Teaching in the kinesiology faculty at the University of Calgary for 46 years was a dream for me. I had a privileged position which aligned with my passions and talents. I taught in the outdoor pursuit degree program and coaching the Dino volleyball teams. I feel privileged to be called “prof”, “coach”, and “dad”. I got the chance to engage in interactive growth opportunities with students; mentored young adults as they searched for their career path; built skill sets and confidence with elite athletes; and empathized with those processing grief, something I knew well having lost my two young sons. It’s the purpose my Creator created me to fulfil.
My labs became a space for shared, insightful moments that created impactful and long-lasting relationships. Teachable moments, either staged or naturally occurring, provided me with opportunities to develop leadership traits and self-discovery. As a mentor and coach, one of my goals was to convert “commentators” into “coaches”. Commentators simply identify problems; coaches find solutions.
Watching students respond in numerous and diverse contexts is what gives me so much hope. For example, during a safety session in a lake canoeing course, if a canoe tipped over, I would stay back allowing classmates to affect the rescue. My students’ leadership skills also revealed themselves when they dug me out after I surfed an avalanche during a unit in backcountry skiing (I’d positioned them in a place of safety while I tested the stability of the slope). They were incredibly competent, willing to step in, take control, and find solutions. It’s exactly what we need as we come out of this pandemic. These students will lead us into our new norm. Having witnessed them and many others over the past few decades, I am convinced they will find answers for our broken relationships and fractured world.
I’m discovering that retirement is not all that different from the busy, active life I’ve led. Yes, I don’t have lectures to prepare, labs to design, faculty meetings to attend (yippee!), and never-ending grading. But I’m still the same person – curious, adventurous, desiring to share wisdom. I’m not one to spend the last years of my life watching Netflix.
The mentor switch is not one that gets turned off, even if you are retired. I still get coffee in public settings with two or three students or coaches on a weekly basis (following the coaching “‘rule of two,” where meetings happen in open, public settings) – an activity I’ve found so enriching. I come away feeling that I’m not only facilitating transformational lessons with my mentees, but growth within myself. Having been an elite sport coach for over five decades, I now enjoy mentoring young coaches as they struggle to find the true meaning of success. It’s what I feel is needed in our society today – retirees mentoring with our wealth of experience and expertise.
I’ve also found time to publish a memoir, My Love Affair with Fear. My wish is that readers will grasp insights into how to accept fear as a gift, rather than as a foe.
White-water expeditions have now been swapped for relaxing days canoeing on a lake with my grandchildren. Days of ambitious mountain trekking have been replaced with ventures such as mushing a sled-dog team of six through the valleys of the Rockies. Hours of exhausting black alpine ski runs have been exchanged with gliding across a snowy blanket on my cross-country skis.
As an educator, my life has been that of sculpting young lives, and the allure of our West Coast Indigenous culture has fueled my hand carving dexterity. After travelling to Haida Gwaii to apprentice with master carvers, our home is now adorned with masks, scale Haida canoes and paddles, as well as a three-metre-tall totem.
Do I miss the lecture theatre and gym? Yes, I miss the challenges and social interactions. However, I’m discovering that retirement can absolutely meet those yearnings. My curiosity leads to physical challenges that are more age appropriate, but no less rewarding; I continue to maintain my functional fitness; there’s more time for profound, unstructured discussions as well as quality time with family. My hope is that you too can dive into retirement filled with fire in your belly, curiosity, gratitude, and joy. My years on campus have paved the way for more rewarding and meaningful decades.
Brad Kilb is a senior instructor emeritus, kinesiology, at the University of Calgary. His expertise has been recognized as a U of Calgary Teaching Excellence Hall of Fame inductee, Canadian U Sports Coach-of-the-Year and volleyball gold medalist, and internationally recognized white water rescue expert. His film, Rescues for River Runners, won a gold medal at the Banff International Mountain Film Festival. You can learn more at www.bradkilb.com.