What if the thrill isn't gone?

By Justin Bachman

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Consider Michael Jordan, who soared and swirled around the basketball court in ways that left even the athletically apathetic gaping.

He retired, then returned, and retired again only to return again.

Jordan's experience highlights a vexing issue for baby boomers who are paid thrill-seekers such as firefighters, stunt performers, athletes and race car drivers -- how to yield gracefully to a new stage in life even as you long to keep doing the best job you ever had.


For many of these boomers, the answer is to never really retire. They refashion their jobs into full-time hobbies, or they do something else entirely and try not to think about the past too much.

"I'm going to do it forever," vows Ken Schrader, who at 48 is the oldest full-time driver on the NASCAR Winston Cup racing circuit. "I'm going to do it as long as I can climb in. Obviously, not at Winston Cup level, but I'm going to do it."

Jim Anderson, 56, retiring after 34 1/2 years as a firefighter in Peoria, Ill., started a home-inspection business in 1999 that consumes even more hours than his previous career. Retirement is bittersweet.

"I'm trying to put it out of my mind," he said. "But one of these days I'll realize that 'Hey, I ain't never going back."'

Jim Key knows all about it. He left the Austin (Texas) Fire Department last year after 29 years and 11 months when a city buyout package proved too generous to ignore.

"I had the busiest captain job in the city and I enjoyed the action thoroughly," said Key, 52. "I asked for them to make a special position where I could make every fire in town so I could stay on."

That didn't happen, so Key approached the tiny Oak Hill, Texas, department, near his home. He didn't want much salary, a rank, pension or any of the other employment perks -- he wanted to battle fires.

"It's the excitement, the adrenaline rush," he said. "It's comparable to any sport I've ever done."


Key works out daily to stay in shape and zealously monitors his fire and police radio scanner at home, ready to rush to a fire call. "Any day I'm not doing something, I'll go to work," he said. "I like to go. They don't make many runs a day, but it's still better than nothing."

Experts say all three illustrate the key to achieving a happy transition from a career that becomes more of a life than a job: Stay busy, find a new interest and focus on the potential of what lies ahead.

Moving from a rewarding job to a role as a couch potato is a sure prescription for misery.

"We were meant to be active, creative people who move and do things," said Alexandra Duran, a career counselor and workplace issues writer in New York. "You have to reorient your expectations. You have to replace one expectation with another."

Michael Crestejo is already pondering a different sort of life in pictures.

The stunt performer from Vancouver, British Columbia has worked on dozens of films, commercials and television shows, including "The X-Files," "21 Jump Street," "Romeo Must Die," and "Shanghai Noon." Martial arts fighting scenes and reckless driving are his specialties.

But at 46, "I'm at the stage where I don't want to be hit by a car anymore," he said. He has a wife and two children, which minimizes his "need to do something stupid."

"I did a headburn from the waist up and she saw a clip of that and was just horrified," he recalled. "But she knows I'm smart enough not to do really, really stupid things. Ten years ago it was different."


For the call of age, Crestejo now spends about 70 percent of his time coordinating stunt performances, showing youngsters who hurt less and heal faster how to fall down stairs, drive with abandon and throw lethal-looking punches.

It's not always graceful when the time comes for them to move on, when their paunches become obstacles to running into a burning building, or the competitive fervor flickers and a race car moving 170 mph becomes too swift.

Scott Toupin, a firefighter in Austin, Texas, and president of the Austin Association of Professional Firefighters, has had to help others ease some into different jobs when age and weight began to take a toll.

"You spend 30 years, man, it's like a family. It's a brotherhood," Toupin said. Retirement "is like leaving your family. It's hard to do."

Which is why Schrader says he'll never stop racing, even if his contest plays out at a humble course with friends before a meager crowd.

"Climbing in at a local dirt track is just as good for me," he said. "I don't need Daytona."

Many of the older drivers feel the same, said Schrader and Sterling Marlin, who at 46 has become one of NASCAR's more prominent and successful drivers, following in the steps of his racing father.

Marlin said his need for a race will be met just like many retirees who, when it suits their fancy, bike or golf.


"I can't remember a day when I got up and didn't spend the whole day thinking about race cars," he said.

What happens when that day comes?

"You dread it. Definitely," Marlin said, predicting he'll spend more time on his cattle and real estate interests back home in Tennessee. "I'm the type of guy who hates being inside."

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