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Retired Olympic champions find second careers

As 2010 Olympics Figure Skating championships found two teenagers finishing in the top six of last night’s short dance competition, Dick Button, one of the giants in U.S. Figure Skating, and one of the oldest living Olympic champions still working, offers commentary on NBC’s coverage of the events. While Scott Hamilton, U.S. men’s gold winner, and Sandra Bezic, Canadian pairs dancer and producer of “Stars on Ice,” provide on-the-scene coverage of figure skating events, Dick Button joins Bob Costas regularly during the Olympics with his reflections on what differentiates a sound performance from a winning performance, subtleties about the style and technique of the performers, and critique of scoring methods, especially since scoring has changed as a result of the bungled mess at the Salt Lake Olympics. He says the scales are tipped now only toward jumping as a means to earn points, rather than the glides and art that, when combined with technical prowess, makes the sport unique. the likelihood of innovation, he adds, are seriously diminished as a result.

At 80, Button still figures large in the world of championship skating. As the first U.S. figure skater to win Olympic gold in 1948, he remains unchallenged as the only skater to have won a second gold four years later in 1952. He pushed the limits of the sport, shaping it to include the ever-increasingly difficult jumps and spins so typical of the sport today. He created the camel spin and was the first to perform the double axel jump and triple loop. Button went on to learn more about dance after his second Olympics win and incorporated artistry and flow into his routines.

He began his career as a commentator in the 60s and quickly became the voice associated with figure skating. As “dean of the sport,” he is known for his sometimes snarky opinions and comments, although he told NPR that he hopes never to hurt anyone. He says he has tried to comment “from the point of view of making the audience aware of what skaters are doing, and the skaters aware of the audience.”

Retired Olympians often turn their wins into gold of a different sort as they provide commentary, as Button has, or sign endorsement contracts more suited to an aging population, as has Mark Spitz, who endorses Botox. Bill Bradley, winner of Olympic gold in 1964 as a member of the U.S. basketball team, went on to become a politician.

Others like Colorado bronze medal Alpine skier, Jimmie Heuga, who died on February 8, 2010 in Boulder, used his talent and, what later became a debilitating illness, to continue using his influence as a former Olympian until his death. Heuga and Billy Kidd became the first American men to win Olympic alpine medals at the 1964 Innsbruck Olympic Games. Heuga was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) a few years after his historic win. By 1984, he founded the Jimmie Heuga Center , headquartered in Edwards, CO, committed to helping those with MS “reanimate” through exercise and sports. The center has now been renamed Can Do Multiple Sclerosis.

Find more metro Denver resources on MS.

Reinvention is the modern theme of retirement as Baby Boomers begin approaching traditional retirement age. Encore: Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life , is a nonprofit organization that guides Boomers and elders to stay active and find meaningful work and volunteer activities as they transition (willingly or not) from their places in the traditional work force. The Purpose Prize, established in 2006, is awarded to a handful of individuals over the age of 60 who “defy societal expectations by channeling their creativity and talent to address critical social problems at local, regional or national levels." Finalists and Fellows are also named from the nomination process.

In metro Denver, Boomers Leading Change, an initiative sparked from research funded by the Rose Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies, has seeded dozens of projects involving Boomers, and provided funding for a three-year effort called Boomers Leading Change in Health, which will recruit hundreds of Boomer volunteers as patient navigators and community health advocates to effect change on local health care delivery and transition systems.

Kathryn also writes as Denver Disability Examiner and Denver Mobility Products ExaminerContact for more information on writing and speaking engagements and to suggest a future topic.  Select "subscribe" to receive Kathryn's articles on a regular basis.




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