NEW YORK (MainStreet) For athletes like bobsled pilot Jamie Greubel, the chance to compete at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi costs a pretty penny. In order to afford the privilege of going for gold, the 30-year-old had to build a strong and agile fundraising regimen to complement her workout routine.
The expenses add up fast for the Newton, Penn. native and former track star at Cornell: Greubel has been on the U.S. bobsled team since the 2007-2008 season, and each year it costs her $15,000 to $20,000 to chase her dreams.
Given the financial burdens of travel, training and equipment, a TD Ameritrade survey found that nearly one in three Olympic athletes (30%) do not put money into a savings or investment account on a consistent basis. In addition, 32% would use a sudden windfall to pay off their debt.
"Olympic athletes and aspiring Olympians face unique financial challenges," said Dedra DeLilli, director of marketing and partnerships at TD Ameritrade. "Just as their success as athletes is determined by small moments that add up over time, they need to take the same small steps to save money to fund their Olympic dreams."
Greubel was beset by the same financial challenges most athletes of her caliber face. After moving up to Lake Placid, the hub for bobsled hopefuls, Greubel landed a number of odd jobs to make ends meet.
She worked at the creperie in town and at Caffe Rustica, a local Italian restaurant. But it's tough for athletes in training to hold down full-time, high-paying jobs with their grueling workout schedule and specifically assigned daytime gym hours. Greubel, who in 2006 set the Ivy League Meet record in the heptathlon, was no stranger to gut-wrenching workouts, but the transition to ice and the quick-burst calisthenics were trying.
"We train like weight lifters and sprinters, so you have all of your training throughout the week, and then on top of that I was working 60-hour weeks waitressing and catering for weddings," Greubel said.
That can take a toll on the body but is a necessary evil.
"It's definitely not ideal, because in order to improve your training and push the limits, you need to be able to recover," Greubel said. "But with waitressing, you're on your feet eight hours a day, so that's kind of like the worst case scenario, but at the same time, it's a pretty easy way to make enough money in the two or three months during the summer to fund the season."
Greubel gets a $1,000 monthly stipend for being on the national team, and Team U.S.A. covers her rent at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. Without that boost, she would not be able to afford rent or a weekly grocery bill.
She has a sled through Team U.S.A. because of her rank, but it wasn't always so easy: starting out, she would have to pay to rent a sled when touring on the lower circuit in Europe for 500 a week.
Yet even when athletes are on the national team and U.S.A. Bobsled and Skeleton pays for their travel, Greubel and her peers have to pay for early season qualifying events out of their own pockets.
"I probably spent $10,000 before the season even started this year," Greubel said.
As a pilot steering the bobsled, she can also be responsible for helping the brakeman, the person at the back of the sled, to afford travel footing the bill for plane tickets and hotel rooms. As part of the pre-season, in Park City for the National Team Trials or Calgary for the National Push Championships, Greubel each time would have to pay for gym use ($90), a rental car ($1,000), gas ($200), lodging $1,900, food ($375) and a round-trip flight ($300). For the push competition, she had to rent an ice house for $275 an hour.
Equipment doesn't come cheap either; one set of blade runners can cost $6,000.
"In order to be competitive, you need good equipment, so it's like every summer, I have to buy like the equivalent of a used car for my sport," Greubel said.
That's not to mention the fact that she has four sets of runners for different ice conditions. The lifetime of the runners might be a quad or six years if you're lucky. It's an expensive set of skates.
The other miscellaneous expenses add up too:
- $350- ice spikes and running spikes
- $500- training gear
- $1,000- supplements
- $300- tools and supplies for the season (duck tape, sandpaper, shims, WD-40, new toolbox, etc.)
- $1,050- chiropractor and massage therapist visits
Despite the financial challenges Greubel faced in advance of the Sochi Olympics, this past summer was the first she didn't work.
"I knew going into the Olympic year I had to put everything into my training, like 100% of my time and focus, because I knew that every other country in the world was doing the same thing," she said. "Now that was definitely stressful."
Outside observers may assume that all pro athletes have sponsorship deals, but that's not the case.
"People talk about sponsorships, but honestly they don't come easily," she said. "And a lot of people say they'll sponsor somebody once they've already made it. And they don't understand that it takes a lot to make it."
To cover costs, some Olympians turn to the Internet to raise training funds, and Greubel used a site called RallyMe with a goal of marshaling $17,000.
With friends and strangers pitching in for about $3,000, she was able to use that money for the pre-season.
In addition, she's received support from the Olympic Regional Development Authority in Lake Placid and local couples up there, including Kevin and Tina Fountain. To boot, Russian vodka company Putinka sponsored Greubel and has emblazoned her sled and uniform with its logo.
There are inevitable expenses ahead, those beyond the slippery slope of bobsled track. Greubel is engaged to a man on the German national bobsled team, but their savings have been funneled into their athletic pursuits, not a nest egg. And they're not planning a black tie affair at the Waldorf anytime soon.
"Honestly, I'm not really thinking about that right now," Greubel said. "Yeah, we don't have any money for that right now, anyway, so kind of what's the point planning it?"
She's pretty easy-going about this type of thing anyway.
"Hopefully at the end of the season, I'll be able to start to think about those things," she said. "It's nice to know that I have that and that I am engaged, but all the wedding planning will be after the Olympics for me."
A gold medal in Sochi pays out $25,000 -- perhaps a pittance compared to what athletes like Greubel invest into their dreams, but still a handsome start toward affording her nuptials.
--Written by Ross Kenneth Urken for MainStreet
Disclaimer: In full disclosure, I attended the same middle school as Greubel and overlapped one year, albeit in different grades.