What’s it like to retire from your profession when you’re a high-profile athlete, arguably in what’s come to be known as one’s “prime”?
Only a handful of people really know. And recent examples show how tough it must be—Brett Favre coming out of retirement about a month ago; Lance Armstrong reportedly coming out of retirement within the past week. Is reaching the pinnacle of your sport enough? Does one need to start skidding down the other side in order to say “OK, NOW I’m done?” Or is it better to walk off the top of that mountain by your own choice, with the possibility of a few “what ifs”… or even full-fledged regrets?
We fans of sport can, and often do, have our own two cents to contribute to that discussion. But like it said on that plaque that used to hang in our family kitchen, we can’t know what it’s like until we’ve walked a mile in said athlete’s shoes. Or cleats. Or skates, for that matter.
Which brings me to Jeffrey Buttle, and the decision he announced a few days ago.
I guess it crossed my mind back in March, when Buttle won his world title, that he might decide to call it a day—after all, he’s a skater approaching his late 20s who continues to struggle with his quad. (Believe me, I’m as glad as anyone that he won Worlds without even attempting a quad—but that’s simply not a game plan that wins every time.) No matter how much artistic merit he possesses—and that’s quite a bit, in my opinion—there’s a certain amount of undeniable logic in saying Look, I’ve achieved just about everything I wanted to here… and it’s time to go.
But he’s not basing this decision on logic; at least, not publicly. He’s basing it on how he feels in his heart. That’s even better. Yes, seeing him go for gold in Vancouver might have been awesome. Yes, it’s a storybook ending that he’ll no longer get the chance to test out.
Have you read some of those storybooks lately, though? The Book of Kwan? The Tale of Cohen? Eldredge’s Song? The Ballad of Stojko? (OK, so I’m going back a few years for some of those—humor me)
I’m certainly not saying any of those talents did anything regrettable—that’s not for me to say. All I’m saying is that there is only so much gold to go around, and more than enough variables to keep it at bay. Someone in a similar position to those aforementioned folks, as Buttle is/was, surely can’t help but take these cautionary tales into account. To push along for another 16 months from here has to be hard enough for someone who passionately WANTS to finish on top. Can you imagine how hard it might be if you’re just going through the motions?
Buttle, apparently, has imagined it. And as much as we will miss the heart and soul he brought to skating, I think we’d miss it even more if he kept on competing without it.
That’s what I think, anyway. How about you?
For the Clip of the Day I located Buttle’s short program from the 2005 Grand Prix Final. I’m a sucker for “Sing Sing Sing”, and he wears this choreography particularly well.
P.S. Since I didn’t get any takers on my trivia question from earlier in the week (scroll to the end of the 9/9 entry to see it), I’ll give everyone one more chance! Post your guess here, or in the 9/9 comments section.