"An entire way of life was gone — all at once." That’s how swimming gold medalist Donna de Varona describes her retirement after the 1964 Olympics.
She’s not alone. We talked to eight Olympians, all of whom struggled when they came home from the games. Some wrestled with health problems and financial woes. Some faced public anger or disdain for their politics. Some confronted anxiety, depression, and self-doubt.
But these are not stories of defeat — they are ultimately about renewal and reinvention. Click on the links below to read these athletes' stories in full.
Track and field, bronze medal
Mexico City, 1968
"If you're famous and you're black, you have to be an activist." Read More
Softball, gold and silver medals
"To this day, every time I bring out the silver medal, it still stings." Read More
Track and field, silver medal
Mexico City, 1968
"I was disappointed and angry. Angry at the officials as well as at myself. But my wife and I made a promise to each other: We didn’t want our lives to end there." Read More
Soccer, gold medal
"Your place on the national team is always precarious; it's like every day is a new tryout." Read More
Diving, four gold medals, one silver
Los Angeles, 1984
"Knowing that my story has affected others, even in a minuscule way, keeps me passionate." Read More
Swimming, silver medal
"Waving an Olympic medal in front of the human resources receptionist doesn’t mean you can skip over the experience section on job applications." Read More
Rio de Janeiro, 2016
"The International Olympic Committee discovered that I tested positive for marijuana. How could I let this happen?" Read More
Donna de Varona
Swimming, two gold medals
"Back then, only male athletes were offered sports scholarships." Read More