At some point in every athlete’s career, the thought of what comes after their competitive days are over is something that can be everything from exciting, to disconcerting, to even downright scary depending on the circumstances.
One year ago, Canadian World Cup winner and 2017 World Championship super-G bronze medalist Manuel Osborne-Paradis was faced with that very question after crashing out during a training run for the Lake Louise World Cup downhill and suffering a horrific leg injury that almost cost him the use of his limb. A full year later, he is hard at work on his comeback and has no plans to leave the sport he loves just yet.
“This is a nasty injury, for sure, and it’s going to be a tough comeback, I’m not oblivious to that,” Osborne-Paradis says. “I think that’s one of the traits that got me on the podium in the first place, that perseverance and tenacity and just being mentally strong.”
By all accounts, the 35-year-old speed specialist was in the form of his life at the start of last season and was primed to challenge for World Cup podiums each time he stepped in the starting gate. Traumatic injury, however, can certainly change an athlete’s perspective and forced Osborne-Paradis to seriously consider a question that had been creeping into the back of his mind for the past several seasons: What comes next?
“Over the last couple of years, I’ve been starting to think more about what I want to do after skiing,” Osborne-Paradis says. “I know that after these next Olympic Games, I definitely will be done, so retirement was approaching whether I wanted it to or not, whenever that may be.”
American superstar and the winningest women’s ski racer of all time, Lindsey Vonn, faced that same realization at the end of last season and used a unique course catered to professional athletes at Harvard University to prepare her for life after skiing. Intrigued, Osborne-Paradis enrolled in the same course, “Crossover Into Business,” this summer and has been grinding away in the classroom as well as the gym as he eyes his eventual return to the World Cup.
No stranger to time off snow with serious injuries earlier in his career also sidelining him for significant amounts of time, Osborne-Paradis took a new perspective into the recovery process this time around.
“Last time I was injured for two years, I didn’t pursue any education and I really felt like that was a missed opportunity because even though you’re so busy pushing to come back, you need to keep your mind fresh and push yourself in other ways, that was really hard,” he says. “I knew that after this injury happened I needed to look to further my education and in a way that would help me look into my future and help me plan on what could be down the road.”
Although the course, taught by Harvard Business School Professor Anita Elberse, is designed to cater to the scheduling demands of professional athletes by offering coursework online as well as in the classroom, Osborne-Paradis was able to take full advantage of the classroom experience because of his injury and has spent time on-campus several times this summer. An experience, Osborne-Paradis says, that has allowed him to go much more in-depth with the material than he otherwise could have.
“Anita, the professor, is incredibly talented and incredibly smart and recognizes that the attributes that an athlete learns and the skillset that they have throughout their careers from time management, to perseverance, to contracts and endorsement deals are all relevant to business,” he adds. “When an athlete creates a brand, we don’t necessarily need to disappear for four years and get a degree, there are a lot of skills that we already have from being professional athletes.”
Osborne-Paradis explains that the course, in essence, teaches athletes not necessarily how to be a businessperson, but rather how to leverage the contacts and relationships built from their time as athletes in order to help them transition from one phase of their life to the next.
“I feel like that there’s no rules to being an athlete, and that’s the hardest part,” he says. “You have to find where your value is.”
Although Osborne-Paradis says he has no set plans as far as what he wants to be doing when the day does come when he can no longer call himself a ski racer, he leaves this course with a renewed sense of confidence. The Canadian also learned that his skillset as a professional athlete will be valued no matter if he enters business or chooses to help Alpine Canada develop the fastest skiers in the world.
“One of the biggest take-aways I think I found is that a lot of companies and a lot of people that are hiring, they love the perseverance and the coachability of an athlete,” he explains. “You can take that down a lot of different avenues of the business world. Maybe some athletes don’t even know that they possess these skills. It’s nerve-wracking and the insecurities of only ever being an athlete and trying to transition are there, but knowing that you do have a ton of experience and knowledge and knowing that there are a ton of businesses that need the teamwork and coachability and aggressive nature and thoughtfulness of an athlete, and in many ways need that more than someone with the best degree out there, is really helpful.”
With recently-retired ski racing stars like Vonn and Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal already making inroads into the business world with everything from foundations dedicated to empowering young women, to environmentally-friendly clothing lines, to investments in Silicon Valley, Osborne-Paradis definitely has some stellar examples to follow when he does eventually step away from the sport.
“One of my better friends on the World Cup is Aksel and we’ve talked a lot about what comes next,” he says. “I think just talking to guys like him, you need to learn more about yourself than just ‘who am I as a ski racer?’”
Although it may be a few years before we see him don a business suit instead of his speed suit, Osborne-Paradis is primed and ready to take on the challenges ahead in this new phase of his career.