I’ve heard it mused over a couple times this winter: “I wonder how I am going to pay for my ski racing next year.” It’s a good question, and learning to stand financially on one’s own feet is a tough task. It takes some planning to begin the process. With an early start on saving, and taking advantage of post-secondary opportunities it becomes a lot easier to continue being an athlete after being kicked out of the nest. Below is a quick reflection on the ways I prepared myself to go out on my own last year.
The first thing I did last fall was create a budget. (I even blogged about it). When I drew up my first budget I felt nauseous. I couldn’t believe the list of things I had to pay for. Lodging, food, race entries, club fees, plane rides… The first budget I made did nothing to make me feel better about the task ahead. But, once I was able to cross a few items off the list I started feeling better and better. Budgets are important because they to avoid being blindsided by item to pay for later in the year, but they don’t always instill confidence.
Around the same time I created my budget I realized I could have gotten a head start in high school. A young student should take advantage of opportunities such as a part-time job, saving for the future, and acquiring big-ticket items like gear that can last them a few seasons. Being pro-active about my own transition into the post-secondary world would have taken away a lot of my stresses and paved the road for a happier 2015/16 season. I missed out on the opportunity to save a lot of money while my skiing was paid for by my parents.
Funding from the community is a great place to find extra support. I have been fortunate to obtain sports grants from my city, provincial sport institutions, and my home club. My friends have used crowdfunding to excellent effect, and have obtained a few sponsors. Many organizations are around to help provide financial assistance to athletes, and several don’t use up their annual budgets. It’s a great idea to do some research into one’s hometown and the list of grants available.
As we athletes graduate and head to post-secondary institutions we absolutely do not have to leave our sport behind. Fortunately, there are lots of bursaries and scholarships available for a variety of sports, and many more for volunteering or coaching which many athletes do hand-in-hand with their training. This is a perfect opportunity to go to school for a reduced cost (or free at a college), and then a student can redirect their finances towards their sport instead of taking out a student loan or being forced to quit their sport. Most school funding requires a student to attend “full-time”, but that usually means a modest three courses. In the best case scenario, a student can work in the offseason, have their schooling cheap, and practice their sport while being debt-free.
It took me a whole year to feel like I wasn’t going to run out of money and be forced to miss out on my sport. Once the initial year of trial by fire is over, the next year is easier. The trick to success is to plan carefully, take full advantage of every resource available for support, and then relax. I continued to worry, and fret, and stress over factors outside my own control, and it ruined an entire season. Sport is a big investment and only worthwhile if it’s blissful fun.
It has been 14 months since my first blog post. A project that I started to explore what it is like to stay in sports after high school. I did not manage to keep my routine of blogging. But now I'm back with more anecdotes and experience to share my thoughts. This is a brief recap of my past year.
Last year was a learning experience. My ski season was trying. I found it very hard to focus and ski properly on top of being worried about succeeding financially. I worked too much to balance with skiing and school. I didn't let myself recover between racing or being sick. When ski season wrapped up in March I was completely exhausted and slightly hurt.
Looking for new summer work, I decided to apply for wildland fire fighting, I got a job near my old hometown of Smithers and moved all my training gear up with me into my Mom's house. (Thanks Mom for taking me on 24 hours of notice!) It was a rewarding job and I worked with a crew of amazing people. My wonderful job really kept me positive and motivated to train after work all summer, though being alone for up to five hours of exercise posed some challenges too.
I moved back to the Okanagan in October healthier and happier than I felt all last season.
I also decided not to work or go to school for at least the fall semester. After a stressful fall last year, I wanted to step back from the worries I piled on myself and have a true "gap year". I now pride myself in helping around the house, I have plans to help my father finish the basement, volunteer with a local sport charity, and complete some work on my car.
Now I am armed with new material for my blog. I will discuss in length the obstacles I encountered last year and the mistakes I made in my next blog post (coming within the week).
I look forward to communicating with readers again and exploring the post-secondary life
Thank You to Kurt and Alex for taking some awesome training pictures!
When I started writing this blog I had the idea of bringing more athlete’s voices than just mine to these posts. My goal was to create a general picture of exactly how post-secondary athletes balance their lifestyles when confronted with work or school obligations. In my case, I cannot explain what it is like to be part of a school team, live on campus, and pursue athletics with a team. For this post I asked two friends who are varsity athletes at the University of Victoria to share their thoughts with me on what it is like to be a school athlete. They are Alex Nemethy the runner, and Avalon Wasteneys the rower, both full-time, first year student athletes.
I am fascinated when I analyze the teams and environments that Alex and Avalon are in. The running and rowing teams at UVic are both national powers, and so the training and psychological environments should be extremely well monitored and fostered by the coaches. Since Alex and Avalon are both in their first year with these new teams, and self-described as being; “the slowest guy on the team,” by Alex and “completely new to the sport,” by Avalon, it was very eye-opening to see what sort of treatment they were receiving from their teams. I was interested in answering the question: “What about the team is going to transform these two athletes from ‘good’ to ‘great’ in these sports like many athletes before them? What is the most valuable aspect of the team?”
Alex Nemethy is an old friend of mine from when I lived in Smithers. Born and raised in Vanderhoof, Alex took up running and skiing from a young age under the coaching eye of his parents. He quickly developed a very active lifestyle, and enjoys skiing on the frozen lake that borders his property in the winter. He ski races when he has the opportunity and he was a very avid racer through grade school, but now running at UVic has taken priority. Alex is a very positive, relaxed person, and he has fully embraced his new life of running and studying, something he considers to be “living the athlete’s dream”.
Alex is in the engineering program at the University of Victoria, but he wants to spend as much time as he can running. Normally his program involves taking 6 courses at once. But, because 6 courses is overwhelming for any student, never mind a student athlete, he decided to take only 4 courses, a decision which was supported by school councilors as soon as he told them he was a varsity athlete. The decision has paid off, Alex is able to manage the 4 courses with his training schedule. On a regular day Alex will wake up at 7:00, go for a 20-40 minute run, go to classes for the day, go for a run with his team in the afternoon, and then go home for dinner and homework. He has time to power through his hardest workouts on weekends, complete his homework, and occasionally show up at a party to decompress. While drinking would be detrimental to his cause, it is a nice change of pace for Alex to at least get out and socialize after a long day, and it is one of the perks of living on-campus. A few nights Alex has been stuck doing homework past midnight, but he is happy to say it hasn’t been common, he has found good balance in his lifestyle.
Alex has a good peer group in his running team. He says everyone in the team is going through the same stress, the same fight for balance between sport and school, and he is inspired by their energy. He receives support from more than just his teammates. Because he is a recruited athlete to the team he pays a $250 team fee and has his travel expenses covered by the Varsity program. Alex has access to free physio, a hydrotherapy room, and a beautiful multimillion-dollar sports complex known as CARSA. These perks do come with the price of tuition and hard work.
Alex says his experience in Victoria has been very positive. The only drawbacks he can find are the rowdy parties and lack of vegetables in campus food. He loves training and racing in a social environment. He has the support of many of his professors when he misses class and a strong school-athletics program to look after him.
I was able to attend a training session with Alex’s running team. The whole team treated me very well. I met the senior athletes who were training for national medals and I was impressed by how well they led the team despite being focused on their personal training. For example, the oldest runner there had an entirely different workout than us but he spent as much time as he could with the team, socializing with everyone and asking me how I liked my skiing and if I was considering running at UVic. This year I’d be too slow to make the team for distance running, but the team was very friendly to me while they ran my pants off. I was truly a spoiled guest for not being left in the dust by them. Because everyone on the team was on different schedules for the week, what I got to witness was a group of very collaborative athletes who supported each other in our warmup, long run, and intensity workout while being attentive to their own needs. I was impressed by how they managed to stick together as a team and how friendly they were to myself and each other. I met no snobs, something which I have experienced a lot of in other running circles, and everyone seemed to be great friends.
The second athlete I interviewed was Avalon Wasteneys. Avalon is a Vancouver Island native from the Campbell River area and has found national success as a cross-country skier. This summer she made the difficult decision to switch sports from skiing to rowing. A decision she said was motivated by her desire for a new training and racing experience. She got what she was looking for, Avalon is loving the massive change in schedule, sport, and large team she is surrounded by in Victoria. She knows now that she wants to stay in rowing throughout University.
When I spoke with her she was drinking a Frappuccino and had just finished a nap. Her schedule involves waking up at 4:50 in the morning, leaving campus at 5:20 to be on the water by 6:00, and returning to campus by 8:15. If she has an 8:30 class she has to sprint to it. Her training is as rigorous as skiing or running. At this point in her season, she normally completes a myriad of intervals ranging between half an hour in length at a steady pace to minute-or-less blasts of power. Intervals are either timed sets or distance repeats up to 12 kilometres. She has found this intensity training especially difficult to do in a new sport.
Avalon often naps in between class because she needs to catch up on sleep before she can focus at night and do her homework. She was enrolled in 5 courses initially, but has made a “healthier” decision to take 4. On Thursdays and Mondays her schedule is lighter, which has been important for keeping up with homework. If Avalon were to make senior varsity in the coming years she would need to take 3 or 4 courses and train 12 times per week.
The rowing team has 4 tiers; Senior Varsity, Junior Varsity, Freshman, and Novice. Avalon is a novice rower because she has just walked on to the team with no previous experience. Freshmen are rowers recruited to the university from high school, and for now Avalon must train to be fast enough to make the Freshman boat. From there she will have to train and push harder to have a shot at making Junior and Senior Varsity boats. When I asked her if competing for spots on a race boat detracts from the team atmosphere she assured me that her Novice team is very supportive of one another. She went on to tell me that the men’s Varsity boats had made a pact with each other to refrain from drinking during the entire competition season in order to improve their overall performance. I was left with the impression that UVic rowers put the good of the team over personal issues. She remarks:
“We are literally all in the same boat, if we are fighting with each other we won’t be fast… we can’t nag each other about poor technique, because it might be ourselves that is the reason for the boat being slow, there are so many factors, it is hard to pin a slow boat on one mistake”.
Avalon’s attitude perfectly captures the ideology of having a big team, where many diverse individuals can work together to make a successful performance. It is evident that the coaches at UVic teach their athletes to work together, which is crucial for success with any training partner in any sport.
Avalon, like Alex, benefits from being enrolled in a varsity sport. She has to pay about $400 to be on the team, and then receives subsidized travel costs when travelling for competition. As she climbs the ladder in skill she will receive more monetary support, and more one-on-one attention from coaches. Because rowing is a large program with lots of depth she receives similar support from professors and councillors as Alex does. She too, has access to the fancy sports complex known as CARSA where she spends many hours “staring at the same spot on the wall or counting bricks,” while working out on a rowing machine.
Avalon has found no fatal flaws in her new sport other than having constantly blistered hands from hours of training. She supposes “I could ask a Senior Varsity athlete and I’m sure they could give you a list. But for now I am the wrong person to ask.” After a few minutes of consideration she says that there is a higher chance of injury when compared with skiing. “The coach isn’t always focused on you individually when you are making technique mistakes, and I am using my muscles in a new way, so I have to be careful and listen to my body when I feel a pain that I haven’t encountered in skiing”. Unfortunately, she has yet to get access to free physio through the team, which will come with moving up the skill levels. Avalon recognizes over the next few years that she will have to shift to “being a 24/7” athlete and the training will start to wear on her more, but for now she is enjoying her new experience without regrets.
I was really happy for Alex and Avalon when I heard about how well their new sport is treating them. I was able to conclude that a supportive training environment and school are two crucial aspects of an athlete’s success at university sport. It is evident that having a successful team comes from having a good training environment; which is a big focus of my ski club. A positive training environment is especially important in skiing where many young kids drop out of racing because they don’t like the isolation they feel in an individual sport. The more my club can be accommodating of all types of young skiers, the more we can build depth of athletes in the older ages with a wide variety of talents. My club should strive to grow to a senior team as large as the Alex’s Uvic running team, where 20-odd middle distance and long distance runners make up the 2015 National Champion Cross Country Running Team.
It is clear that Alex and Avalon have found a great university to support their sports, and they are obviously enjoying themselves a lot. Varsity Sports are a good program to support athletes, especially at the University of Victoria. Their stories make me wish that I had taken 3 courses this year, and skied with school full-time. I realize now that skiing could easily have university Varsity teams as well. That will be addressed in my next post…
I have just returned from the land of midterm anxiety to write this blog. Even though I only had one midterm I still had difficulty studying with my crammed schedule. I took some tips from my last post on managing time, and yes, you should definitely read that too!
Two weeks ago I took on a new challenge. I created a budget for the year. This was a bit nerve wracking because it was my first budget ever (Grade 11 Planning does not count), and I wasn't on track to meet my financial needs for the season. I would relish the opportunity to be able to invest in the future, and run a 3-year deficit budget like the new Liberal government, but my hair Just Isn't Ready to handle that.
Once I knew I had a gap to fill it gave me motivation to find a permanent second job this winter, and I think I have found a good fit with lifeguarding. We will see!
Regardless of the downside of not balancing the books the first time I looked at a budget, it was nice to plan out how much money I will need this season, and when. I was able to factor in food, accommodation, and race entry costs as well, so there are no surprises.
Creating a budget is a bit like setting a huge goal; daunting to look at objectively, but it lays the foundation to reaching your desired outcome.
BHere's the breakdown of my projected and current expenses for this year:
Racing (Travel, Food, Accommodation,Entry Fees): $8930
Ski Camps: $1035
Skis: $2000(Generously paid for by my Brother, Aunt, and Uncle!)
Ski Equipment: $500
Team Fees: $900
Trail Pass: $150
School (Books and Tuition): $1900
Phone Replacement: $150
Total: $15 565
Amount Already Paid: $4485
Amount in Bank: $5500
Support From my Father: $1500 (but to be used in emergencies)
Gap: $4080 short!
It's too bad that for fifteen thousand dollars I can't even buy myself socks in this sport. But I had estimated this cost and prepared myself to meet it over the summer. In reflection I would love to be able to never travel and stay very fast, it would cut my year's expenses in half, but racing is the aspect of skiing that I love the most.
Unfortunately, a couple of bad things have arisen from creating this budget. First, I have let my $4000+ gap balloon in my mind to the point where I have even told people that I am $5000 short. I am still trying to relax from the amount of stress that this has needlessly put on me. I should have looked at the budget a few times over the course of a week and reassured myself that I would meet my targets. In fact, I designed my budget to be a high estimate so that I would meet my targets!
Then, because I let my fear of not meeting my needs get to me, I also started worrying that I wouldn't be able to balance this year like I had hoped. I contemplated quitting all my classes second semester and only working, which is not a terrible alternative, I could ski every day too! I had even contemplated what I would do if I burned out, fell out of love with skiing this year, and went into debt. That also wasn't a horrible outcome; I could join a team sport next year and enlist in the army if things really blew up in my face, or fight forest fires all next summer. Honestly, my doom-and-gloom mentality was just silly. It put a humongous amount amount of fear on my mind at once, and it led to some instances where I was very upset. To be fair, I made my budget at a crazy time in the fall for me, I was training long hours, preparing for my midterm, not getting enough sleep at night, participating in a 5-week life guarding course, and upset that I wasn't able to work at my second job. It should be no surprise that I had such a negative reaction to my budget, and I really would like to thank the people who supported me with "No, you are not going to screw this up", or "You can do it" and many more teenage words of wisdom. Thank you friends! And ironically, my process of considering all the ways I could fail this season really helped me let go of my fear and come up with solutions for finding balance.
Creating a budget turned out to be a great process for me. It was another step in this year's experiment. And while it made me face some tough questions, I feel like I will be able to deal with a lot of the challenges associated with money. I really wish I had asked a skier older than me how they paid for their year and how they budgeted before I went and created my own. I recommend to any reader yet to make their first budget not to sweat it if they come up a bit short. It's not worthwhile to worry if one is doing everything they can to cope.
Time is a fickle thing. In my case it likes to present itself in excess when completely unnecessary, but vanishes suddenly when I need it the most. Time is more valuable than money when I'm busy, and a useless commodity to be wasted on my cell phone when I am not. Managing my time has been one of the toughest challenges of balancing my lifestyle, and makes up for most of the stress associated with being a student athlete.
Sports by nature require huge investments of time to be pursued competitively. In skiing especially, travel time in the winter can reach a 1:1 ratio with time spent on the skis during a weekend of races. As a result, ski practice and racing takes the majority of my energy during the week. All my time spent ski training is time lovingly spent, but it is exhausting. I have to plan my entire day around training so that I can maximize my use of time outside skiing. For example, my training this past week included a rest day on Monday, 2.5 hours training on Tuesday, 1.5 hours Wednesday, 3 hours Thursday, 2 hours Friday, 2.5 hours Friday, 2.5 hours Saturday, and 3.5 hours Sunday.
While skiing alone is a smaller commitment than working two days a week, it starts to take a toll as soon as another activity is added. Skiing drains energy levels and makes focus tasks much harder right after a work out. Homework is a monumental effort after a night of training. Because of this, I have chosen to only take 2 courses at college this semester. My weekly school schedule is as follows:
At this rate, skiing is no big deal! With maybe 10 hours of homework and 6.5 hours of class time per week, it would seem that everyone should go to school part-time and ski!
But I work as well. Which means I am in the same situation as hundreds of college students and student athletes, the point at which their lives become a full-time job whether they are pursuing one large, monumental goal or whether they are splitting their time across several different things like myself. I have two different jobs: I work twice a week on Wednesdays and Fridays 9 hours a day with a construction company. I am a labourer at my job, so when I get home at night from a 3 hour ski after work I am completely drained. In my "free" time I am working at my second job which is a landscaping project with my best friend. Finally, I am taking a few life guarding and swim instructor courses so that I can move on to a job with a pool in place of landscaping. My life is full, it bounces around from one project to the next, and it is tiring. Fortunately, I love what I do. Occasionally I go through "a week from hell", where things blow up in my face and I get incredibly stressed. But being busy has helped me develop strong skills for managing my time, and they are an interesting group of self-reflections:
Photo Credit: Cross Country Canada
This Blog was created to share a story.
My name is David Walker. I'm a Junior Cross Country skier with big dreams and a love for learning, and this is my first summer outside of high school. When I graduated I made the decision to take a year "off" and make ski racing my first priority. I am also paying for my skiing almost entirely on my own for the first time in my life. However, when I graduated I had no idea how I would go about making enough money to ski, and I still wanted to attend a couple college courses. There was nobody who could tell me exactly how to maintain this new lifestyle, and there were no blogs talking about it either; so I saw a new opportunity to create a blog detailing what I am learning.
In this blog I will share my experiences. I will share my school and work schedules, my training and racing schedules, and explain how I fit it all in. This blog will outline my budget for the year, how much I spend every month on skiing and how much I earn. The end goal of my blog is to leave an example to younger athletes of any sport how they too can pursue their sport after high school. This blog is bigger than just David Walker and his ski racing. I hope to connect with a large and diverse body of readers.
I have no set timeline for when I will be posting. My focus will be the content of the posts; my insights, and experiences. When I travel for racing, one of my favorite things to write about is the cultural, social, and economic influences present in the community I visit. When I am training in the summer and fall I like to speak about my involvements in the community and some of the incredible training that I get to attend. But I will also post about opportunities for athletes at university and colleges from my experience and research. I will interview friends who are attending university full-time and are full-time athletes themselves, and I will post about their lifestyles. If I am lucky, I will find some athletes who have established themselves on the world stage and are willing to write guest posts for me about their story. A huge advantage to this blog is that my posts will have lots of variety and I can always find new material that will appeal to my audience. I encourage feedback and will take story suggestions.
My next post will outline my plan for the fall, and how I have been working on funding my skiing and finding time for school at the same time.
I'd like to thank my friends who have supported me with ideas and feedback for this blog, and especially Gareth Williams for the amazing banners on my "About" and "Goals" pages.
Until next time, cheers,