Many people think that money has tainted professional sports, even the Olympics. But when it comes to the Paralympics, one thing is sure, all the athletes involved do this because of their passion for their sport. The word amateur derives from the Latin word, amator, or lover. An amateur is someone who dedicates himself to a pursuit not for the money, but for love. Sports historian Allen Guttmann wrote: “Through most of the twentieth-century amateurism was defended with the argument that fair play and good sportsmanship are possible only when sports are an athlete’s avocation, never his or her vocation.”
I recently read this incredible article about my friend Liz Baker, a visually impaired triathlete who placed 4th in Rio. She fell when she was in third position, with only one half-mile left in the race. She concludes by saying:
“I don’t want it to be my last,” she said. “I don’t want to go down like that. If financially I can do it, and I’m still gaining improvement in speed workouts, and pool and track workouts, then I want to [continue].”
You can read the full article here:
Does nothing shock you in this quote? Yes, the financial aspect of this endeavor is crucial, training for the Paralympics is a considerable investment.
Of course, this is not an issue only faced by Paralympians. According to the Guardian, more than 100 US athletes started GoFundMe pages in the run-up to the Rio Games, seeking funds for new equipment and to help them cover their living expenses. Some have even applied for food stamps, yes, food stamps! The lucrative sponsorship deals signed by athletes like Michael Phelps are the exception, not the rule.
But what is true for Olympians is even more true for Paralympians. Let me give you a few numbers: Olympians get $25,000 for their gold medals, Paralympians get $5,000. Silver medals are worth $15,000 for Olympians, while Paralympians only get $3,000. Bronze medals are worth $10,000 for Olympians and $2,000 for Paralympians. Yep, you did the math, Paralympians get five times less for the same result. What’s more, training to compete in the Paralympics can also be more expensive than training for the traditional games, Paralympians need expensive adaptive equipment. For instance, my dream tandem would be worth about $15,000.
The heart of the issue is that Paralympians are at a financial disadvantage because they have a harder time attracting sponsors. There isn’t nearly the same amount of TV coverage, the many categories make the Paralympics difficult to follow, and the few weeks between the Olympics and the Paralympics make it even more difficult for people to pay attention to this amazing event.
Fortunately, things are slowly changing. It is not a secret, my dream would be to go to Tokyo in 2020. I still have a lot of work to do, but my second place at the US Nationals in June makes me be reasonably hopeful. I am able to train in an amazing pool in Manhattan (the JCC), in the best indoor biking studio (Tailwind Endurance) and in Central Park, all of this for free. In addition, a first sponsor has agreed to support me for the next few years, the CFE (Caisse des Francais de l’Etranger), an insurance company for French people living abroad. This will help me cover some of my travel expenses, the purchase of new equipment etc.
I don’t know that Paralympians should become professionals, but it is clear to me that disabled athletes must do a better job telling their story. I want the Liz Bakers of this world to have another shot at an Olympic medal, and money shouldn’t be such an important factor. If you work in a large company, you should ask your HR manager to invite Liz Baker or Amy Dixon as a motivational speaker. If you own a company, you should talk to an organization like Achilles International, which supports athletes with disabilities. If you are a runner, you should share this post and meet us in Central Park for our next workout! The next Paralympians are there, training hard, in love with their sport.