The financial side of pursuing an Olympic Dream

January 26, 2018

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Some of Canada’s most elite athletes will be travelling to Pyeongchang this month to compete in 102 events across 15 sports in an effort to win the ultimate prize: a gold medal.

For elite athletes, this achievement reflects countless early mornings and late nights as well as untold hours spent training and in competition all in pursuit of a spot at the top of the podium. But the physical side of being an elite athlete is only part of the story. There’s also a significant financial side to chasing a gold medal dream. 

To get a better idea of what that really entails, we spoke with two Atlantic Canadian athletes—Nova Scotia's Karen Furneaux and Newfoundland and Labrador's Kaetlyn Osmond—to get their perspective of the financial side of what it takes to be recognized amongst the best in the world.

Karen Furneaux
Karen Furneaux

Karen Furneaux, Canoe-Kayak Sprinter and three-time Olympian from Nova Scotia

Q: How did you balance training with working a full-time job?

A: Between studying for my undergraduate and then my master’s degree, training 5-6 hours a day, as well as the other aspects of being an athlete—nutrition, rehab, prehab, therapy, sleep, and recovery—it was hard to manage a job, too. But I did! I started my company, I Promise Performance, in 2010 when I was prepping for my final Olympic games. 

Q: What resources were available to you to help you finance your competitive dreams?

A: I worked really hard to find sponsors to help me along the way. I also received a small stipend from Sport Canada, and of course I had my own company as well.

Q: So, how did you make it work?

A: I always had an extreme level of focus and dedication, which I actually enjoy. I also used to work in cycles. For example, after competing at the world championships, I would come home and have a week or two break to rest and recover, and then I’d start knocking on doors to secure sponsorship. This comfort with approaching people to ask for what I wanted helped me with my own business later on. 

Q: Is there anything you would do differently?

A: The journey I was fortunate to travel has brought me to where I am today. I’m very grateful for the experiences I’ve had because they’ve made me the person I am today. 

Kaetlyn Osmond  I  Photo credit: Stars on Ice
Kaetlyn Osmond I Photo credit: Stars on Ice

Kaetlyn Osmond, Figure Skater and two-time Olympian

Q: Figure skating is an expensive sport. Can you tell me about some of the costs associated with it?

A: Well, there’s coaching fees and ice time, I work with numerous coaches—I have my main coach Ravi Walia but I also work with two different choreographers, a personal trainer, a ballet instructor, physio and a massage therapist, a sports psychologist. And then on top of that there’s also my costumes, travel fees for certain competitions, and more.

Q: How do you balance training with a fulltime job?

A: Training is my full-time job. I usually train from around 7 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon with breaks here and there. I have coached a few hours in the past, but this year especially I’m a little busy and don’t have the focus to be able to add in an extra coaching job. 

Q: How do you make it work financially?

A: Now that I’m older I get by with carding [Editor’s note: Carding refers to the SPORT CANADA Athlete Assistance Program], a few grants, prize money from doing well at events, and saving up over the past couple of years. Growing up, I lived away from home so that my parents could work and they managed to somehow make it work. 

Q: Any advice for the next generation of athletes?

A: When it comes to skating itself, just have fun with it and enjoy as much as you can! When it comes to the financial side, the biggest thing my parents always said is know the cost of what you can afford and make it work with that.