The struggle is real: What Olympians deal with during and after sport

Our image of the Olympic athlete is usually potent, strapping, and triumphant.

Rosie MacLennan at London 2012.

Rosie MacLennan at London 2012.

At times this glorious appearance is like the glossy picture on a jigsaw puzzle box; just a lid concealing scattered pieces.

The Canadian Olympic Committee announced a new program on Thursday to help athletes convert their Olympic experience to real life. It’s called ‘Game Plan’ and the finer details are here.

If we’ve learned anything it’s that first or last there is always a human underneath the Olympic tracksuit. What they struggle with might surprise you:

Retirement may bring an identity crisis

“I didn’t want people to know me as Karina LeBlanc the soccer player, I wanted people to know me as who I was. Karina LeBlanc the person.” – Karina LeBlanc

In sports writing we always mention athletes in relation to their achievements, or by which sport they do, adding their discipline or position. It just makes sense for the story. Like the words, an athlete’s personal identity can become connected to this. Separated by a shrinking gap, like a space on the page.

“It was tough to suddenly be missing that love in your life, that purpose, that drive, that everything.” Paige Lawrence, 2014 Olympian

Everyone should be aware of their mental health

“I went through a pretty hard time and struggled a lot with my own mental health (and) psychological well-being” – Rosie MacLennan, Olympic champion

Athletes invest so much emotional and mental energy into their sport. Hours, each day, adding up to months on end. Similar to others who do the same, an athletes’ mental health can be threatened. But not always addressed.


“Knowing that you put your heart and soul into something for so long and then feeling like you were spit out into the world was very scary” – Brad Spence, two-time Olympian

Feeling lost 

“The fear of retiring is huge” – Karina LeBlanc

There’s something courageous about pouring your whole being into something. It’s also risky and scary according to the athletes we spoke to.

“I’ve started to think of the future and then I started panicking because I’ve had nothing prepared – Atsuko Tanaka

According to those who conceived it, Game Plan will help athletes confront these challenges. It will help them as people and just might lead to a few extra achievements along the way.