That’s how long many Olympians devote to their crafts. Year after year of training, sacrifice, dieting, training, traveling, grinding … and training.
Once that commitment comes to an end, often with little saved outside the memory bank, those athletes must morph their determination into real-world work skills to pay the bills.
“You have to find your passion in the business world like you had in sports,” said Jesse Beckom III, a retiring bobsledder and athlete advocate. “Right about now I’d be ramping up toward my summer training, but now I have to figure out what to do in life.”
Beckom, 36, a native of Chicago, was integral in spearheading a job fair in 2013 specifically for local Olympians. Approximately 25 businesses were on site to speak with about 20 athletes. Beckom said the ratio was intentional, and he handpicked the athletes and reviewed their resumes prior to the event.
He likened athletes’ struggles with veterans discharged into the civilian world.
“It is like the military,” Beckom said. “You’ve spent 20 years focusing on one thing, and then it’s like — now what?”
Benita Fitzgerald Mosley knows as well as anyone the struggles high-caliber athletes face when attempting to become professionals. The USOC’s chief of organizational excellence was a gold-medalist in the 100-meter hurdles at the 1984 Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles.
Now she helps Olympic and Paralympic athletes overcome their own hurdles when joining the workforce.
“The career fair was in order to introduce athletes to the community in Colorado Springs,” Fitzgerald Mosley said. “It was important for them to connect with the community in a significant way, and they bring with them so many skill sets outside of the playing field. Many have degrees and some have advanced degrees.”
Fitzgerald Mosley said a career fair is not scheduled for this summer, but that was only a small portion of a much bigger Athlete Career Program. Working with the staffing and recruiting company Adecco USA, as well as DeVry University, Olympic and Paralympic athletes are given the opportunity to shop their talents like never before, including while they are still competing.
According to its website, Adecco USA “helps aspiring Olympic and Paralympic athletes find flexible job opportunities that afford them the time and financial resources necessary to train and prepare for competition,” and, “Through the program, participating athletes gain valuable, hands-on career experience that they can use to prepare for careers outside of the sports world.”
Adecco also provides job placement assistance, resume development, interview preparation, professional seminars, job market research and career coaching.
DeVry University also takes a hands-on approach with assisting athletes with careers. In 2011, it was named an official education provider of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
“DeVry University and its Keller Graduate School of Management will offer higher education opportunities at the undergraduate and graduate level to U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes and training hopefuls through 2016,” the website states.
Olympian, Paralympian and Olympic or Paralympic hopefuls may qualify for financial assistance from DeVry University and the USOC in the form of either a full, one-year scholarship or 30 percent tuition savings, according to the website.
Fitzgerald Mosley said Adecco USA has been very supportive of current athletes because it recognizes the commitment Olympians and Paralympians need to excel in their events and how that takes time away from work commitments.
“First and foremost [for athletes] has been training and competition,” she said. “Adecco has been good working with athletes across the country in finding internships that can balance training and being gone weeks at a time. In return, companies get dedicated employees with a strong work ethic.”
One example of the program at work is Olympic hopeful Suzy Sanchez. With help from Beckom and his involvement with last year’s job fair, Sanchez, an aspiring 2016 Olympic weightlifter, now works as an intern with the mayor’s office in Colorado Springs.
“Because of my training schedule, it is hard to get out and meet people,” Sanchez said. Her regiment includes two-a-day workouts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and one workout on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. She is in the gym anywhere from two to three hours per training session. If it weren’t for the job fair, she said, she would not have had the opportunity to network or find the position she is in today.
“The office of the mayor was looking for an intern,” Sanchez said. “Because of my background in event planning, I was selected for an interview.”
Previously, Sanchez worked for the Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission in Shreveport, La. She also started there as an intern before moving into a full-time sales and events manager position. Sanchez has a degree in business management from Louisiana State University in Shreveport and said, after 2016, she may pursue a full-time position with the Colorado Springs mayor’s office.
Beckom said talents like Sanchez should appeal to local employers.
“[The city] should want to keep these athletes more immersed in the community,” Beckom said. “There are athletes getting degrees here, and we should want to keep them here.”
Beckom earned a bachelor’s degree in 2000 from Iowa State University while playing Division I football at the same time. He went on to earn a master’s degree in community and regional planning in 2003.
He would have to put that degree to use. Beckom’s football coach presented him with an opportunity to try out for USA Bobsledding, but Beckom was running out of money. He eventually took a job as a city planner in Winston-Salem, N.C., which provided him enough income to continue training.
“College was easier because you didn’t have all of these life expenses,” he said, adding that Olympic celebrity is rare. Most athletes struggle to pay the bills unless they have endorsements and sponsors.
“Michael Phelps is the 1 percent,” Beckom said of the Olympic swimming star. “I know of speedskaters on food stamps. It’s especially hard for families.”
Now that he’s leaving bobsledding, Beckom said he will have to adjust, but he’s not too worried.
“It’s not that hard for me,” he said. “Even if I had made, say, the NFL, there would still be a time I’d have to retire. Sports will end, but you’ll have to learn to rely on your intellect and not just your athleticism.”