Half Empty and Half Full

On Friday the USATF Foundation announced grant awards to 58 athletes totaling $297,000. This is huge.

The twitter world lit up with expressions of “thank you” to the generous donors who make this possible***. These grants will provide important and sometime critical support to these athletes.

That’s the good news.

About 9 years ago I joined the USATF Foundation board and volunteered to chair the Elite Grant Committee. Part of my role is to read, analyze and evaluate the grant applicant candidates in as objective and fair manner as possible, so the Committee can make informed decisions about grant awards.

Over the years I’ve had a unique and privileged opportunity to get an intimate peek into the personal stories, goals & dreams, and financial details of nearly 1000 athlete applicants. The picture that these application “stories” paint is simultaneously inspiring and disturbing.

Half empty…the “disturbing” stuff:

  • This year’s applicant pool of 220 athletes included 150 athletes who ranked in the TOP 10 in the USA in 2015 in their event
  • The average 2015 income earned in the sport – sponsorships, USATF tier funding, prize money, grants – by these TOP 10 ranked athletes is $16,553
  • 59% of these TOP 10 ranked athletes do not have a shoe or apparel company sponsor, and these athletes average under $10,000 in income
  • 52% of the TOP 10 ranked athletes who applied for a grant are making ends meet by holding down a part-time or full-time job
  • Of course athletes that rank outside of the top 10 fare even worse

Four years ago I penned this study:

How Much Money Do Track & Field Athletes Make?

At the time the punch line statistic was my estimation that over 50% of track & field athletes ranked in the top 10 in the USA were making less than $15,000 from the sport.

When I mix in a rough estimate of the often-higher income level athletes who did not apply for a grant it appears, unfortunately, that the 2012 observation that “50% of top 10 athletes are making less than $15,000 per year” was still true in 2015.


The Foundation board members/donors are often amazed at the level of gratitude expressed by athletes for grant amounts that average barely $5,000, until we note that this represents at least a 33% “pay raise” for most recipients.

Half full…the INSPIRING stuff!

I wish everyone could read about each of our sport’s top athletes. There are so many compelling stories in our athlete community. The grant application narratives reveal that our sport is blessed with an extraordinarily mature, driven and humble group of young women and men.

Each athlete is unique but the same themes emerge every year in the grant applications:

  • Most elite T&F athletes are first class individuals who have compelling personal stories that few people have heard.

  • The vast majority of our top athletes are uncomfortable asking for financial assistance, even if the need is significant, and would much rather earn it.

  • Most of our athletes feel disempowered when it comes to addressing their off-the-track goals. They leave college and enter an environment and culture that does not encourage or facilitate taking charge of their pro careers. They are hindered by obscurity, a lack of negotiating clout, and a seemingly small pie.

These reversible realities inspired me to create AthleteBiz.

We’re in the early stages of this non-profit AthleteBiz experiment. And yes, it’s an unproven experiment at this point. We aim to:

  • Give the public a whole new way to experience our sport – with our athletes’ stories, voice and off-the-track talents at the center, and
  • Empower athletes to leverage this aggregated audience to:
    • tell their story & promote their blogs
    • build their value to sponsors
    • get paid gigs
    • earn store commissions
    • gain role modeling opportunities
    • land quality part-time jobs
    • celebrate the support delivered by other enlightened people and organizations in our sport


Congratulations to all the USATF Foundation grantees. Athletes who are participating on AthleteBiz who made the cut are listed below. Click on their name to get to know them better and to support their dreams.

Jasmin Stowers Garrett Heath Tori Bowie
Brittany Borman Kara Winger Tia Brooks
Whitney Ashley Kibwè Johnson Jeremy Taiwo
Heather Miller-Koch Stephanie Garcia Maria Michta-Coffey
Erik Sowinski Lashinda Demus Kyle Merber
Brittany Smith Ashley Higginson Riley Dolezal
Mary Saxer Amanda Bingson Britney Henry
Chanelle Price Turquoise Thompson

Well over 100 applicants had performance credentials, financial need and character references that made them excellent candidates to receive a grant. The donation levels allowed us to send support to only about half of them. We plan to make additional grant awards later this year. You can see the complete grantee list here:

USA Track & Field Foundation awards Elite Athlete Development Grants to 58 athletes

***Most of the donations come from the 36 board members who are profiled at this link: http://usatffoundation.org/about-usatff/board-of-directors/. At least ten of these individuals have donated over $200,000 to this cause over the past 5 to 10 years.

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