The spotlight doesn't shine much on Jungle Jim Hunter anymore. But 33 years after he won a bronze medal at Sapporo, Japan, in 1972, the original Crazy Canuck skier is still making a name for himself - as a public speaker.
"If you're in the audience when I'm speaking, you're going to walk away with a whole different understanding about your life and where you're going," says Hunter.
Many ex-athletes dream of public speaking careers, but few last long on stage, say Hunter and other former stars and speaking-industry insiders. Retired athletes who have won an Olympic gold medal, a Stanley Cup or developed a high profile in pro sport are usually in highest demand from corporations and other organizations.
Retired athletes love public speaking, he says, because "it feeds your ego.”
|Jack Dagley, Business Edge|
|Ex-Calgary Flame Jim Peplinski with hockey stick and national team sweater from his first career.|
Speaking also allows them to stay in the limelight, feel the same adrenaline rush as they did when they were competing, and make money.
Speakers can earn $3,000 to $15,000 per session or more in Canada and $100,000 or more in the U.S. But as time goes on and new stars emerge, people quickly forget about the stars of yesteryear.
Most former athletes depend on agents and speaking bureaus to set up events, but Hunter is an exception. The two-time Olympian, who set the stage for the group of World Cup skiers known for their fearlessness on the mountain, derives most of his income from talking to people, about 60 times per year. He organizes his events through his own Calgary-based company, Jim Hunter Management Ltd.
Like many retired athletes, Hunter struggled to choose a new career. He started marketing sporting goods and the now-defunct Calgary Wranglers of the Western Hockey League. But he decided to make professional speaking his career after managing the 1988 Winter Olympic torch relay, which allowed him to spend seven years talking about the experience - three before, one during and three after.
Hunter, who also coaches businesses, athletes and others on how to achieve their true potential, says retired athletes must show their "tears and sacrifices" rather than just entertain.
For Wayne Logan, a Calgary-based lawyer who represents both hockey players and entertainment figures, the bigger the name, the better the chances of success behind the microphone. But careers in public speaking are often as fleeting as medal and Stanley Cup hopes.
Many ex-athletes can make a living at public speaking for a while, but only a few, such as former hockey star Gordie Howe, whom he has represented, can make it a career for life.
"You have to have a compelling story and, typically, it has to be a part of who you are, because you're probably a very bad actor," says Logan.
He adds the message must stand out from the medals - which usually must be gold.
Logan also organizes speaking events in his capacity as an executive with the Calgary Booster Club. He says audiences want to hear from celebrities who can help them with their everyday interests, ranging from completing tax returns to having a good sex life.
|Catriona Le May Doan|
Retired athletes who can constantly update their stories and maintain an emotional connection with audiences will also enjoy long careers in the speaking game, he believes.
But retired Olympic speedskating double gold-medallist Catriona Le May Doan says she was able to move to the speaker's podium from the medals podium because of more than just her now-famous moniker.
"I work hard at (public speaking) and people have been very pleased with the outcome, and they've mentioned my name to other people," says Le May Doan, whose bright smile is an advertiser's dream.
The Saskatoon native hopes to go on "as long as people want me to keep speaking."
"I tell them my story through speedskating, my journey and my experiences, the ups and the downs," says Le May Doan, who garnered her medals four years after crashing in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
Like many retired stars interviewed by Business Edge, she suggests the satisfaction comes from helping and inspiring others, not the fee.
In addition to her public speaking, Le May Doan works part-time as a liaison at the Olympic Oval in Calgary and is on the board of Vancouver's Olympic organizing committee. (She recently hosted the nationally televised unveiling of the controversial Vancouver 2010 logo.) She also endorses products ranging from sunglasses to clothes.
Susan Auch, a retired Olympic speedskating silver medallist who trained with and competed against Le May Doan, says ex-athletes can make a career of public speaking if they work at it, team up with speaker organizations and adjust their message over time.
"It's starting a new company - just like any business," says Auch.
"People aren't going to come and ask you to talk five years out. Right after (you achieve athletic success), it's really easy."
Auch, now a Calgary realtor, would like to make a career of public speaking but has her hands full with twin babies. Public speaking is a perfect way for athletes to make a living because it's fun and exhilarating, she says. "It's the same kind of rush you get from racing."
Former Calgary Flames winger Jim Peplinski struggled with charting his own course after retiring from the National Hockey League at the age of 29 and entering the car leasing and sales business.
"I always thought that because I'd done different things when I was playing, the transition to business would be seamless and simple," says the Renfrew, Ont., native. "I found out during my first week that playing professional hockey was the easiest thing in the world - and running a business was darn difficult."
He often wrestled with his decision to pass up the three years remaining on his guaranteed contract with the Flames, and made a forgettable short-lived comeback a few years later.
Despite those difficulties, he has developed Jim Peplinski Lease Master and auto dealerships in Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto into a national operation under the parent Humberview Group of Companies, which also has real estate interests. Peplinski also served as the Flames' vice-president of business development before the recent National Hockey League lockout.
Many athletes who are retiring, he says, think they can succeed in business simply based on the amount of money they made on the ice or playing field. But just because you were a 50-goal scorer does not mean you can run IBM, he notes.
"The dollars and cents, I think, confuse people," says Peplinski, adding most businesses do not succeed overnight.
"Recognize that just because you were the best in the world at one thing does not give you the right to be even average at something else."
Peplinski also speaks to businesses, but only if he can give and get value. He donates his fees to charity.
Ken Larson, a former national team basketball player who is now a professional speaker and coaches speakers and business leaders, says athletes who can apply lessons in sports to business will have the most success.
However, he says ex-athletes often flounder in their new careers because they "over-identify" with themselves as athletes - and forget who they were before they became stars.
"I came out of my career thinking I can do anything," says Larson, who grew up on Vancouver Island and played for Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria, where he won two of seven straight national titles.
Larson, now the president of Calgary-based Champion Performance Systems Inc., says he struggled to find his way after retiring from the national team at the age of 25 because of knee injuries.
Larson now earns $3,000-$5,000 for each of his speaking events (not including charitable functions), making about 35 appearances annually - not bad for industry standards, considering he never won an Olympic medal or played in the Summer Games.
But, like Jungle Jim Hunter, Larson has still triumphed outside the spotlight.
(Monte Stewart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)