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Nikki Stone ’97 part of journal article on retirement from elite athletics

Posted on Jun 25, 2002

On a rookie's first day as a Minnesota Viking, he is told to keep this thought in his head: There's going to be a last day and he'd better be ready for it.

“The minute players enter the league, we want them thinking about how they're going to transition out of football,” says Leo Lewis, the team's director of player development. A former Vikings star, he compares his role to that of a school guidance counselor.

Few of us start a job and focus on the day we'll leave it or lose it. But if we're looking for sports role models, we'd be smart to emulate the clear-eyed jocks who plan for what some call “the afterlife.” Sooner or later, like them, all of us will find it's time to go.

Pro sports leagues are getting better at preparing athletes for retirement and second careers, with formal efforts like the NFL's Player Development Program. And this weekend in San Diego, the U.S. Olympic Committee will host its first-ever “summit” for winter Olympians, titled “Taking Charge of Your Transition.” All 211 Olympians were invited; 43 are attending. They'll be counseled on how to apply their athletic intensity to the work world, how to describe their nonathletic “gifts” in job interviews and on resumes, and how to grieve the inevitable loss of their sports careers.

There's a painful void in the lives of retired Olympians, says Paul Wylie, the 1992 silver medalist in figure skating. “Some athletes can never admit the truth: that the void can't be filled.” Sure, they can move on to new chapters and challenges, but they'll never return to the medal platform. Retirement, says Mr. Wylie, is about savoring victories and accepting realities: “You became an Olympian. You did it. And it's OK that you'll never do it again.”

There are analogies here for many hard-driving people who leave jobs that can't be replicated. You must get comfortable with the finality of what was. As a pro skater, Mr. Wylie often toured 60 cities in a row. Then in 1998, at age 32, he retired and enrolled in Harvard Business School. “I went from skating in a different town every other day, to sitting in the same seat, morning until night, for a semester. For me, that was the only way to do it, to have an abrupt end and throw myself into another intense experience.” He's now a marketing executive for Walt Disney Co.

At this weekend's summit, he'll serve on a panel with Olympic legends including speedskater Bonnie Blair Cruikshank and gymnast Peter Vidmar. Mr. Vidmar will talk of how most Olympic victories are won by the smallest of margins — a fraction of a second, a fraction of an inch. In the workplace, tiny margins also make a difference. But those margins aren't conquered by solitary hours spent practicing on a stretch of ice. In the world beyond sports, these athletes must now think in terms of education, networking, interviewing skills and office dynamics.

The summit's limited enrollment suggests that some athletes aren't ready for such challenges. In planning the all-expenses-paid event, organizer Mary Klever predicted some Olympians wouldn't attend. “They won't come if they don't want to buckle down and do some work,” she said.

Even before skier Nikki Stone won Olympic gold in 1998, she worried about leaving the sport. To help her cope, while attending Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., she wrote a thesis on how elite female athletes manage retirement. Interviewing hundreds of women, she learned about “the social death” that follows retirement. “You lose your social circle, because all your friends are in the sport, and you're not,” she says.

That explains why Mr. Lewis encourages NFL players to make friends outside football. They'll eventually need them. He also advises players to prepare their families for the day they leave football. Many players' paychecks support extended families living the good life. But the average NFL career is just 3.8 years, and most players earn less than the average NFL salary of $900,000. “Families need a reality check,” says Mr. Lewis. “They think money will keep coming in, but 90% of players have to work after their careers are over.” Mr. Lewis also encourages players to find an identity beyond football, to cultivate new passions. They can't spend the rest of their lives saying “I was.” They'll also need to say “I am.”

This advice applies to nonathletes, too. You need friends outside work, and loved ones who understand how your transition will affect them.

Many athletes, like baseball's Cal Ripkin Jr., segue into retirement by announcing it early. That lets them bid farewell to fans in a final tour of stadiums. Many do it not for fans, but to get one last adulation fix, says Eric Weintraub, a University of Maryland psychiatrist who has worked with baseball players at career twilight.

Should the rest of us announce our retirements in advance? “It depends on your personality,” says Dr. Weintraub. “If you want to get a party and be the center of attention, do it. If you just want to disappear, then don't.”

However you go, make the break. Some of the saddest ex-athletes are the ones desperate to return to their sport. Mr. Wylie skates on his lunch hour, but just for fun. Then he returns to his job as a Disney marketer. “I'm still in transition,” he says. “But I think I'm at peace.”


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Graduate may follow father, mentor into academe

Posted on Jun 20, 2002

Jim Underwood, who has been teaching political science for nearly four decades, has had a number of his former students' children in class. But the Strosbergs are special.

Prof. Jim Underwood, left, with Nathanial Strosberg '02 and father, Martin '68







Nathaniel Strosberg of Union's Class of 2002, is the son of Marty Strosberg, a 1968 Union grad and now a faculty colleague of Underwood's. The elder Strosberg teaches in the College's Graduate Management Institute.

Father and son were both political
science majors who did their senior theses with Underwood, the father on the
Capital District Planning Commission, the son on the effects of public policy
on mass transportation systems.

And it appears entirely likely that the younger Strosberg could end up following his dad and their mentor into academics. (“I wouldn't be surprised,” Prof. Strosberg says.)

Nathaniel has had scholarship
offers at several universities with programs in public administration and urban planning, but he plans to defer graduate school for a year to take courses at Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.

(Nathaniel's grandfather, Dr.
Irving Strosberg, a family practitioner in Troy, was a 1931 Union grad.)

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College hosts productivity workshop

Posted on Jun 20, 2002

The College is hosting the second
North American Productivity Workshop (NAPW II) from June 20 through 22.

The NAPW — with topics covering
productivity, production and efficiency measurement – draws some of the most
noted authorities in economics and management science.

Keynoters at this year's
conference include:

Eric Lesser, IBM
Institute for Knowledge-Based Organizations, on “Knowledge Management and

Ron Duska, the America
College, on “The Ethical Puzzle of Productivity,”

Lorin Hitt, University
of Pennsylvania, on “Information Technology, Productivity and Organization,”

Robert Chambers,
University of Maryland, on “Resource Allocation and Asset Pricing.”

The College hosted the NAPW conference in 2000.

For more on the conference, visit http://idol.union.edu/~napw/

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Rain holds off; 600 graduate with Class of 2002

Posted on Jun 17, 2002

Click here for more about Commencement 2002 (including full text of speeches)

Pipers lead grads to Commencement

The rain came,
but not before more than 600 students received degrees in the Class of 2002 at
Union College's Commencement exercises on June 16 in Library Plaza.

Jeff Greenfield,
political analyst, author, and national news anchor, urged the graduates to make a difference by connecting with other people.

“If you turn off the TV and the CD and the VCR and the PC and the DVD and the DSL and you find these links to other people … you'll make a river cleaner, a neighborhood safer, a family stronger, a town more prosperous,” said Greenfield, who received on honorary doctor of laws degree. “On these stages great and small you will make the world a little better and you will make your lives incomparably richer.”

Greenfield, host of CNN's Greenfield At Large, is
also CNN's senior analyst for Inside Politics, the nation's first
program devoted exclusively to politics. In 2000, he was a host of the
network's nightly special election program during the 37 days of the Florida
recount, an experience from which he penned the book, Oh Waiter! One Order of

Leah Nero, of Brattleboro, Vt., gave the student address in which she described the changes that take place over a four-year college career.

President Roger Hull, in his charge to the graduates, said “I am particularly proud of those of you who have chosen to put on hold the start of your careers to contribute immediately to the society that you are now rejoining.”

Farhan Javed Khawaja of Vero Beach, Fla., and Jessica Erin
Cook of Milford, Conn., were valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. The College
awarded 507 bachelor's degrees and 136 master's degrees.

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Admissions dean speaks on early-decision issue in New York Times

Posted on Jun 14, 2002

To the Editor:

Reading of Harvard University's possible reinterpretation of early-decision practices (news article, June 8) had me fast-forwarding to the effect on students and families for which expediency already tempts (if not trumps) the honor code of college admissions.

I also worry that this change will filter down: if Harvard doesn't worry about binding decisions, other institutions might say, Why should we? The repercussions go far beyond the Ivies.

Dan Lundquist

Vice President for Admissions and Financial Aid, Union College, Schenectady, N.Y., June 9, 2002

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