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The Great-West Life Assurance Company, London Life Insurance Company and The Canada Life Assurance Company have become one company – The Canada Life Assurance Company. Discover the new Canada Life

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Olympic Champion and World Medalist Damian Warner talks to Canada Life about managing money and a young family, exploring business opportunities beyond athletics, his thoughts on retirement, and remaining the World’s Greatest Athlete.

How does the World’s Greatest Athlete beat his best?

It’s a question Damian Warner, Canadian Decathlete who has won medals at every level on the World stage, is pondering ahead of this year’s summer competitions.

Warner brought home the gold, an accomplishment even he admits could be hard to beat. “I can win another gold medal, but I don't know if it'll feel that same as winning that first one, you know?” he says. “With that being said, I think winning again would feel really awesome. That’s my new goal, something that I set for myself...I’ll push myself a little bit more and see if I can do something just as awesome, if not more awesome - who knows?

The process of sitting down with his team, coming up with a new plan and reshaping his goals is a big focus for Warner, and those goals extend beyond his life as an athlete. He explains how staying agile when it comes to goal-setting is helping with everything from his mental game to planning financially for his family’s future.

Focusing on the future 

While Warner’s immediate priority may be an upcoming competition, that’s not stopping him from thinking about life beyond athletics. His partner Jennifer Cotten, an accomplished hurdler who narrowly missed qualifying for the Rio Olympics, retired from track and field in 2016.

Her retirement has given them a first-hand glimpse into how important it is for athletes to plan for life beyond competition.

Retiring really is one of the hardest things for athletes in any sport,” he says. “I was looking into it recently because I went to an event and sat beside Joe Carter and the agent for the Blue Jays, and they were talking about the pension the players get.

It’s like $185,000 a year after taxes or something like that, it’s one of the best in all the sports leagues. But I think you have to play 5 years to get that pension. And I started to wonder, what’s it like in other leagues like the NBA and the NFL?

I looked it up and it's 5 years in all the leagues - but the average lifespan of an NFL player career-wise is like 3.5 years, so most of these people play and damage their bodies to a point where they don't even get the pension when they retire.”

It's a worry Warner is trying to avoid by exploring opportunities beyond track and field, such as venturing into business-ownership.

Warner was approached with an opportunity to become a partner to help re-open a local gym. Like many, its doors had shuttered due to the Pandemic after being a staple in the community for over 20 years.

“A lot of responsibility comes along with an opportunity like that, but I came to realize it would be a cool opportunity,” he says. At the start of 2023, the Damian Warner Fitness Centre opened 2 locations, with many of the staff that had been laid off due to the COVID-19 closure returning to work in these new clubs.

“It’s been really awesome so far, just seeing the people that have been joining the gym, and the feedback that we’ve got, and it kind of goes hand in hand with what my life has been about - fitness, training, working out, and just being a better version of yourself.”

Going the distance for greatness  

The fitness centres may form part of his financial plan for life beyond competition, but there’s much to consider between now and hanging up his spikes.

First up there’s the defence of his gold medal in the 2024 Paris Olympics, followed by a return to Tokyo in 2025 for the World Athletics Championships.

Alongside training for these events, the travel associated with attending them is part of his family’s life – and so is the cost.

“I’ve been very fortunate as an athlete to be able to go to so many different countries around the world and have these awesome experiences - but those experiences cost money. It’s the battle between saving money versus having these life experiences, because at the end of the day, life is relatively short. Do you want to wait until you’re much older to live these experiences, or do you want to try to take those responsibly as much as you can now?”

For Warner alongside so many Canadians, he also works hard to strike the balance between enjoying experiences like travel with working towards large financial goals.

“I think once you have a kid, (setting those goals) naturally progress, or at least for me they did. You start thinking, how do we start saving for him to go to school or for some of these trips that are going to be happening?

We want to buy a house soon. That’s going to cost a down payment - how do we go about saving it? What kind of price range are we looking for? Buying a house isn’t cheap and you want to make sure that if you’re doing those things, you're responsible.”

Building a support network

Being responsible and providing for his family are particularly important for Warner, who grew up in what he describes as an underprivileged household.

“My mom worked two jobs to support me, my brother and my sister. I grew up in a low-income area where everybody around me was basically in the same situation, with a single parent working two jobs to support their family.”

Former high-school teachers have described Warner as a shy kid with a mediocre attendance record. He was convinced to join Montcalm Secondary School’s basketball team in Grade 11, a decision that would connect him with teacher and coach Gar Leyshon.

The two moved from basketball to track and field, despite the fact neither athlete nor coach knew much about either. The raw talent however was evident, and Leyshon (who remains Warner’s Head Coach) began making calls to coaches in other disciplines to grow their training team.

Warner achieved success early in his career, placing second in his first major competition - the Canadian Championships – aged just 20. Despite this success, it became clear that even winning wouldn’t be enough to guarantee financial stability.

Navigating life’s hurdles 

“Track and field had this horrible history, at least here in Canada but maybe even worldwide, of being underpaid” he says. “I think over time, people have just come to accept that. People get involved in track and field because they enjoy it and want to see how good they can be, but they don't get paid for their efforts.”

Track and field is an amateur sport in Canada, meaning athletes aren’t paid by any professional leagues. With that in mind, Warner has made a point to be “creative” when it comes to monetizing his success to continue competing while providing for his family.

“Sometimes you have to find money – you have to go to companies and explain to them why it’s worth it for them to invest in you, and to help you out financially so that you can give them certain benefits as well,” he explains.

“I feel like for a long time, track and field athletes in Canada didn’t have that relationship with money. It was strictly about what you do on the track with the acceptance that once I'm done this track and field thing, when I’m 30 years old, I’m going to start my life and then I’ll worry about money.

That’s why I’ve worked with my support staff and coaches for a really long time, they thought the same way that I did – that I could set myself up in a way that when I’m done track and field, there’s money in the bank. And I can take care of my kid.”

Many of Warner’s close-knit team have been with him since high school, only now, there’s more structure with regards to who manages what. There’s somebody managing his investments, someone to manage his athlete’s trust, and agents to work on brand deals and negotiations. “It makes my life a lot easier so that when I'm at the track, that’s all I have to focus on.”

Managing financial, physical and mental wellbeing 

Warner describes himself as being responsible with his earnings. “Having money has always been like a long-term goal of mine, but it wasn’t always a motivator for me necessarily. I’ve always been somebody that saves my money, doesn’t like to overspend, and plans a lot for the future. I wouldn’t be doing this right now if I wasn’t able to save up and provide for Theo, and Jen, and myself once I’m done this, because I think that would be irresponsible.”

Along with taking care of his family’s financial future, Warner also prioritizes taking care of his mental wellbeing. A self-described “naturally calm” person, Warner has worked with his coaches to embrace more of the feelings that arise with both winning and losing.

“I learned early on that when I went to competitions, sometimes I was too calm,” he explains. “Even if something went really well, I’d just be like calm. And if something went poorly, I’d be calm.

And I think that can go well and that there’s an importance of being calm when you need to. But I also think if you do awesome in an event, let yourself know that you did awesome! And if you did poorly, kick a couple of things and be upset, you know?

Allowing those emotions to come out within a decathlon, I think, allowed me to just be a little bit freer and not necessarily be too much in my head. Just allowing myself to just be a human being is important.

The way that I look at the decathlon specifically is that it would make no sense for me to go to the track every single day and work as hard as I do and have all these people around me invest so much time and energy if we’re just not going to care. I think it’s important to just enjoy everything. Enjoy it.”