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The Cost of Raising An Olympian

I watched the Olympics the other night, and twice, I saw parents hugging each other in joy, with tears running down their face, and I thought I saw relief mixed in with them as well. Finally, all the hard work has paid off. When Shawn Johnson, gymnastics gold medalist, saw her scores, her parents were one of the ones who hugged while crying. The commentator mentioned that her parents had at one point mortgaged their house twice to “keep her [Shawn Johnson] in the gym”.

Raising an Olympian comes with very high costs, not just in actual monetary terms spent on trainers, coaches, equipment. There’s also the time spent on the road, on auditions, competitions, often at the expense of spending that time on the job, or with other children.

The monetary cost can climb in upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars, especially for athletes who wish to compete in the most prestigious arena. It means a full day of practice perhaps six days a week, with an in-demand trainer, in an in-demand training facility. When I searched for Olympic training facilities like World Olympics Gymnastics Academy, which has produces national champions, no fees are advertised online. Some classes are invitation only, even for kid classes like tumble classes. I don’t think you can pay just $55/month as you notice your child’s talent emerging and being honed as they grow.

The cost of getting to the Beijing Olympics alone is estimated to be around $15,000 to $20,000 for three weeks. Let’s say a world championship, or a national championship is a fraction of that, and let’s say a gifted child athlete goes to about two major competitions a year. There’s $10,000, plus hotel accommodations, food, gas or flight costs, and all the other little expenses along the way that adds up.

Some athletes are lucky enough to enjoy corporate sponsorship, which wasn’t made legal by the way until 1978. Many more are footing the bill themselves, and asking family and friends to pitch in.

How many more talented kids out there had to abandon their dream of going to the Olympics because a practical parent just wasn’t willing to shoulder all that expense, or sacrifice family time, and, some would think, sacrifice their hopeful young athlete’s childhood? Most parents in Beijing now, it seems, were willing to do anything at the expense of getting in debt, hoping that it will pay off: in the form of that Olympic medal.

What about you: What sacrifices are you prepared to make if you find your child with a gift in arts, music, athletics?

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