SOCHI, Russia -- An Olympic athlete is not a highly paid athlete. They’re amateurs, and unfortunately, it takes more than talent to get to the world stage.
The life of an Olympian can be filled with unbridled joy and utter disappointment.
For most of them, it’s a family affair, with loved ones standing behind them all the way. It comes with financial struggles.
“Half of us skaters, we’re broke. We got nothing. Some of us can’t even eat,” Rock Hill speed skater Lauren Cholewinski said.
She turned to fundraising website GoFundMe.com to raise money for her Olympic quest. The parents of High Point’s Heather Richardson have sacrificed their futures.
“We both worked two jobs. I have not worked my second job now for a couple of years. He’s still working his second job for us. We’ve taken out as many mortgages as we can,” Pat Richardson says.
Snowboarder Shaun White is the richest of Sochi Olympians, worth an estimated $20 million. But endorsements are few and far between for most athletes.
“All the athletes don’t have the money. They need the opportunities to represent their countries,” Charlottean Ike Belk says. Belk served on the U.S. Olympic Committee for five decades, and the organization is the athletes’ biggest financial supporter.
Even without the certainty of a medal, the airfare to and hotel in Sochi costs families thousands of dollars. For the athletes, it’s worth every penny.
“It’s so great to have them here,” Cholewinski says of her mom and brother. “It’s just such a big deal to make it to the Olympics, and then have your family, have your support team, have the people that helped you get here, be here.”
As athletes and families leave Sochi, with or without hardware, the love for the games and each other continues.
“No matter what happens, we love our girl,” Pat Richarson says.