I looked in the mirror and thought, ‘Omigosh, where did my abs go?! I used to have eight; now I have one. —Bill Schuffenhauer, former Olympian
Much has changed for Bill Schuffenhauer since he competed in the Vancouver Winter Olympics four years ago. Take the mirror, for instance. One day he got out of the shower and, well, here’s how he tells it:
“I looked in the mirror and thought, ‘Omigosh, where did my abs go?! I used to have eight; now I have one.’ ”
Like the rest of us, Schuffenhauer is watching the Olympics from the couch these days. Like the rest of us, he doesn't look like those guys in Spandex on TV.
Everybody talks about all the work Olympic athletes do to reach the Olympics. Nobody talks about the other part — what they do when they quit sport. For years they train for competition, but when they no longer have competition hanging over their heads, they must find new motivation to work out, albeit with fewer rewards. Training to stay in shape is different than training to win Olympic medals.
Schuffenhauer, a three-time Olympian, gained 40 pounds while downing all the Big Macs and Cokes he had denied himself during the nearly two decades he was in constant training. Suddenly, instead of running the track he was running a business, which doesn’t burn many calories.
“Most people think because we work out all the time, we always work out like that, even when we’re (retired),” he says. “I wanted a break.”
After graduating from Roy High School in 1989, he trained nonstop for most of two decades and didn’t stop until he reached middle age.
First, he trained for the decathlon as a member of Weber State’s track and field team, qualifying for the NCAA track championships and representing the U.S. in the World University Games and the Junior World Championships. When he failed to make the U.S. team for the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics, he converted to winter sports and the bobsled. He qualified for three Winter Olympic Games — 2002 in Salt Lake (where he won the silver medal), 2006 in Turin and 2010 in Vancouver.
From 1989 to 2010, with the exception of a two-year break he took after his second Olympics, he trained nonstop, 6-7 hours a day, lifting weights, practicing with his sled, working on his sled, running repeat sprints, finding sponsorships and more. “My full-time job was training and being in top condition,” he says.
It was a singular existence. Everything he did pointed toward the Olympics. He denied himself dessert, pop, fast food and starches. He ate only “healthy” foods. If he splurged, it was a fruit smoothie. He followed the advice of a team nutritionist who told him, “You should only shop in the outside aisles of a grocery store, never the inside aisles.” The outside aisles had everything he needed — dairy, fruits, vegetables, meats, etc.
Following the 2010 Winter Games, he retired from athletics. After all those years of weight lifting and early morning training sessions and repeat sprints and regimented diets, he threw discipline out the window. He traveled frequently, giving speeches on the banquet circuit and quit exercise, cold turkey.
For about eight months he avoided the gym. He started an exercise program again, but then quit again, and that’s the way it would be for the next couple of years. He tended to skip breakfast and eat fast food, which was easy, available and cheap for a man on the go. Schuffenhauer, who is 6 feet, watched his weight soar to 255, up from his competitive weight of 215. “A pretty unhealthy 255,” he adds. Like the rest of us, he struggled to make time for exercise while managing a “real” job. He noticed he got tired just walking up stairs, and he was developing aches in his joints and back.
“I’m not a full-time athlete anymore,” he says. “I have to balance it with everything else. It’s been a difficult adjustment. I was focusing on business and not my health when in reality, if you combine the two, you will work better.”
His girlfriend, Jyl London, turned him around. She exercises daily and watches her diet, and Schuffenhauer followed her lead. The other morning they got up at 5:30 a.m. to go to the gym for a 90-minute workout, and he’s watching his diet. His weight has dropped to 230.
These days he’s running several businesses, including Silver Retreats, which provides event planning and corporate retreats. He does fundraising work for charities and says there is a movie and a book in the works about his life. Meanwhile, the break he took after all those years of training is over; it’s time to recover something of the old athlete inside him.
“It’s highly doubtful I’ll ever look like I did in the Olympics being the normal family-business guy,” he says, “but I do want to stay in shape.”
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org