Seventh in a series of eight
Few professional athletes get the choice when to retire, and every other one is usually angry about it. Injuries happen, age limits their physical abilities or employers decide they no longer are necessary or don't want to pay the current rate.
Even fewer leave their professions healthy, partly because they retire one year too late versus one year too early.
But what happens to someone who has had to retire and lost their dream before reaching middle age? What's next after the only thing you ever wanted to do is no longer possible? How do you plan the next 30 years of your working life or replace that competitive appetite which has driven you for so long?
One of the most unique things about being a professional athlete from or performing in Fort Wayne is that they must deal with fame as if they were working in a much larger environment. If they have had some success, almost everyone knows who they are and recognizes them in public.
Fort Wayne fans are passionate about cheering their favorites on and getting the chance to know them off the playing fields. Maybe no athlete was more recognizable during his playing days than former Komet Guy Dupuis who won four championships in Fort Wayne and became the first Komet to play in more than 1,000 games.
"I went to a Fort Wayne Fury game in the late 1990s, and I was sitting with (his wife) Nicole," Dupuis said. "After I had eaten my yogurt, I put it under my seat. One girl approached me and said, 'My friend is a huge Guy Dupuis fan. Would it be possible for her to have your cup?' I looked at the cup and there was a residue of melted yogurt in there and I looked at Nicole and I couldn't figure why not. 'I guess so, you can have it.' She took the spoon and the cup.
"Five or six years later when I came back as a Komet, after a game that lady came up and shook my hand and asked me if I remembered this cup. She had the cup and there was still dried up yogurt residue in there."
One reason why many former pro athletes choose to retire in Fort Wayne is because they know fans will respect them and let them be themselves. They aren't obnoxious and are treated with respect in return. They also know fans will respect their family time.
"I'd say there's a lot bigger percentage when I played who knew me, but now that I retired there's still an amount but it starts fading a way a little bit,' said Dupuis who retired three years ago. "New families and kids start following hockey. I'm less at the practice rink than I played.
"I can't pinpoint any time when it was annoying. To me, normally I just start a short conversation and I don't talk for hours and hours. I enjoy meeting people and hearing a little bit of their story within the timeframe. I enjoy the interaction."
But Dupuis has always been generous with his time off the ice and has used his fame to help several charities by speaking at events. Now he concentrates on Lamp Lighters Hockey Ministry.
Many athletes understand the influence and impact they have, especially on children, and are careful how they use it.
"It was a good feeling to go to a school, a church or a Boys Club or whatever to be able to talk," Dupuis said. "It seemed when I was a player, the message was more received. When you went to a school or Boy Scouts, it seemed like all the eyes were on you. I think players probably don't realize the kind of good you can do just because people hold you in high esteem as an active player and a professional athlete. That's part of hockey I miss, the good that you felt by doing some good, having that impact."
But there are still times when notoriety can be annoying, especially when an athlete is still active. Fort Wayne fans expect to support winners, and their familiarity with sports figures can be touchy if their team isn't winning.
Dupuis played for a lot of great Komets teams, but he also played for some very bad ones.
"Sometimes it wasn't always fun," he said. "Fort Wayne Komets fans are very passionate and they follow their team. If we were in a slump or didn't play well the night before, and I was walking through the mall or wherever, it wasn't always a nice comment. 'Gee, Guy, you guys are struggling. What's going on?' So you'd get both. Komets fans are pretty open, and frank with their opinions and they lay it on the line."
Another positive of the notoriety is that it often helps with their post-athletic careers in finding new professions. Many employers feel like they already know the athletes before they hire them because of their fame.
Dupuis has worked for three years at Diversified as a sales representative. His boss is a former hockey fan whose son Dupuis coached at one time.
At other times, his popularity and notoriety always work to keep life interesting.
"Probably every other time I go to the grocery or somewhere, there's a fan who recognizes me," Dupuis said. "The other day I had one that had never happened before. I went to this automotive place, and just beside me a guy was talking to his buddy and he was talking about Steve Fletcher. I looked back, and the guy is looking at me and pointing at me to his buddy. I looked at him and said hi, and we started a conversation about hockey: He said, 'I followed your career from the very beginning right to the end. He didn't go to hockey as much now.'
"I think he really truly believed I was Steve Fletcher. That's the first time that has ever happened to me. He said, `You are way bigger than I thought you were, way more muscular.' He was too far away and doing his business to be able to tell him, 'Hey, I'm not actually Steve Fletcher.' "