Gabby Douglas may be going home to the U.S. with two gold medals, but she may not have an actual house to go home to.
In was recently revealed that Douglas’ mother, Natalie Hawkins, filed bankruptcy in January. Sadly, Douglas’ financial situation isn’t a rare one. The parents of Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, also have their own financial woes. The Florida home of Lochte’s divorced parents went into foreclosure and the two reportedly owe the bank over $240,000. We already know that it takes a lot of time and dedication to be an Olympic athlete, but people rarely consider the actual cost to do so. For many families of Olympians, it takes immense financial sacrifice to get their children to the games.
The mother of Douglas, a two-time gold medal winning gymnast, filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in her home state of Virginia, which will allow her to reorganize her debt and pay down what she owes. As of now, she owes the bank $80,000, but Hawkins only has an income of $2,500 a month, most of which comes from child support for her four children and disability –– Hawkins’ has been on long-term medical disability since 2009. Considering that the average cost of training an Olympic-caliber gymnast is upwards of $20,000 a year (this does not include equipment, special apparel, or even relocation for said training), it makes the story of Douglas’ Olympic triumph even more incredible. In addition to filing bankruptcy, Hawkins also sold her jewelry to help pay for her daughter’s dream.
Although getting to the Olympics is an honor in itself, making it to the games does equate to earning big bucks for the athletes. According to a report done by USA Track and Field Foundation, approximately half of the athletes in the top 10 in their respective events make less than $15,000 a year. For those outside of the top 10, working part-time is almost essential. And for those athletes who don’t have the time to work outside of training, or are too young to as in the case of Douglas, the burden falls on the family to help support the future Olympian.
Unlike Olympians from many other countries, American athletes don’t get direct support from the government. Due to this financial burden on athletes, there has been a movement to help offset the cost of going for the gold. For instance, the Pro Swimming Task Force was formed to demand increased support from the United States Olympic Committee. After pressure from the task force, up to 55 pro-swimmers in the Top 16 in the world now receive a $24,000 stipend. This is definitely a progressive step, yet for countless other Olympic athletes –– especially ones that participate in little known and unpopular sports –– the cost of being an Olympian is still too great.