It’s been some time since I first posted about the financial situation I found myself in as a returning veteran and Olympic medalist on the US Rowing Team. The post caused a lot of feelings for a lot of people, not all of which were positive or supportive. For every message of support I got, I got at least one other negative one. But the important thing was that amid all of those feelings in all of those people, it initiated some important conversations about the support our athletes were getting, and whether or not that support created a sustainable model for our national team athletes. I’m happy to report that things have changed for me since I wrote that blog post back in April of 2014, and I’m looking at a very different set of circumstances as I move into my final year of training.
Not long after I published my original post, USRowing received a significant increase to its budget from the USOC. This increase has allowed for more support to be channeled directly to national team athletes via DAS grants. I can’t comment on whether or not the blog post and the budget bump were related, but the takeaway is that things got significantly better for USRowing athletes (myself included) as a result of the budget increase, and are currently better than they have ever been while I have been a DAS recipient. During the time I wrote my original blog, I was being awarded $800 monthly, and I was really struggling. Now, my stipend is upwards of double that amount–and has been so consistently for the past several quarters. That’s not to say that the increase has come without an improvement on my end as well; winning an NSR, multiple World Cup medals and also World Championship medals played a large part in the increase. However, the point still stands that more athletes are receiving more money than ever before, and while the amount is still not huge, it is monumentally better for creating a basic level of security and subsistence than what we have had in the past. I believe it more appropriately reflects and rewards the effort and success that our national team athletes have been able to achieve over the past decade. And most importantly: it is allowing us to live and train comfortably without worrying about having to work or wondering how we are going to pay bills.
Of course, this influx of financial support from the USOC does not affect all USRowing athletes equally. DAS guidelines are implemented each quarter to invest the most money in to the athletes/boat classes that are most likely to produce medals at the World Championships and Olympic Games. USRowing has established that certain boat classes will take priority in the DAS budget – and the majority of those boats are Training Center boats. So, USTC athletes are the ones who are seeing the most benefit from the budget increase, though athletes/boats from outside the training center have also had opportunities to earn an increase to their DAS with excellent performances at the World Championships. There are still any number of athletes both in and out of the training center who are training full time as hopefuls and who are receiving little or no funding from USRowing and the USOC. I wish I could say that there was always enough money for everyone to live and train comfortably no matter which boat class you were training for, and regardless of how much development your event needed to reach medal potential. But for now, there still just isn’t. And while I am happy and relieved to find myself in a better and more stable financial situation than I have experienced in the past, I think it is critically important to acknowledge that there are lots of athletes out there who are still struggling to make it, and who rely heavily on the support and generosity of their clubs, families, friends, and employers in order to strive for their dreams. If you know one of these athletes–and if you’re reading this there’s a good chance that you do–keep them in your thoughts over the next few months. There’s only a few left until important decisions will be made about the Team that will represent the US in Rio, and for some of those athletes, this will be their last go. It’s never the wrong thing to do to ask if there’s something you can do to help.
Thanks to all who have stepped up and offered their unconditional support as we hurtle in to Olympic selection. We can’t do what we do without you.
Long Live the Dream,