US biathletes Lowell Bailey and Tim Burke competed alongside each other in four editions of the Olympic Winter Games and have now both turned their focus to their post-sport lives. Here, they reveal how they are embracing their career transitions into life after competitive sport.
In a fairy-tale finish, American biathletes Lowell Bailey and Tim Burke joined hands and crossed the line as co-winners of the 15km mass start race at March’s US National Championships. It marked the final race of their respective careers.
For 36-year-olds Bailey and Burke – four-time Olympians and long-time teammates – the memorable result at the 2002 Olympic venue at Soldier Hollow was a satisfying exit into retirement.
The US biathletes are well prepared for their career transitions into life after competitive sport. Bailey will re-locate from his home in Lake Placid to Montana to lend his expertise to the non-profit Crosscut Mountain Sports Centre (CMSC). Burke will also remain close to biathlon, having accepted a position with US Biathlon as athlete development manager.
Looking forward to new opportunities
“For many athletes it’s a huge challenge to figure out after you’ve developed this very select skill set, how do you then take parts and apply it to a seemingly unrelated career path,” says Bailey, who became the first US biathlete to win a world title in 2017.
“I have many interests outside the sport and given the chance could be happy doing a variety of things, but that chance ended up being an offer to help out with a non-profit organisation called Crosscut Mountain Sports Centre.”
Bailey will focus on raising finances to aid the growth of CMSC, in addition to sharing his vast skills and experience with biathletes and cross-country skiers across all abilities at the new 533-acre facility.
“I’m thankful to have a landing pad – it’s an abrupt change from spending every day making decisions that are only contingent on your biathlon career,” Bailey says of the new opportunity.
Burke, having recently finished constructing a home with his wife, will remain in upstate New York as he assumes his new position with US Biathlon.
“As an athlete, you are often quite focused on your own training and racing schedule,” says Burke, who in 2009 became the first US biathlete to lead the overall World Cup standings. “Now, I am motivated to get more athletes involved with biathlon and to give those athletes everything necessary to reach their full potential.”
Not fearing change
“For me, it was never that daunting and I saw that, in the field I’m in, there were lots of avenues,” Burke says of his career switch.
Advising fellow athletes on making a smooth transition away from competitive sport, Burke emphasises that planning is essential.
“It’s all about not getting caught by surprise – put some thought into it and the direction you want to go afterwards,” he explains. “Having a plan in place will take a lot of stress out of the situation.”
Using your sporting skills
Bailey says his “enjoyment of the team environment” working alongside a large coaching and support staff will benefit the transition to his new role and responsibilities.
“I’ve realised there are parallels, similarities and overlap between the strategy behind athletic success and what I see as successful strategies in directing a project like Crosscut Mountain Sports Centre.
“It’s about using your team to reach a goal and vision – that goal is no longer winning a world championship medal, but building a world-class outdoor recreation centre.
“It is hard to articulate how challenging that goal actually is – going from a blank canvas, it’s a lot of work and planning, but that is one of the most exciting parts of this transition; the process of trying to find creative solutions to the myriad of challenges.”
Burke believes invaluable Olympic experience should immensely benefit any athlete when time comes to move forward to the next stage of life.
“The same things that made you a successful athlete are what will allow you to succeed in almost any position – hard work, dedication, goal setting and dreaming big.”