Sunday 6 September at 7:30pm on Discovery Channel
The modern elite athlete is a super human; faster and stronger than any generation before. Pushing their bodies and brains far beyond the boundaries that limit the rest of us. However, no matter how great they are, they can’t stay super human forever.
In his first TV documentary, Australian Rugby Union legend, John Eales AM sits down with some of Australian sport’s luminaries to discuss the transition from elite athlete to everyday life.
“You’re always moving between these two worlds of invincibility and vulnerability,” said Eales when I spoke to him recently.
The program includes interviews with Grant Hackett, Layne Beachley, Andrew Ettingshausen, Lauren Jackson, Matt Banting, Robbie Crowther, Keith Galloway, Al Baxter and more, each journey is paved with varying challenges and the contrasts between these athlete’s careers are huge.
“Generally people form one of three groups when they retire. They're either retiring because of injury, they're not getting picked anymore, or they're retiring because they've had enough,” says Eales who was one of the few lucky ones that made it to the third option.
“I loved it right till the end, but I just wanted to do other things and had enough of the lifestyle of being a traditional sports person. I felt that life is not really about what you win and what you don't. I felt I had exhausted my interest in actually playing the game, and therefore wanted to move on and do other things”
“I wanted to just have a complete break from the physical activity, I don't think I sweated for six months after I finished playing just to really turn off. I was ready to have a break, there was no injury that forced me to retire, but I needed to let the body wash out and recover and just rest as well.”
Grant Hackett retired as one of the world’s greatest swimmers in 2008 but in the years that followed had to overcome some significant personal struggles including drug abuse and a very public separation from his wife.
“What didn't get a lot of the publicity was how successful Grant's transition was in so many ways and knowing quite closely a lot of the people that he worked with in financial services. They had the highest regard for his business acumen and his ability to perform in that environment.” says Eales.
However fast forward to 2015 and he’s gearing up for what might be one of sport’s most spectacular comebacks as he trains for the world titles.
“He's had this desire to go back and have another go, He’s made the world championships, but I think his goals are greater and hopefully he'll make the Olympics next year. It'll be wonderful to see him doing well and maybe winning a medal. I think from speaking with him he is a lot more relaxed now than what it was when he competed last time.”
It’s a very different story for Lauren Jackson. Revered as the greatest female basketball player of all time, her future is uncertain as a serious knee injury has kept her sidelined for the past two years. “Sport. It’s a rollercoaster. One minute you can be on top of the world and the next minute you can literally be sobbing on the floor,” says Jackson in the documentary. Determined to finish on her own terms and get another season under her belt, Jackson has been preparing for life after the game by completing a degree in Women’s Studies.
“She's struggling in some respects physically because she wants to play,” says Eales, “but mentally she's in a pretty good space studying and working in charities that are focused very much towards what she wants to do post-career.”
Having long-term goals and a plan for life after sport is something that John Eales is trying hard to encourage in Australia sporting communities.
“I always had in the back of my mind, this could all end today, and if it did end today, what would I be doing tomorrow?"
“I think it's a really unfulfilling goal to try to spend most of your life on the golf course when you're finished. For most of these people being able to transition into something meaningful afterwards is something that's actually really important to them and one of the measures of whether your transition will be successful."
John Eales Reveals: Life After Sport
Sunday 6th September at 7:30pm (AEST) - Discovery Channel on Foxtel