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Jessica is our 2016 Olympic Hopeful and Sarah is our 2012 Olympian in Weightlifting. We're setting out to be "Pretty Strong" and we encourage you to do the same.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Why I left the Olympic Training Center

I have read in a few places that part of my financial struggles have been placed there by myself by not being a resident at the Olympic Training Center. Here's why I left.

As soon as my track career was over, I made the decision to switch over to weightlifting. I went to Northern Michigan University on a weightlifting scholarship. Since "becoming" a weightlifter, I had been applying to be a resident at the Olympic Training Center (OTC). I had been applying for over a year. I believed in the program, and I wanted to be in the atmosphere and become the best by training with the best. Finally, after all that time of applying I got a call from the national coach that I was accepted! I was sooo pumped. I had planned on being there through the Olympic Games.

Little did I know at that time, lack of performances and high injury rates occurred from the majority of the resident athletes.

Originally the OTC had a men's and a women's coach. They fired the women's coach and used the men's coach and the head coach of both teams. I was recruited by him to come in and not even two months in, he quit. We were all stunned and didn't know what to do. They rehired the women's coach they fired but he was only to be a temporary fix. My personal coach as well as many other US coaches and international coaches applied to be the National Coach. My coach wasn't hired but they did bring in a coach from Poland. In the course of a year, we had three coaches. I wanted a steady, consistent training environment leading into the Olympic Games. Having this particular situation made me feel like our organization treated the coaches as if they were dispensable. If the coaches were, the athletes could have easily been.

Having three different coaches with different philosophies I felt wasn't going to be conducive to my success as an athlete. I wanted to train with my coach at home. He knew me the best, he knew how to write programs just for me, and his coaching style works the best with my personality. I decided to go home.

While I was a resident at the OTC, I was declared the #1 female athlete after Cheryl retired, garnering me $1,000/month. Knowing I was #1 and with that money, outside of paying for competitions, I could get by living in AZ and train with my coach. At that time the top male and female athlete were given the same amount of money.

I received that amount of money for one additional month of training when I was in AZ and it abruptly stopped being that amount. I was told I was #1 and the ranking list told me I was but, USAW had changed the standards on how to get stipend without announcing it to anyone. My funding was reduced to $700. It would be harder to live but, I could still somewhat get by. I had to borrow money a lot but, I got by. So based on these new standards, I qualified to get the highest amount of money ($1,000) again. Much to my surprise, they changed the standards again without announcing to anyone reducing my funds to $400. I got kicked out of the house I was living in because I couldn't afford it anymore.

This time, when the standards changed, I could not believe how the funds were allocated. There was no longer funding for the top male and top female athlete. It was the top athlete overall despite gender. This system seriously makes men and women compete against each other for funding. If this were any type of "employment" system, it would be completely unacceptable. Unless you were one of the "top" athletes getting paid, no one knew any of this was happening.

I had an extensive meeting with our then CEO the National Coach, my personal coach, and one the woman from our then Accounting department. I had several facts and figures arguing that if this current system has to stay in place, that I should be considered the number one athlete because of my level of improvement, potential to improve, performance, and point scoring. I proposed a more fair system of paying the top male and female athletes equally, that did not cost the USOC or USAW any extra funding. I was told all of this information would be brought to the USOC for consideration discussion.

Needless to say, nothing changed. Despite having women placing higher, scoring more points, and therefore having Olympic Slots than the men. I as well as other women were/are receiving less funds than men based on these ridiculous standards.

Two of my worst performances were done during this time of only getting $400 a month. I struggled to have enough quality food to fuel my body and recover properly. My body weight was too low or fluctuated a lot. I didn't have a total at the Pan American Games. That was a competition I could have won and I didn't because of the stress of this situation and because my lack of proper food and supplementation. I followed that competition with the World Championships two weeks later. Not by best performance but, I was still the highest placing athlete male or female for Team USA locking in our two Olympic Slots. 

The main reasons I stayed here in AZ were more for principle than anything.

I kept thinking maybe I should go back to the OTC and have a little relief from my struggles. I weighed my options and still didn't feel like the OTC was the place for me.

After the Olympic Trials I had told myself that if I made the team, I would go to the OTC so I wouldn't have any distractions or problems. After talking with my coach, we knew our organization would find a way to not allow him to be the Olympic coach despite that fact that he earned it and that I was the athlete that secured the majority of the points for our Olympic slots. So we decided for me to stay here so he can be with me every step of the way. We would otherwise fund raise for him to go spectate.

I didn't want to shake up my training program because this program I am on works. I didn't want to risk injury or lack of performance.

I had fought for a long time for a more just system of funding, and I still bring up things reminding them that it's not OK the way things are. I don't want a lack of funds to force me into a situation that I know won't be good for me. I don't want to just go to the OTC for money. It would have helped a lot financially but, it's not worth compromising what I feel is right or wrong. It is wrong to make men and women compete against each other for funding when there is funding enough to pay both parties equally. It is wrong to pay men more than women when women are fairing better in international competition.

I'd rather be home, stay healthy, make Olympic Teams, and be away from the injustices that I fought so hard and lost to.

Hopefully, this better explains the situation I was in.

Thank you all for the support you have been giving me! I hope to do you all proud in London!



Becky said...

None of it will matter when you became a gold medalist in London. Good for you for sticking up for what you believe in. Gender discrimination in the workplace is still pretty common in the US unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Good job sticking up for your values!! I think the public would be horrified if they knew what was going on behind the scenes. Athletes are constantly getting lost in the wake of the bureaucratic struggle.

Keep up the awesome work.

Cibatarian said...

It's a shame that you feel compelled to have to explain why you made the decisions you did to further your training. Very few people outside elite sports know or understand the very special requirements every athlete has and that these aren't optional, silly preferences. If a facility isn't providing you with the environment that you need to succeed staying there will just hasten your frustration and failure. Adding gender discrimination makes things that much worse. I'm terribly sorry that happened to you at a time your federation should have been fully supporting you.

FWIW, I'm impressed not just by your athletic performance but by the strength and poise you've shown in an exceptional situation.

In this time leading up to London I wish for you to have the best training cycle ever so that you can crush all your previous PRs. Give 'em hell!

Anonymous said...

They just passed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay act. Might have bearing on your case, or at least namedropping it might give them pause before blowing you off.

Sadly, this is not the first instance of such things in the Olympics.

The Realistic One said...

I found you via curvy girl and I gotta say I may have just read through a ton of posts!!! Love what your doing! Love your positiveness and energy! Way to go and good luck!!!!

Anonymous said...

Sarah, I'm sure you will be incredibly busy the next few weeks -- can you post a blog entry with your itinerary for the next month or so.

Best of Luck to you!

leah said...

You do not have to justify your decision to leave the OTC, as an athlete it's your prerogative to be in an environment where you will be able to progress and excel. I'm just sad that the OTC is not that, and it's a sad state of affairs for weightlifting in the USA when our *top* training facilities do not want to look after their brightest talent because of some odd draconian bureaucracy. They really are doing their best to tear down what amazingly talented people like you are putting up. Best wishes for the games!

Anonymous said...

figured there was more to it when the article i was reading glossed over it. to be fair though, the article did provide a link to your blog so I could find out what the real deal was, good work, stick it to them

Anonymous said...

You are strong and beautiful and a great athlete. Stay proud and foicus on what you need.

Anonymous said...

I am proud of you I understand what you did because I was in the same situation just different country but I was getting $ 50 a mont instead of $400

Terry said...

One unsaid thing, amid the gush from UK athletes is how much money they're given for training. Nobody wants to pour cold water on the achievements of the athletes, but let's have a bit of transparency. Not for these people the need to stack supermarket shelves or flip burgers for the minimum wage, and fitting in long hours' training around their boss's demands. So let's be open about it. Olympic athletes are very privileged people.

Terry Reed, Stoke -on-Trent, UK.ifficeyo

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