From Olympics to a job, it's tough
The London Olympics are already history for most of us, but for many of the athletes the next chapters of their lives are just beginning and could be the toughest. Justin Wilcock of Pleasanton knows the challenges Olympians face when their years of concentration on athletic achievement -- often most of their lifetime by the time they reach the Olympics -- are over. Coming home from the excitement and global camaraderie often is a major emotional letdown. Some go back to school. Others look for jobs. Every one of them, except for the few who will continue to train for the 2016 games, face uncertainties about their future for the first time.
Wilcock, now 33, an account manager in Waste Management's commercial recycling group in Oakland, became mesmerized with the Olympics during the 1984 games. In elementary school in Smithfield, Utah, he took up gymnastics and at age 12 took his first swimming pool dives. He was hooked. Perfecting his skills in middle school, he became a champion diver in high school and at Brigham Young University. After three years at BYU, he took a break to train full-time, moving to Houston where he was coached by Kenny Armstrong, who had also coached Laura Wilkinson as she competed successfully to win a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics.
After making the 2004 diving team, Wilcock suffered a stress fracture in his back during a weight training session. He continued to dive with the team but in the end, the back injury forced him out. He thought about trying again in 2008, but age and the injury ended his dream of becoming a winning Olympian. So what to do? His life, at least since he was 6, had been focused on sports, even while pursuing a degree at BYU, which he received in 2005. Diving, Wilcock realized, as other Olympians returning from London also are now realizing, is not a career path.
By this time married, Wilcock and his wife Carol, a photographer who had clients in San Francisco, moved to the Bay Area and four years ago to Pleasanton where Carol's sister lives. He worked for a time at Skipolini's Pizza in Concord, which is owned by Kent Ipsen, the father of current Olympic diver Kristian Ipsen, and was steered to Athletes to Business, a San Diego-based organization that helps athletes with job placement and career transition. The connection paid off with Waste Management, which works with the athletes group, offering Wilcock a job. Joe Camero, the company's communications specialist, said the training, focus, teamwork, concentration and goal-setting skills Wilcock learned as an athlete also gave him the same talent he needed in the corporate world.
Wilcock has been promoted several times at Waste Management and now works with the company's major customers to help them achieve LEED and other green building and environmental merits, with a recent demolition and remodeling job for the Berkeley libraries accomplished with 93% of the materials being recycled away from landfills, thanks to Wilcock's management.
Justin and Carol have two children: Samuel, 2 years old, and Estelle, 4 months. Samuel took his first dive off a real diving board the other day but other than coaching, his dad says he's retired from the sport. He's still involved, however, both as a board director for USA Diving and as the Athletes' Advisory Council representative for USA divers. He also touts the success of Athletes to Business where he urges friends to send their resumes as they seek career opportunities after a lifetime of athletics.
It's not easy because athletes, who truly aim for the gold, as Wilcock did for many years, pay little attention to a life after sports. The real world comes crashing down, usually when they quit competing and often in their 20s. Wilcock recalls his BYU friends commending him on being able to call himself an Olympian on his job resumes, but he found that most employers would rather see a few years of "on a real job" experience. Athletes to Business blends that experience with corporate needs, working with companies such as Waste Management that have indoctrination and training programs for new hires that make the transition for athletes such as Wilcock easier and successful.
Diving is still part of his trait, Wilcock admits. If 2-year-old Samuel wants to try as an Olympic diver someday, his dad promises to coach him all the way.