APRIL 15, 2011

When I meet new people, they often ask me "and what do you do for a living?"  I never really know what to say.  I'm not quite a professional athlete- I don't belong to a pro team, my only big name sponsors are MOM and DAD, and rowing is an amateur sport.  But I do sit on my butt, pull on some sticks and go backwards… for a living.

In other smaller countries where professional sports don't overshadow Olympic sports, being an athlete can be a career.  There the government invests money in its sports program to generate national pride during big international competitions.  But here in the US we rely on a stipend from the USOC (United States Olympic Committee), a nonprofit company, to stay afloat.  And that stipend only goes to the top athletes.  The rest of the athletes and even many of the ones who get a stipend have to take up an extra job, sometimes multiple jobs to make ends meet. 

After two intense morning practices most of my teammates pack up, put on their work face, and head to a 'regular' (or sometimes odd) job.  A couple hours at work and then they're back to spandex and sweat.

My first few years training, I have to admit, I had every job imaginable.  With an Ivy League degree I headed out to the workforce with little work experience and a need for very flexible hours.  "I don't know when I'll be in, but I'll be sure to take a shower.  I might even wash my hair.  Probably won't dry it though.  Forget about styling it.  I'll try to wear something normal.  Hire me?  Oh, I also have to leave early, sorry"

My first application was to the Photo Lab at the CVS around the corner.  No joke, I never even got a courtesy call to say they weren't interested.  Then I applied to Foot Locker.  Bingo!  I guess they were in need of a sales person who had a Master's Degree because they hired me.  Boy did those stripes look good, but after 4 weeks I realized shoe sales just was not my calling.  I looked to a temp agency to try my hand as administrative assistant.  After multiple tests, I passed as an expert in typing, Microsoft Word, and data entry.  I wish there had been a test on coffee making or telephone skills because that's what I usually ended up doing.  I answered the phones like a pro and even kept the prank calling to a minimum.  The good days involved offices with snacks and coffee.  I hit the jackpot once when I showed up the day a company had their Christmas luncheon.  A low point was folding and filling 1252 envelopes.  As a joke, I sent 2 of those to my rower friends.  Another low point was making stars out of hypodermic needles for Christmas decoration at a pharmaceutical company.

Luckily, I remembered some of my statistics skills and moved up in the job world.  My next jobs were in academia and policy research.  I was able to use my love of crunching numbers, making charts, and writing dry analyses of those numbers and graphs to earn a paycheck.  Last year I worked in consulting for a market research firm and I learned all the ins and outs of running a small business.  Yes, I had to google the meaning of "due diligence" and most of the pharmaceutical terms that my boss used.  No, they did not enjoy it when 2 USADA (US Anti-Doping) officials followed me to work for a urine sample.

Though I am currently not working, I look back on these side jobs fondly.  It made me appreciate that I was working for my dream.  I was at practice working hard for my athletic goals and I was willing to do whatever I had to do to get by and make that dream happen.  I didn't always appreciate when employers gave me dirty looks while I scarfed down food or hid behind a desk to stretch, but my one priority was to be the best athlete I could be.

I'm still waiting on that big paycheck from a sponsor to drop in my lap, but in the meantime, I'll just keep working hard to be an awesome rower.  I'm not fighting every day to get rich, I just want to be the best in the world.  My teammates would agree, that means more to us than any amount of money.