I think that my first two years in the post-collegiate running world have been a solid two years for me as an athlete. Are there some goals that I did not achieve yet? Yes. I will be the first to admit that. But making a World Championship Final (2012 IAAF World Indoor Championships, 800 meters), running the World 'A' Standard more than once, and having a decent performance at the 2013 USA Outdoor Championships (7th place) are a few of the things that I pride myself on. Two years ago, if anyone would have told me that I would accomplish these things and not have a stable financial sponsorship, I would have told them that they must not know anything about track and field. Yet, here I sit, still training in my UConn track and field apparel, as the one who was so naive to think things would be different.
I'm not writing this for anyone to read it and say, "Aww, poor Mike. I feel really bad for him." No. That's the exact opposite of what I want people to take away from this post. I want to open the eyes of the avid track and field gurus, those that my be a casual fan of the sport, and some who might have not had much interest in it until recently.
I have heard all of the reasons why organizations, mostly shoe companies, are not interested in sponsoring me. And I understand that I don't fit the mold of every company. But as an up-and-coming athlete, I don't think I'm selfish in saying the support of a company is huge in helping someone like me break out into the next level. It's hard to compete against athletes that live comfortably and have every resource at their disposal, when you're trying to train and just keep your head above water (financially). To make myself clear, I'm not saying that I deserve the money or support that some of the best athletes in the world get. But I do believe that I have proven myself at such a level that I deserve to be supported in some way.
A survey completed at the most recent USA Outdoor Championships showed that over 50% of the distance athletes that completed the survey make under $20,000 a year. And over half of those 50% make less than $5,000 a year. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? These are the athletes that are fighting tooth and nail to succeed in their sport and they can't even make enough money to support themselves.
Now the question is, do I fall under that category? Yes, I do. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm part of that overall 50%. I take pride in what I do. I have been working night and day for years to become the best athlete that I can be, not to say that other athletes have not done the same. I respect and admire what every track and field athlete does on a day to day basis. But I feel that I am not getting the most out of myself and my sport. I have to face the truth that what I earn does not cover all my costs and I do have to work part-time. I have a lot of school loans, as I started college with no scholarship at all, plus the cost of living is not cheap in today's world. My wife, Katie, works 40+ hours a week as a Registered Nurse, and if it wasn't for her, we'd really be in trouble. She is our savior, and I am thankful for her support every single day. But I need to support her too, as she is my wife. With that in mind, I work as much as I can so that we are able to pay the bills but also have a normal life full of family visits, adventures to see friends, or just a night out with her and I. It's not easy waking up some days at the crack of dawn to run a 14 mile run right before working an 8-9 hour shift. But it's what I have to do in order to fulfill my dream of running professionally. Sometimes I think I must be nuts to continue this so called "dream."
Will a contract solve all of my problems? Absolutely not. Here comes the second part of my thoughts on sponsorships. Financially, the support of a company, whether it be an apparel or non-apparel company, makes things a little bit easier. Athletes can get all of the training, rehabilitation, gear, and travel that they need to succeed. Yet once the races have been won and the teams have been made, who knows this other than the avid fans of the sport, or the athlete's friends and family? What I'm getting at is that track and field needs to market their athletes better. That's the responsibility of the athlete and the companies or organizations that support them. Not many athletes in the sport have marketed themselves the right way or built their brand to the point where their brand and their achievements fuel each other as one cohesive unit. That's what I am trying to do with the help of Starting Line Designs. They're providing me a platform and support to build my brand, and get it out into the community. My hopes are that my brand can help me support myself not only during my competitive career, but also in my future endeavors.
Until then, I'm going to continue working day after day, week after week, to become the absolute best athlete that I can be. I don't know if I will ever get a sponsorship. But I will put every effort into supporting myself off the track as well as on it.
Before I sign off, I want to acknowledge the support I have received during my relatively short professional career so far. My wife has been the greatest supporter anyone could ask for. She was willing to follow me to New Jersey, away from family, and help me fulfill my athletic dreams. New Jersey/New York Track Club has also been instrumental in my successes on the track since college. Brands that I support are Swiftwick and 110%. I believe in their products, and they have helped outfit me with some great gear. The New York branch of Nike has been a recent addition to the support system for NJ/NY Track Club, providing us with shoes as well as opportunities to go out and help build the foundation of the running community in the tri-state area. Finally, USA Track and Field and the USATF Foundation have been very helpful in providing grants for a lot of up and coming athletes that need a little bit of extra support to break out. Thank you so much to all of them. I literally would not be able to do this without you.
For questions, comments, or suggestions, feel free to post below or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org!