'Gymnastics has created who I am': Shewfelt

Hours after Kyle Shewfelt officially announced his retirement, had a one-on-one with Canada's celebrated gymnast to discuss the decision, the future, and to look back on his career.

Olympic gold medallist discusses his career, retirement and future plans

Calgary's Kyle Shewfelt recovered from shattered tibias and torn knee ligaments to compete at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. ((Matt Dunham/Canadian Press))

When Kyle Shewfelt stuck a landing to win gold at the 2004 Olympic Games, he made Canadian history. Never before had Canada won an Olympic medal in artistic gymnastics, let alone gold.

Four years later, Shewfelt was again Canada's story of the Games.

Eleven months before the Beijing Summer Games, the Calgary native broke both legs on an awkward landing while training for the 2007 World Championships. 

But Shewfelt not only returned to gymnastics, he recovered in time to make Canada's 2008 Olympic team and went on to represent his country in Beijing.

Now, the 27-year-old is calling it a career.

Hours after Shewfelt officially announced his retirement on Thursday, had a one-on-one with Canada's celebrated gymnast, to discuss the decision, the future, and to look back on his career. In all your years in gymnastics, what stands out as the highlight?

Shewfelt: Oooh, it's impossible to choose one highlight. The whole career for me was a dream come true. It was like a storybook, and the entire thing really was a highlight. Of course winning Olympic gold was a very special moment, and just coming back from my injury really, really, was a transcendent moment in my career as an athlete and it also changed me as a person. Is retirement something you've been considering for a long time? 

Shewfelt: I've been considering retirement for a while. I wanted to take a lot of time to think it over because I do love gymnastics, and I love representing my country, but there just came a day when I realized that it was time.

I've accomplished everything I ever wanted to in sport, I have so many incredible experiences, and I just feel now that it's time to move forward, time to start challenging myself in new ways and to have new experiences.

"I've been sort of juggling the idea around in my mind and in my heart. Since Beijing, I was trying to find new motivations and I wasn't succeeding in that. As an athlete there comes a day when you walk into the gym and you just realize that you've done everything you've ever wanted to do, and you're content, and you're happy, and you're fulfilled. And that's when you know."

Shewfelt receives his gold medal at Athens. ((Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press)) Did retirement ever cross your mind after you broke your legs in 2007?

Shewfelt:About three seconds after I found out that my legs were broken, I committed and I knew inside I was going to do everything I could possibly do in order to compete in Beijing. I didn't want to end my career on that note. It wasn't even something that I considered.

I felt this new fire burning so, so strongly inside of me. That experience, that 11 months from the day I broke my legs to competing in Beijing, they were a phenomenal time. I grew, I evolved, and I really learned about myself as a person and as an athlete. It would have been the easy way out, but I've never taken the easy way out in my life, and I don't intend to, moving forward. What are you most looking forward to about retirement?

Shewfelt: That's an awesome question. What I'm most looking forward to is just the opportunity to grow and to evolve and to learn, and to challenge myself in new ways. I've always been someone who has loved to take on new challenges, and to push myself to my absolute limit. So I'm looking forward to doing that in other avenues." How difficult do you think it will be to transition from your life as an Olympian to whatever comes next?

Shewfelt: (Laughs) I hope that the transition isn't too difficult. I think I'm definitely prepared ... when you're spending six hours in the gym and you suddenly stop, that's a lot of free time.

I hope I can use that time towards creating a legacy and towards new projects. And also in terms of fitness and stuff, I definitely have a plan to stay fit, and to do lots of yoga. I love physical activity, so now I can push myself in different ways that way as well. What are you plans to stay involved in gymnastics?

Shewfelt: I'm actually going to be taking on an ambassador role with Gymnastics Canada, where I'm going to be doing a lot of promotion for the sport and work with the national teams, and just help the next generation to fulfil their sporting dreams.

Gymnastics for me, it is a big part of my life, and it will continue to be. I mean, gymnastics has created who I am, really, and it's going to play a giant role in who I become in the future. So I hope that I can continue to be involved, I'd love to open a gymnastics club in Calgary ... I just hope that I can continue to have my involvement in the world of gymnastics in Canada, and beyond. What will you miss most about competing?

Shewfelt: When I think about it, I'm going to miss all of the little things you totally take for granted when you're competing. Like standing at the end of the vault and yelling down to your coach to straighten the board, and the feeling that you get in those 10 seconds before you go to salute the judge, that feeling of nervous and anxious. And those are feelings that I don't know if I'll ever experience again in my life, and that's why I'll miss them.

But you know, I do remember them very fondly and I hope I continue to remember them for as long as I possibly can.  Will you miss the six hours a day in the gym and the intense training regimen?

Shewfelt: I know I'm going to miss that. It's funny because as an athlete, sometimes you loathe that, the long hours and the monotony. But I think I'm definitely going to miss it, but on the same page I hope I'm occupied enough in my future endeavours, where I can just look back and have a moment of missing but realize that I'm contributing in a different way.