Imagine being an Olympic medallist who gets feedback every day at every practice for 10 years and faces a tough career transition with no work opportunities post-retirement! Transitioning to life after the Olympics can be hard for athletes. From Olympic Silver medallist to struggling to pay bills can be a real nightmare.. Gail Emms writes a brave article about life after being a sporting hero. “I should have seen the signs earlier ..” she echoes..
ITTF Education & Training brings this insightful article to highlight the need for the athlete to start the retirement plans in advance.. this is what the Athlete Career Programme was set for.. Hopefully this article will help create awareness.. and help Gail succeed..

Article by Gail Emms, published at the mixed zone website, 2 August 2017

Gail Emms MBE is one of Britain’s most successful badminton players, best remembered for her silver medal in the mixed doubles at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. With partner Nathan Robertson, she won gold at the World Championships in 2006, the Commonwealth Games in the same year, and the European Championships in 2004. Gail was six times national mixed doubles champion and national ladies doubles champion five times. Since retiring after the Beijing Olympic Games, Gail has been a versatile sports presenter on a variety of television and radio programmes. She was awarded the MBE for services to badminton in 2009. She is the mother of two boys.

‘I’m ashamed to admit I’m struggling’, Gail Emms

I have a big pile of them now. Letters from my bank to say I have missed yet another payment for either council tax, phone or utility bill. And every time I open them, it is another reminder that I feel like I am failing. That I, Gail Emms, Olympic Silver Medallist, am a failure. As anyone else in my financial situation will testify, it hurts. I cry a lot and do what I can to make the payment, sell stuff on eBay and hope there is enough work next month. Some months are good and I get to do what I love best, inspiring kids in schools, motivational talks at ‘women in business’ events. But it gets harder each year to keep my profile and get bookings.

I should have seen the signs earlier I guess and started making plans a year ago to look for other work options. But as it stands, I have been job-hunting for the last few months as I cannot keep scrabbling behind the sofa to pay bills. I have emailed and called people I know, applied for jobs, and even emailed people I have never met, all in the vain hope that someone would recognise my potential.

Another rejection, another ‘not making the interview’, and all my demons come back to haunt me. A sportsperson relies on ego and feeling great. A sportsperson is ambitious, determined and wants to show off what they can do. Rejection, failure and losing just doesn’t compute.

But why would someone employ me? I have a c.v. that reads ‘played professional badminton for 10 years’. And I have just turned 40 years old. I have no qualifications other than a sports science degree completed in 1998. I haven’t had any experience in any organisation or company. I would be a gamble, you might have to guide me a little, and there just may not be any work in the sports industry right now, I guess. I can’t wave a magic wand and expect someone to give me a job, right?

There has been a lot of talk about supporting athletes post-retirement for mental health and, right now, I need that support. I am feeling lost and with no direction, no purpose, no career, no identity and who the hell do I go to? I want to provide for my family, to be a strong role model and feel like I belong somewhere and be part of a team again. Mentally, I am not sure I can cope with more rejections, more obstacles, more feeling like I am losing. I don’t know where to turn.

I know sport and I know athletes. I have lived it, breathed it, been part of PR campaigns, ambassador for brands. Yet some hungover idiot told me to go and get a marketing diploma and couldn’t give a crap that I was there trying to convince him that I would be a valuable asset to his sports marketing team. Some people don’t reply to my emails or messages and take two to three weeks to get back to me. All normal in the business world apparently, but to someone who is panicking and worried about next month’s bills, it’s two to three weeks too long.

I feel ashamed and it’s a massive dent in my pride to admit that an Olympic medallist is struggling. It’s not just the financial situation, it’s the mental battle I am facing at the moment. I am usually an optimistic person, but I do wonder if the powers-that-be at UK Sport realise that the athletes they rely on for the country’s feel-good factor can sink into this situation. I’m 15 years behind a career path. I retired, had a family, and I know I should be grateful for what I have. But my inner drive and ambition can’t turn off. I want more. I need to do more. And I can do more. Given the chance that is.

So if you see me as a barista at Starbucks – and please don’t think I am joking here – I apologise now if I get your name wrong ????