By Caryn Maconi | April 22, 2015, 10:31 a.m. (ET)


What does it take to become an Olympian or Paralympian?

U.S. Olympic gymnast John Orozco will tell you it takes hard work and dedication, hours in the gym, a high tolerance for pain and a refusal to give up.

There’s one more piece to the puzzle, though – money. That’s where the Team USA Registry comes in.

For an Olympic or Paralympic hopeful, expenses such as international travel, sports medicine, high-quality coaching and proper equipment can add up quickly.

“I grew up in the Bronx, New York, and I had to travel to Westchester to train. That was a bit of a commute for my family, and we are not very wealthy,” Orozco said. “The costs all started adding up – gas, training and anything from competition fees to just getting to practice was always a struggle for us. Having to sacrifice all of those expenses to get me to the Olympic Games was really tough for my family financially.”

In Olympic and Paralympic sport, most athletes don’t benefit from hefty sponsorships. Instead, they often sacrifice important sleep and recovery time to take on outside work – ultimately hurting their athletic performance.

“Training is 100 percent a full-time job,” said swimmer and 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin. “I dedicate between 6-8 hours to swimming throughout the day, whether that’s making sure I’m getting the proper recovery and nutrition, training in the pool or getting to and from practice. It really does add up.”

The United States Olympic Committee is one of the only National Olympic Committees in the world that does not receive federal funding. Instead, athletes rely on the support of fans and donors nationwide to finance their Olympic and Paralympic dreams.

That’s why on Wednesday, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation launched a brand-new campaign aimed at helping U.S. athletes offset their training and living expenses. 

The campaign, called the Team USA Registry, invites donors to purchase a symbolic gift that represents a real athlete need – anything from a cycling helmet to a plane ticket to a session with a sport dietitian.

When a donor purchases a symbolic gift, the cost of that item or service is then donated to the Team USA Fund (the annual fund of the USOPF) to provide resources such as athlete financial aid, operations at three U.S. Olympic Training Centers and annual support to the individual National Governing Bodies of sport.

With the campaign, the USOC and USOPF will ensure they can send the best possible group of athletes to the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio – not just those who can afford to get there.

“I’ve been training at the international level for a very long time, and throughout the years I’ve seen other countries get more and more funding,” Coughlin said. “Since the USOC is not government-funded, we have to raise money to catch up with our competitors. I’m really lucky to have some great sponsors that now help me out with the cost of training, but being involved in this campaign is my way of giving back to my teammates and the rest of Team USA.”

In addition to raising money, the Team USA Registry also aims to educate the American public about the real financial situation of many elite athletes – in turn strengthening Team USA’s backbone of support for years to come.

Though a few of the best-known U.S. Olympians benefit from lucrative sponsorships, many U.S. Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls earn only about $20,000 annually. Compare that with the nearly $40,000 in expenses most athletes accrue each year while training for the Games, and the need for donor support is clear.

“My family and I used to have to sleep in my car because we couldn’t afford a hotel when I traveled for competitions,” Orozco, now a resident athlete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, said. “Costs like that are what people don’t really realize – they just see the results at national championships or the Olympic Games. I think bringing those issues to light is really important for supporters to understand what we go through.”

By participating in the Team USA Registry campaign, fans are invited to become a part of the “Team Behind the Team” – the generous group of donors and sponsors who are invested in the success of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams.

To browse the Team USA Registry and choose a symbolic gift today, visit TeamUSARegistry.org.

About the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation
In 2013, the USOC took an important step forward in its goal of increasing philanthropic support for Team USA’s athletes and programs by launching the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation. The USOPF is a separate 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization which now serves as the primary source of philanthropic resources for the Olympic and Paralympic movements in the United States. All funds generated by the USOPF are transferred to the United States Olympic Committee as the sole beneficiary of the foundation. By generating critical financial resources, the foundation enables the USOC to make investments in areas that promote excellence and innovation for Team USA, on and off the field of play.