Olympic athletes have talents outside of sports, and it’s often those talents paying the bills.
It can be very difficult for Olympic athletes to survive financially while they put in the training time necessary to compete at a world class level. For every Michael Phelps, Serena Williams, Kevin Durant, or Usain Bolt making millions of dollars from sponsorships, endorsements, and professional earnings; there are hundreds more who earn almost nothing financially from their sport, while spending up to tens of thousands of dollars on coaches, facilities, equipment, and plain old living while they prepare. There have been some painful stories of young Olympians’ dreams sending families into bankrupcy.
While most athletes would love to make a living off their sport; it just isn’t possible for the vast majority. Very few make enough from it to not work other jobs in the years between Olympics, and many can’t afford to completely stop working even during prep for the trials and the games.
There are various private foundations that provide support or awards to Olympic athletes, and a number of companies (Dick’s Sporting Goods, Home Depot) have created special programs to employ Olympic hopefuls, paying them above-market wages with flexible hours that allow them to train and compete while earning a livable income.
But many Olympic athletes have ‘normal’ day jobs; some only in off years, others only before they start competing internationally or after they retire, and others throughout the process of realizing their Olympic dreams.
We would all love to be paid to do what we are most passionate about doing; the reality is that for most of us that will not happen right away, if ever. So in the meantime we must find something that pays.
That doesn’t mean giving up on our dreams and passions, it just means supporting them with an income-producing side gig (or main gig); using one talent to support the continued development of another. That’s true for athletes, just as it is for aspiring artists, writers, or entrepreneurs.
It’s easy to think of Olympians as just athletes since that’s usually the only context in which we see them; but Olympic athletes have unique skills, talents, and ambitions outside of sports, just like the rest of us. And while they may get more glory and exposure for their athletics, it’s often those other skillsets that pay the bills and allow the Olympic dreams to come true. Here are some of those “other” jobs of current and recent Olympians:
2012 Haitian Olympic jumper Samyr Laine graduated from Harvard undergrad and then went to Georgetown Law. He’s an attorney, as well as an author, an entrepreneur, and a public speaker.
Civil Engineering PhD Student
Canadian modern pentathlete Donna Vakalis has a master’s degree in architecture, and is a PhD student in civil and environmental engineering. She has worked as a teacher’s assistant, research assistant, and a producer for a YouTube channel.
Construction worker; bartender
Lance Brooks, a U.S. discus thrower in the 2012 London Games, has worked a variety of jobs, mainly working in construction, putting in concrete overlays. He has also worked as a bartender and a bouncer, and worked for an oil and gas company, and coached high school track.
Team USA fencer Gerek Meinhardt is a full-time risk analytics consultant with Deloitte.
Digital marketing professional
2012 USA Olympic rower Natalie Dell O’Brien is now a digital marketing guru.
After completing her elementary education degree from Penn State, U.S. Volleyball Olympian Christa Dietzen taught abroad at an elementary school in England. Now she uses her teaching skills online in the Classroom Champions program. She’s looking to get back to traditional teaching soon.
Team USA pistol shooter Emil Milev is a phys ed teacher in Florida.
Team USA Equestrian Laura Graves is a graduate of beauty school, and was a hairstylist before pursuing her equestrian dreams.
“Whatever I did, whether it was hair or makeup or horses, I was determined to be the very best at it,” she says.
Team USA Shotputter Michelle Carter is also a professional makeup artist, and has been dubbed the “Shot Diva”
Team USA Olympic Rower Meghan O’Leary’s career was certainly not just something to pay the bills or to do in the downtime between Olympic years—it was a full time career that she did before she ever learned to row. She worked for ESPN as a programming coordinator, and in her down time “was just looking for something different to do,” so, casually, she became a world-class rower (she had been a collegiate volleyball and softball player, but had never rowed before just Googling it on a whim).
Motion graphics designer
2012 Team USA Olympic wrestler and current WWE professional wrestler Chas Betts (aka Chad Gable) is also a motion graphics designer.
2014 Team USA snowboarder Jonathan Cheever is a plumber in the offseason, working 12-hour days and still going to the gym five days a week.
Australian boxer and 2012 Olympian Ibrahim Balla is also a plumber.
Team USA Gymnast Alex Naddour is a licensed realtor in Arizona who “dabbles in real estate to pay the bills.”
Australian water polo player Gemma Beadsworth is “Property Acquisitions Research Analyst.”
Risk Assessor for Nuclear Power Plants
Team USA cyclist Megan Guarnier has a neuroscience degree, and has worked performing “probablistic risk assessments for nuclear power plants.”
Sales in Silicon Valley
Colombian rugby player Nathalie Marchino works in sales for Twitter, and continued to work full time as she trained.
Team USA shooter Jay Shi is a software developer, and is largely a self-taught shooter, having used his analytical skills to come up with a novel technique for shooting to compensate for an eye injury he suffered as a youth.
Team USA marathon runner Jared Ward has a master’s degree in statistics and teaches several college statistics classes at BYU.
And Finally, The Curlers:
With 2016 being a Summer Olympics year, we must wait another two long years to experience the thrill of Olympic curling. Because curling requires more technique and precision than physical prowess, it is frequented by more “regular people” than many other sports, many of whom hold down
And the 2014 US team featured John Shuster, Jeff Isaacson, John Landsteiner, and Jared Zezel–a restaurant manager, middle school teacher, corrosion engineer, and college student, all from Minnesota, dubbed by Mashable as “the 4 normal guys who happen to be Olympic curlers.”