Wilfred Bungei: Ex-Olympic champion hopes his battle with alcoholism will inspire others. When I saw this title to an article by BBC Africa, it sparked mixed reactions within me. I wasn’t sure whether to be happy about Bungei’s inspiring victory over alcoholism or as a branding expert, to be sad about the heart-wrenching state of life that some of our most highly accomplished athletes are living even after bagging huge successes on the track.
Bungei’s story is just one out of many — the red light is on.
In the article, the retired 800m Olympic champion acknowledges that he struggled to fill the void in his own life when his sporting highs came to an end. He says he found it too difficult to handle the amount of free time he suddenly had on his hands, having previously been a full time athlete.
This clearly points a finger to where the gap is — the transition.
Most athletes face this challenge. Considering the extensive years of training, numerous personal, financial and family sacrifices to pursue dreams of glory, for many athletes retirement is a concept that none wishes to think about in detail. However, whether they have achieved the glory or not in the sport they had aspired to, all athlete careers will eventually come to a close, whether through age, injury or exhaustion.
Once athletes leave the days filled with rigorous training, the extensive time spent travelling, the buzz and adrenalin of competing, they may become susceptible to depression. Many will struggle to adapt to a “regular life” where they are no longer in the limelight and perhaps become forgotten by members of society. They retire into a void life of darkness and loneliness.
Why do athletes in other countries remain relevant even way after leaving the track? Why do they continue holding the same value after retirement and even earn more than they did on the track? The answer is simple. They took their time to build strategic athlete brands while still active on track. They put in place a team that not consisted of coaches and managers but also brand developers and strategists who were able to map out the whole arc of their sporting careers.
The solution to this problem is simple — build an athlete brand while on track. If an athlete builds a brand while they are still on the track, the brand continues to gain muscle. The equity continues to rise with every accomplishment and network they gain on track. By the time they are retiring it will actually be from track to office and in this case their own.
Retiring active, being able to continually share value in your area of passion leads to a happy and fulfilling life for any athlete.
So then if you are a beginning athlete — a piece of advice to parents, or an accomplished one, a personal brand is inevitable if at all you do not want to retire in to the dark.
The writer is a brand developer and specialist.