In the days before crowdfunding, many aspiring Olympians raised money for their expenses the way a local Little League team might — community dinners, candy bar sales, car washes. In the next five years, every elite athlete or team will be using some sort of crowd-funding, predicts Bill Kerig, the founder of an online funding site for athletes, teams and sports organizations. Kerig's site, RallyMe.Com, is partnering with six national governing bodies, including the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A joint announcement with the association is expected this week. The site, launched last fall, is also in the process of forming alliances with other U.S. sports federations.
Crowd-funding in the Olympic world drew attention last week when speedskater Emily Scott raised nearly $48,000 in less than seven days after USA TODAY Sports published a story of her struggles. Scott's hardship isn't unique, as many athletes look for ways to make ends meet while training for the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in seven months. Skeleton racer Katie Uhlaender had organized local fundraisers on her own. But entering her third Olympics, Uhlaender thought she had gone to the well too many times in her community and with friends and followers on social media.
Her federation recently sent out an e-mail about RallyMe. "At first I was like, 'Yeah right, I'm going to ask for charity,'" she said Monday. "And then I was like, 'My stipend's cut, I have no money from cows and my bank account is looking pretty red.'" Uhlaender's monthly stipend from her federation was cut from $2,000 to $1,750 this month. "I was hoping in an Olympic year I would have no issues. I thought I'd get sponsors, but everyone seems to be hurting," she said. She also usually receives $5,000 to $7,000 a year from her family farm in Kansas — she owns seven cows — but because of the drought she didn't receive that this year.
Uhlaender hopes to raise $20,000 in 45 days, which would cover her training expenses from now until the Olympics. In a week, 11 boosters donated nearly $900, enough for the down payment on two sets of runners (the blades on the sled), which cost $800 a pair. She was also able to book a flight to Ohio for this month's U.S. weightlifting championships. Uhlaender hopes to compete in the 2016 Summer Games in the sport. "I hate asking. I would rather help someone else," Uhlaender said. "This is really hard for me, to ask for help."
The U.S. Olympic Committee last week announced details of a new foundation to significantly increase fundraising. USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said he wished the organization could support every member of a national team. Unlike most Olympic organizations, the USOC doesn't receive direct government support.
Bobsledder Jazmine Fenlator's RallyMe page details her and her family's struggles. They lost their New Jersey home to Hurricane Irene and were homeless for 12 weeks. Her mom suffered a heart attack and a stroke and can't work. Meanwhile, Fenlator was working three jobs, training and going to grad school. Fenlator's goal is to raise $15,000 in the next 70 days. Those who donate receive various levels of swag — from a personal postcard from a stop on the World Cup tour to VIP passes at the start line of a World Cup race in Lake Placid, N.Y., in December.
Several short-track speedskaters have profiles on GoFundMe.com, which focuses on personal funding, with athletes only a small part. Kyle Carr started a profile after seeing the success teammate Scott had. From U.S. Speedskating, Carr was offered a stipend of $600 a month for a year or $900 for eight months. "It's the same amount of money but in less time. I simply cannot live on $600 a month," said Carr, who also works part time.
Speedskater Landon Hatfield receives no funding from his governing body and projects his yearly expenses to be $28,000. "With the economy, the burden has risen," said Hatfield, who hopes crowdfunding will help ease that burden. Alpine skiers Danny and Drew Duffy, teenage brothers from Vermont, are newcomers to the national team. They dream of being Olympians but are just trying to afford the expenses of the World Cup circuit, which will cost $50,000 combined. With almost $6,000 raised on RallyMe, they are 12% of the way there.
"We are partially funded, but people are shocked that we have to pay to be on the national team," Drew Duffy said.