Struggling for Funds and Time, Olympic Athletes Become Business Owners

Debbie McCormick started her own business to pay for the privilege of pushing stones down a sheet of ice.

No, she isn’t among the millions digging out from under the latest winter storm to hit the East Coast. But her work with stones and ice is every bit as Olympian an effort.

McCormick is a member of the US Olympic curling team, and to afford to keep being a member of the team and maintain the unique schedule her sport demands, she has had to take income matters into her own hands. So, like a number of other Olympic athletes, the Rio, Wisconsin resident started a business to fund her training and travels to competition worldwide.

While participating in sports lacking cache, star power and the mega-endorsements that fund snowboarders, skiers and figure skaters, Olympians like curling’s McCormick had in the past tried their best to keep their day jobs. McCormick herself worked for a large national retailer with a marketing tie-in to Team USA that allowed her to work, train and compete. But such jobs have dried up in recent years (McCormick’s among them), leading many Olympians to turn to what they thought was their only logical alternative.

In McCormick’s case, that alternative was opening and running Goldline Mobile Pro Shop. As she competes in curling tournaments throughout North America, she sells equipment for Goldline Curling, based in curling-crazy Ontario, Canada.

“I needed at least eight weeks off, and that’s really hard for an employer to understand,” she said recently. “So starting my own job made the most sense.”

It also made sense to Canadian bobsledder Jeremy Lumsden, who created, hand-made and marketed $15 bracelets made of outdoor survival rope that unwinds to 10 feet of usable cord. He moved so many early on that he outsourced the manufacturing, and he has sold roughly 2,000 bracelets in the two months he’s been at it. He enters his second Olympic games hoping the venture will ease the scramble for the money necessary to earn a third Olympic berth. He said it has occurred to him that Olympic athletes are natural born entrepreneurs.

“We’re able to put our head down and grind through the tough times to get a goal,” Lumsden said.

McCormick estimated that donations and sponsorships have covered about 60 percent of the amount she needed to pursue her fourth Olympics. In addition to living expenses, most Olympic athletes pay for training, travel, gear, physical therapy, even club dues. The fact that the remaining 40 percent can be covered by a job in which she is her own boss and sets her own schedule removes a lot of stress. It also poses logistical hurdles. For instance, while McCormick is in Sochi, she is not minding the store. In fact, she has shuttered the business for the month of February.

“All I can do is put a message on my phone to say I’ll be gone,” she said. “When I compete, I have to be 100% focused.”

Reference:

Borzykowski, Bryan. “Olympians pursue startup ventures on the side;” CNN Money. 2/7/14.

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