeling completely defeated after her retirement at age 24, Kylie struggled with her mixed feelings of freedom and depression after saying goodbye to the regimented life she knew.
After being recommended to meet with a mutual friend at the Organising Committee for the Sydney 2000 Olympics (SOCOG) Kylie was hired for a position she had absolutely no qualifications for: planning the workforce numbers for sport across the Games.
Her boss later explained his reason for hiring her was that skills can be learned and experience gained, but attitude is everything. And he loved her great attitude.
“I realised my attitude and mindset – my athlete factor – was typical of all elite athletes,” she says.
“That passion, drive, determination and ability to overcome adversity are all attributes that are well received in the workplace.”
Moving into a highly structured corporate job was dramatically different from her sporting life, but Kylie admits she was finally ready for stability and permanence. It wasn’t long before she adjusted to her new work environment, although she admits it took her almost a year to feel like she wasn’t an actor playing a corporate role.
“It was surreal. I had spent most of my life clomping around in ski boots. Suddenly I was trying to walk in high heels, wear suits and even use a handbag, which was absolutely hysterical to me.
“I used to take all my work outside and sit at a table with the wind blowing my papers everywhere – I was just so desperate for fresh air. Having spent the majority of my life outdoors, breathing in crisp mountain air – I felt completely claustrophobic in an office, but eventually I adjusted.
“The thing that made it all work for me was the people. SOCOG was filled with young, ambitious and driven people. It was a really dynamic and fun place to work. It was the perfect place for an athlete to transition to life after sport.”
After some demanding years in corporate jobs, Kylie took a hiatus when she started her family and reassessed her priorities. In this time, she reflected on how unprepared she was for life after sport and decided that she never wanted another athlete to feel like she did when she finished skiing: disillusioned, lost and unemployable.
This is when Kylie started creating the The Athlete Factor to support and assist transitioning athletes in leveraging their “athlete factor” to achieve success in their careers after sport.
“I had formulated ‘The Athlete Factor’ in my mind many years before I launched it,” she says. “Athlete career transition is such an enormous area to tackle. I needed to find my niche within it, to find the best way I could truly help athletes.”
The Athlete Factor works with athletes to assist them in recognising and maximising their value outside of sport. By encouraging transitioning athletes into thinking about their interests and passions outside of sport, they can then investigate the most suitable kind of work for them and how to set goals to get there.
Between conducting athlete and coach consultations over the phone, developing résumés and job applications during school hours and at night, and writing a book to prepare athletes for careers beyond sport, Kylie still continues to grow The Athlete Factor and partner with like-minded sporting organisations to enhance athlete welfare and transition programs.
“It’s very much one step at a time and it’s not easy, but I strongly believe that athletes can find fulfilment in their lives after sport.