Professional Athletes Living in a Retirement Community

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Two Olympic medal-winning soccer players follow in the footsteps of a professional baseball player – into a retirement community

It is not uncommon for sports stars to retire early. Funded by the proceeds from multi-million dollar contracts, their retirements often feature private jets, spacious mansions and lavish vacations. It’s almost unheard of, though, for world-class athletes to move into a retirement community while they are still at the peak of their careers. Almost.

Diana Matheson and Robyn Gayle are two of the star players on the Washington Spirit, Washington, D.C.’s new professional women’s soccer team. The two athletes were previously teammates on Canada’s bronze medal-winning 2012 Olympic soccer team. They are also the newest residents of Ingleside at King Farm, a continuing care retirement community in Rockville, Md.

The players have been enthusiastically welcomed by the residents and staff

The players have been enthusiastically welcomed by the residents and staff

Matheson and Gayle, both in their 20s, will be sharing a large, two-bedroom suite at the retirement community. Unlike major football or basketball stars, the athletes who play for women’s professional teams and minor league teams often have a hard time finding affordable housing on their modest salaries. Frequently, players are hosted in residential homes, much like exchange students.

“This is a win-win for the athletes and for our community who will enjoy several intergenerational events we’re planning during their stay,” says Marilyn Leist, Ingleside at King Farm’s executive director. “The hospitality we extend to these young women is also an important part of fulfilling our social accountability as a not-for-profit organization.”

Following in the Footsteps of a Minor League Baseball Player

As a professional minor league baseball player, Josh Fiaola was accustomed to relying on a host family to provide his room and board. It was all part of pursing his dream of playing in the Major Leagues. When his new team offered him the chance to live in an The Belvedere at Westlake, an assisted living residence in Westlake, OH  in 2008, he had reservations, but he quickly discovered that his accommodations and his neighbors were unparalleled.

At the time, Josh was just looking for a comfortable and affordable place to live. He never thought that he would be blazing a path for other athletes or inspiring communities, but that is exactly what happened. Josh’s fellow assisted living residents became his most ardent fans. They found a cause in his team, and he found an incredibly supportive community. Their story quickly gained national attention and perked the interest of a local advocate for aging services.

Cindy Griffiths-Novak, the pioneering owner of the community that hosted Josh has since hosted a player every season and inspired other teams in the league to follow in her footsteps.

Expanding the Movement

After years of researching and writing about retirement living options, Steve Gurney, the publisher and founder of Guide to Retirement Living SourceBook, decided in 2008 that it was time to embark on his own journey. At 43, he moved into several local retirement communities to better understand the challenges his readers were facing as they transitioned to senior living.

“I was simply amazed by the wonderful people I met and the warm welcome I received,” said Gurney. “However, the biggest eye-opener for me was realizing how much I could learn from these residents, and how much they wanted to interact with me and my family.”

Gurney’s experiment transformed him into a passionate advocate for intergenerational living. He began to encourage local retirement living providers to think differently about their services and to avoid isolating their residents. When Gurney learned about Fiaola and his assisted living fans, inspiration struck.

Turning to his extensive local network of senior-serving providers, Gurney began to put together a unique event featuring this story of intergenerational connections. The BIG EVENT for senior-serving professionals will take place on April 18, 2013, at Nationals Park. The event will feature a keynote presentation by Josh Fiaola and Cindy Griffiths-Novak, the pioneering owner of the community that hosted Josh.

While reaching out to local organizations to promote The BIG EVENT, Gurney connected with Chris Hummer, the general manager of The Washington Spirit. Hummer had a familiar problem; he was struggling to find affordable housing for the athletes who were joining his team. Gurney helped connect the team with Ingleside at King Farm, which volunteered to host two or the star players on the team. Now Matheson and Gayle and the management of Ingleside at King Farm are also scheduled to attend the BIG EVENT as well to discuss their new adventure in retirement living.

For Matheson and Gayle, following in Josh’s footsteps presented an exciting opportunity to live in an upscale community surrounded by welcoming neighbors. As the young women settle in to their new home, they are becoming part of what Gurney hopes is a burgeoning movement that will unite generations and revolutionize the retirement living industry. “My dream is that these stories inspire our industry to think more creatively about the ways we can support our elders without isolating them from the community at large”, states Gurney.

Sports have always united fans. Rallying behind a team can bring diverse people together and give them a common cause. Now, aspiring sports stars are helping to unite generations – inspiring fans and benefiting from strong communities.

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