It Takes Money...
I want to say the usual things…
an unwavering belief in yourself…
an impressive unparalleled work ethic…
I’m not saying that those characteristics aren’t useful, but I am saying that it’s not enough.
Let’s back up though.
Some of us aren’t in this to make money. So let’s replace the latter half of the cliche with: to be elite.
It takes money to be elite.
But for those of us still uncomfortable with talking money, let's replace the first part with another word: support.
It takes support to be elite.
Today I was taking a look at my American Express credit card statement and I thought, “this season is costing me so much money.” But at the same time it’s also been the best season of jumping I’ve had (not including championships).
So you’re probably wondering what I need to spend money on right? After all don’t the meet directors pay for my travel, my rooms, my meals?
I’m so glad you asked…
The meet directors do pay for some of my travel but not all- AND this is definitely not standard for every athlete attending the meet either. I used to fly economy at the beginning of my career- when I had no money and no choice. But after my back injury in 2013 traveling in economy class back and forth overseas was almost unbearable. Economy comfort, and economy plus cabins started to pop up but the problem was the same. I needed to lay flat on those long flights.
Let me explain to you some of the costs I incur on the circuit.
The first time you whip out your credit card to pay for your business class ticket to travel to your first meet of the year you will feel sick to your stomach. That’s thousands of dollars you have no idea you’ll get back. You’re sitting there typing in your passenger info wondering if you’re in shape enough to make the cost of this ticket back in prize money. You’re second guessing your training, you’re texting your coach begging for reassurance. You hit “book now” and that rock in your gut settles deeper. I remember thinking, “I need a drink” I was so stressed.
But you get to the airport, and you’re feeling yourself because you can get fast tracked through check-in and security, you don’t have to bother with packing light your luggage allowance is generous.
You see other athletes at the gate…and you can’t help but feel some kind of way when they announce “now boarding business class” and you’re the only one who stands up.
At this point I’d like to ask how much you think feeling THIS good ahead of a competition is worth?
Think on that for a bit…I’ll keep going.
When it’s safe to move about the cabin you pop up to the business class bathroom and change into your compression tights and sweats. You head back to your seat, you either decide to eat or skip the meal…but either way you’ve never been so comfortable in your life!
You fall asleep.
How ever many hours later you arrive at your destination and to your surprise you actually feel rested. So that shakeout your coach asked you to do upon arrival is actually possible this time. The jet lag will still hit you in a few days but it’ll be way less intense than it had been in the past.
You forget how sick buying that ticket made you feel.
Unless you are a medalist in an individual event you’re probably going to have a roommate and odds are it’ll be someone you’ve never met before. I don’t know about you but I don’t do well in those situations. I suddenly become too aware of the other person…afraid to chew too loudly, afraid to go to the bathroom, afraid to touch the air conditioner, afraid the light of my laptop screen will be too disruptive, afraid to talk on the phone. All of that.
Eventually, I would open my laptop and from my twin bed in a double room I’m sharing with a stranger I’d book another room in the same hotel and disappear. See…more money-gone. But that feeling of opening a hotel room door, to a space only occupied by you is an incredible feeling. I cannot count how many times I’ve done this or add up how much it’s cost me.
And now that I train in Europe housing costs me too. Airbnb has been a godsend when it comes to renting houses for the time that I’m here. But again…more money-gone.
Typically the meet directors have three meals catered for the duration of the meet. The banquet hall or ballroom is open at specific times for each meal, and you eat whatever is there.
Ask any current professional track athlete when the last time they saw me at a meal was.
The answer is….they haven’t. Not because the food is bad (I wouldn’t really know actually) but because my diet was/is the biggest game changer between my mediocre phase and my current elite phase in this sport and I guard it ferociously when I’m at meets. That might mean taking expensive cab rides in Shanghai to an even more expensive Morton’s Steakhouse, or ordering room service for every meal for three or four days. But it’s become somewhat of a joke that if you’re hungry you can find me and I’ll be able to tell you where to eat, in any country I’ve competed in.
**I bet most of y’all don’t know about that out of the way California Pizza Kitchen in Kawasaki that makes a mean ribeye steak platter.** ;-)
Those are just “on the road” costs. I haven’t even talked about “at home” and I won’t…this post will get way too long but imagine the cost of the following:
Fresh Market Groceries
Massage Therapy (2 sessions/week)
Chiropractor (2 sessions/week)
Yoga (1-2 private sessions/week)
Some of you might be thinking…I’m being fancy- that I don’t HAVE to get my groceries from Fresh Market, or I could go to a group Yoga Class instead of a private one…my answer to you is this:
NO. I. CANNOT.
Because this is what I’ve learned I need in order to be the athlete I want to be. And this is the entire point of this blog-
it takes a lot.
It takes mindfulness to figure out under what circumstances you feel and compete at your best and it's up to you to recreate those circumstances EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
I am unapologetic about it,
I often get teased about it.
But even if I don’t see returns as dollars in my bank account, I do see them in my medal count.
Which in my case is practically the same thing.
So ask yourself, work backwards if you must, what kind of life you want to live…
what kind of career you want to have…
and then ask yourself what you’re willing to pay for it…
because it will cost.
I totally feel you; even as a finance professional trying to reposition himself for the job market and the specialist requirements out there. I had to relearn quite a bit and it meant going back to Uni to do my Masters...it cost all my savings plus loans to make this possible. Now in the present, I ask myself if that cost was worth the time out of corporate work, since my reentry is still pending. it did cost
Thank you for sharing. That took a lot of courage. I admire that! I hope it turns out that it was worth it!
I really appreciate your transparency, openness, and willing to display your personal experiences/evolution of yourself this year. They are truly gifts you are giving! I've watched you over the years transform yourself to the woman you have become/are becoming. Having been a jumper it's great to see you informing, clarifying, and inspiring the future jumpers of the world. Not only with your successes but, your failures as well. Showing first hand that the fight is not only just in the competition.
Thank you for the honesty and all of your efforts to transforming yourself into the elite athlete you are. You're awesome.
You talk about the spending, but what about the overall cash flow? How do you manage to pay your credit card bills then? I know there is limited prize money from meet finishes and variable levels of sponsorship monies (depending on event, personality, and results). I'm sorry if this is too personal of a question, but there really is little info out there about the cash flow of Elite TF athletes who are not named Usian Bolt.
Good luck with the rest of your season
It's a really good question! I get paid a really good salary because of my endorsement contract with Nike. Most professional athletes in this sport don't have endorsement contracts so it's even harder for them. Additionally, my titles allow me the opportunity to make appearance fees on top of prize money earned. So at any given meet I can make a Nike bonus, an appearance fee, and prize money-- while maintaining a baseline salary as well. However, I'm always one injury or bad season away from all of that disappearing.
And you also have to consider the fact that an athlete's career is very short and after that, what do you have to fall back on? No more contract, bonuses, appearance fees, you gotta find a job in the real world... so that being said you have to capitalize on everything you can while you are getting paid as an athlete because past 35, it ain't happening!
I've been a big fan of yours since that first world title. Your honesty is amazing and I only hope the best for you and the rest of the T&F athletes in the area of financial rewards. I'm a masters athlete now and even working full time, to compete in worlds and medal is still expensive. But I do it for the love of the sport and believing that I can always be better. I've compete in two masters' world championships and to date I've earned 3 golds, 2 silvers and a bronze medal. Those accomplishments have been worth every single penny. God Bless
Great read. Thank you for putting that information out there. That is a real eye opener especially for athletes coming up.
Wow....thanks for sharingðððð
Just curious, what's in your diet? It sounds great.
Good question. I eat a lot of protein. Steaks are my favorite. But chicken, salmon, and lamb are staples too. I also pair those with a lot of leafy greens and a lot of water.
you're a great writer--really like the voice behind the content--and your message is so very inspiring--going to pass this on to my son--who also has dreams and a focused vision.
Brilliant post. I admire you. Beautifully written and your post applies to every endeavor in life if one wants to pursue excellence and be at the top of their field.
Ok.......So let me ask you this question. As you talk about cost........you omitted talking about endorsement deals and appearance fees that assists the "Elite" athlete with those costs. Again you have professional athletes and you have Elite athletes. So you yourself as an "Elite" long jumper and very good 100m sprinter I'm assuming has a 6 figure endorsement contract and receives 5 figure appearance fees from meet promoters......am I right? If so then athletes in your position should have problems. As far as endorsement deals...I find it interesting that Track and Field is the only sport that doesn't publicize contracts. Why is this? Nike will expose LeBron James contract but won't expose any track and field athletes contracts. I think you guys are getting the short end.
I guess people have read this post and assume I'm complaining about the cost? I'm not I just wanted to be a little more honest about the personal investment involved. In terms of publicizing contracts, I'm okay with people not knowing what I make. Perhaps it's easier not to care when you are making hundreds of millions of dollars?
Each to their own. Not everyone agrees that all of this expenditure is necessary. Saw Aman Wote flying economy to Pre and then onward to Europe after Pre last year. Also J GAT on the UA gate UG list, PDX-ORD after Pre...meaning, he didn't pay for F. His UG cleared but still. I don't know TB personally but the book Black American Princesses springs to mind... saw TB hubs upfront though, same flight as one of the above.... just so you know, this info is for real.
Thanks for reading. You are absolutely correct. These aren't mandatory expenses. But I'm also not a princess I've just found a formula that works for me. I've also spent 8 of my 12 years as a professional flying economy, sharing rooms, eating as many free meals as possible. Trying to get to the point where I could start traveling a little more comfortably, start eating better, and taking care of my body better. The entire point of the blog is for individuals to determine their own needs and commit to fullfiling them.
I'm also separated. Please see a previous blog titled "note to self" if you'd like to know more about me. This post is a reflection of how I conduct my business not my personality.
It is kinda strange to me that an elite athlete in a well televised sport in a 1st world country has to think twice about spending money on him/herself to stay/compete at the highest level. Your national federation should take care of all these costs. After all, when you win a gold medal at the Olympics, it's your country whom you represent and make proud. Shouldn't they be helping you in every way possible to reach these goals?
I agree. Our federation is getting better with grants, stipends, and support but they have a ways to go.
I'm just soooo happy 2 c a fellow buckeye frum
n.e Ohio doin itðð¯ð¥ðª
Tianna, tremendous column. Per your approval, we have reposted intro and linked entire piece to our blog and nightly newsletter. Larry Eder, @runblogrun