Raising an Olympian – Paying the Cost (Part 2 of 3)


The Olympics are at the midpoint and you have probably enjoyed watching the athletes compete, while learning about some of their personal lives.  Last week, in part one of this series on Raising an Olympian I shared the story of Gabby Douglas moving away from home to train for her Olympic dream.  Her family had to let her go in order for her to reach her highest level.  A tremendous sacrifice.

As you can imagine, this did not come without cost.  A day or so after Gabby’s gold medal performance there were many reports about Gabby’s mother filing for bankruptcy earlier this year.  Reports also show Ryan Locthe’s parents are facing foreclosure in Florida.  We see a lot of the glory (or at least some of it, “thanks” NBC), but don’t see the time, physical costs, and financial costs it takes.  Part two of my Raising Olympian series focuses on that, the cost to raising an Olympian.

What are the costs to Raising an Olympian?

It takes a lot of time and money to get to the top in any sport.  It was estimated that swimmers like Michael Phelps trained for 6-10 hours per day for four years to reach that gold medal level he has reached. This includes physical training in and out of the water as well as treatment for the rigors they put their bodies through.

Families of gymnasts may have average expenses of $1,000 per month in training and travel costs.  Of course the higher level of training and more travel the higher the costs.  Sports with more equipment can cost a family $25,000 per year or more.

What about all the money Olympians make?

Although their expenses are so high, very few Olympians make much money.  The top athletes (and best looking) may get endorsement deals, but that percentage is very low.  Sometimes those deals come after the competition, if they even come.  That is after years of training and the costs associated with.  Now, we can relate to Gabby’s mother and Locthe’s parents.

This economy + Olympic training = Sacrifice

Many families are struggling to pay for their basic needs in our current economy, so how do they afford paying for an “extra” cost such as Olympic level training?  I know it is tough and tough decisions must be made.  Just yesterday I had to tell our daughter that she cannot play travel soccer this year because we just cannot afford it.  Talk about tough, that was very tough for her, and me!  Travel soccer is by no means Olympic training, but nonetheless it can be costly.

As I studied the cost of Raising an Olympian I learned some of the ways the families are able to pay for their costs.  Here are 5 Ways Families Pay the Cost to Raising an Olympian:

1. Part-time jobs.  Now if you are 16 years old, going to school, and training for the Olympics you may not be able to work a part-time job.  But many times the parents are able to.  This additional sacrifice means less time with your family.  This is a challenge to many of the families, because travel to and from training and events still has to happen.  Working 8-10 hours day on job/business #1 plus 2-4 hours per day or weekends for a part-time job, leaves little extra time for the family.

2. Scholarships and Stipends.  Some training programs offer scholarships, and the US Olympic Committee offers small stipends (most sports less than $1,000 per month).  These scholarships may offset a portion of the training and team fees, but they typically do not cover family travel costs like gas, food, and lodging.  If you train just 3 days a week you may put an extra 150 miles of driving to and from the practice facility. Unless the families are lucky to have a world class trainer and facility around the corner.

3. Shard Living Arrangements.  In the case of Gabby Douglas when she moved out of state to train, she lived with a host family.  This host family provided all the daily travel to and from practice, food, shelter, etc that she needed.  I am not sure what the cost of this was to Gabby’s family, but that eliminated the daily commute to practice, and maybe some of the tournament or competition travel costs.

4. Fund Raising and Sponsors.  Typical fund raising events like car washes, raffles, or cookie sales are options.  Some families may have the opportunity for a local business or employer of a parent to contribute the funds necessary.  This could be in exchange for some small marketing or nothing at all.  So many people, schools, churches, and organizations do fund raisers that the competition is steep, and people can just be tired of them.  This can make it more challenging and less effective.

5. Online Crowdfunding.  The technology advances and social media today provides a great opportunity to raise money for causes, dreams, businesses or anything else.  Personal websites, as well as sites like GoFundMe.com, IndieGogo.com, and PeerBackers.com offer platforms that an athlete’s story can be shared and donations requested.  I am actually considering this to help raise funds for my daughter’s travel soccer, if she has the opportunity to still participate.

So Paying the Cost to Raising an Olympian is no small feat in itself.  As we are watching these athletes compete at the highest level, under the highest pressure let’s keep in mind not just the physical sacrifices they have made, but the financial, time, and family sacrifices they have made.  It should make you cheer for them even harder.  

Question:  Would you sacrifice thousands of dollars and hours to help your child reach their dreams?  How would you do it?  Please share in the comment section below.

Raising an Olympian Series Links:

Raising an Olympian part 1 – Letting Them Go

Raising an Olympian part 2 – Paying The Cost

Raising an Olympian part 3 – Life After the Olympics


Aug 7, 2012