Nordic combined jumper Bryan Fletcher plans new life after retirement
Nordic combined Olympian Bryan Fletcher is home for the season, back at his house in Heber. No more Olympics, no more World Cups. But for the first time since he was 6, he won’t return to the sport next season. He’s retired. Instead he is planning to start the next chapter of his professional life, a shakeup that will change the U.S. team and test Fletcher in a new way.
For the past few years, Fletcher has been working toward a degree in health education and promotion with an emphasis in health science, pieced together from classes at Utah State University, Salt Lake Community College, and Westminster College.
“Just what I can take and what has been working with my schedule,” he said. “Just chipping away.”
Eventually he hopes to go into a master’s program to become a physician’s assistant (a long-term plan he would apply for in 2019 or 2020). Because programs are very competitive, he said he’s keeping his options open on where that would be, but he hopes to stay close to home, with his wife Nikki Thorsen and daughter, Ellery.
He was also recently elected to Team USA’s Athletes Advisory Council board of directors, representing ski jumping and Nordic combined, and will continue to serve a four-year term. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be hanging around the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Center of Excellence, where the Nordic combined team practices. Fletcher said he was considering coaching, but thought it would be a problematic move.
“I didn’t think that would be the best thing for myself or the team right after competing,” he said, reasoning that putting some time between himself and racing would be a better idea.
“We still have a lot of work to do, and going straight from an athletic career to coaching, you carry some of the same problems into coaching,” he said.
Presumably, one of those issues would be his schedule. At 31 years old, Fletcher was the literal and proverbial team dad. His teammates scheduled their training around Bryan’s schedule, which was dependent to some degree on his family. With the team now comprised entirely of bachelors, it can theoretically practice on a looser, more egalitarian schedule.
“Bryan was slightly different as we had to schedule trainings that worked for him,” his brother, Taylor Fletcher, who is also a Nordic combined Olympian, wrote via email. “Being the best guy on the team it was important to make sure we could train with him. Most importantly, he was great at answering questions about training for some of the younger guys that weren’t sure what to do.”
As with everything else about this step of his life, the idea of Bryan giving the Nordic combined program some space is new — for both Fletcher brothers. For more than a decade, Bryan and Taylor’s lives were in near lockstep — especially when it came to competition.
“Bryan was someone I looked up to for advice, but also he was very consistent in his career,” Taylor wrote. “I always was able to judge where I was at the time when I was skiing next to him, as he was a great benchmark for me.”
Bryan said he had grown used to setting a pathway and knowing Taylor would be beside him.
Now, at 27 years old, Taylor will be the oldest member of the U.S. team.
“This change will be weird at first but something I am looking forward to,” Taylor wrote. “Bryan taught me a lot on how to be a leader and I look to bring that knowledge to the younger guys and show them a great path to follow.”
Fletcher is certainly not alone in his retirement. He is one of several Nordic combined athletes that are hanging up their skis this year, including athletes from Norway, France.
“I definitely tried to pick everybody who’s retiring’s brain as much as possible and see what they have next,” Fletcher said. “It’s always cool to see what they come up with and the direction that they go.”
For those who are coming up to fill the ranks, Fletcher offered a piece of advice.
“Always believe in yourself,” he said. “For an athlete, it’s not always easy to believe in yourself and trust that you can do it. Get busy creating a mindset that can foster that belief and growth … trust me it will pay off when you get to elite levels and have complete confidence in yourself.”
It’s advice he’s trying to take into the next chapter of his life, which he admits is intimidating — “Any time you’re retiring from anything you’ve ever known, it’s nerve wracking, and this is no exception,” he said.
It’s his first professional leap into the unknown in a long time, but he said so far he has proven to himself that he can do it, and he intends to keep going.
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