Athletes. They are just like us. They take the odd job — or sometimes two or three — just to pay the bills. The only difference is that their bills include things like plane tickets to Olympic trials and bikes that can cost upwards of $20,000. We asked them about some of the craziest jobs they ever took just so they could keep doing what they love in the name of Olympic and Paralympic glory.
1) Cyclist Sarah Hammer
“Getting to my level now, I’ve had to work a lot of jobs: I sold cell phones, I worked at a bagel shop, I was a waitress. This was in my early 20s to just help me live because I wasn’t making good money at cycling. Bikes with everything on it are almost $20,000.”
2) Paralympic soccer player Seth Jahn
“Let’s see. I was a firefighter. I was in the medical career field as an EMT paramedic. I was in the military for 11 years — four years of it active duty, the rest of it was National Guard time, so it allowed me to have other careers. I was in law enforcement at the Lake Wales police department in Florida for a while on the SWAT team there. I worked for the federal government. I was a professional fighter and fought in Thailand.”
3) Hurdler Dawn Harper-Nelson
“In 2008 I was working three jobs, and all I kept thinking was this has to work out. I’ve been blessed that it has worked out. One of my craziest jobs was as an academic coordinator at UCLA. That was so stressful because you have these young adults careers almost in your hands. They were like, ‘What classes should I be taking?’ ‘When should I take it?’ I was like ‘Listen, I’m trying to go to the Olympics. I can’t help you with your schedule. [Laughing]. Just balancing that and then realizing I have to go out and chase my dream was tough.”
4) Shooter Vincent Hancock
“If I wanted to keep shooting past high school where my parents were paying for everything, I either had to join the military or go to a college that had a shooting team. But if I went to a college that had a shooting team they don’t get to shoot very much because of the funding. Since I was being recruited hard by the Army to join the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, whose job it was to go and shoot, I did that. So I won both my Olympic medals while I was in the military. And it’s a really good thing that I did go in. It helped me in a lot of different ways, but really I didn’t have an option if I wanted to keep shooting.
“This isn’t a huge money making sport. We don’t have a lot of publicity, so it’s difficult for us to earn a living. But thankfully, now two medals later, I am able to get enough that my wife is a stay-at-home mom and we’re able to live comfortably. So that’s really all that’s important to me. I want to make sure I can provide for my wife and my kids and keep doing what I love.”
5) Water polo player John Mann
“Something that most water polo players do to kind of keep afloat and keep our training budget alive is to go overseas and play. Since there’s not much sponsorship in water polo, a lot of times we have to coach or do clinics and camps for kids, teach lessons, and things like that.”
6) Rower Meghan Musnicki
“In the beginning I walked dogs for some extra money. Dog-walking was great. I love animals so it was kind of relaxing to be outside, just away from it walking a dog. But now I don’t do anything besides row — two to three, sometimes four, times a day we have workouts — so there’s not a whole lot of time for anything else.”
7) Table tennis player Lily Zhang
“In the U.S. we don’t have table tennis leagues, so if you want to make a living you have to go overseas or I guess, take other jobs. So that’s what I did. Last year I went to Austria and played in the professional European league there.”
8) BMX cyclist Connor Fields
“I had an injury when I was 16 and needed to make some money because I couldn’t ride for a few months. So I applied for an ice cream shop that was actually owned by my friend’s family. I filled out the application and then did the interview with my friend. And I didn’t get the job. So that was my one and only time doing a real job interview.”
9) Water polo player Maggie Steffens
“We do get a monthly stipend. And I would say that I am extremely grateful that we do, because at the end of the day we’re here for the love of the sport. That’s what Olympians are. They’re not trying to get famous and get paid money. They want to be elite and they want to be the best in their sport and represent the best country, the USA.
I personally have never gotten a second job, but I know that the year after the Olympics is always a struggle — not just figuring out what’s next, but how to get there and the best way to go about it. I’m fortunate that I’m still young. When I go back I’ll have another year of college, so I’ll have a place to live and something to be doing.”
10) Canoeist Casey Eichfeld
“It’s very difficult to fund being an athlete in a sport that isn’t well-known. Three to six plane tickets a year adds up to a decent amount of money, as well as all the room and board and the equipment cost. I’m fortunate now that I can work doing kayak construction and raft guiding at a facility where I train, so it makes it easy for me.”