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21 Olympians Who Trained Hard for Rio — and How They Paid the Bills

Updated August 8, 2016
by Jamie Cattanach
Staff Writer
Olympic athletes

While admiring the insane accomplishments of Olympic athletes, it’s easy to forget their crazy training regimes don’t pay like the full-time jobs they are.

Which means, yes, most Olympians have to spare some time and caloric output for a side hustle…  on top of making sure their game is on-point at a literally superhuman level.

And you thought you were busy and underpaid.

The Olympics are Amazing, But They Don’t Pay Well

If you’ve been paying attention, you know this isn’t a new problem.

Before she was America’s darling, for instance, Ronda Rousey served drinks (as well as punches) during her training, working “two-to-three bartending jobs” at a time.

Interestingly, she’s also worked as a canine physical therapy assistant, and the graveyard shift at a 24-Hour Fitness desk.

But as so many of us can attest, working multiple jobs is an exhausting struggle — even if you’re not spending the equivalent of yet another gig’s hours each day working your body as hard as physically possible.

The issue’s exacerbated by the fact that, even for winners, all their training doesn’t pay off — at least, not in actual cash money.

Unless you can leverage your newly-decorated status to nail an insane corporate sponsorship or commercial appearance — like Michael Phelps — you’re looking at a one-time medal bonus at most.

And although the fee for gold is $25,000, that doesn’t break down to a very good hourly rate if an Olympian has to train the fabled 10,000 hours to achieve it.

If you don’t place? More than likely, you’ll get nothing at all in return for your impressive investment of time and effort… except a giant hole in your resume as you walk back into the job market.

Luckily, this struggle hasn’t gone completely unnoticed, and some programs are in place to help Olympians land work flexible enough to accommodate their unique needs.

Until its Olympic Jobs Opportunities program shut down in 2009, Home Depot was a longtime supporter of Olympic athletes, providing them full-time wages for flexible, part-time hours.

Today, Olympians can look for and apply to jobs at partnering organizations through Team USA’s site.

But for most, it’s still a long, hard road. Athletes might also apply for grants or subsidies from the local businesses they patronize in their training; others crowdfund or otherwise rely on help from friends and family.

And many, of course, call down a portion of their enormous pool of strength and willpower — and turn to the side-hustle game.

The Surprising Day Jobs of 2016 Olympic Athletes

We raked through the roster of 2016 Rio participants to find out what bill-paying gigs athletes were up to in their “spare” time.

The findings were impressive — and some are downright surprising. Spoiler alert: Beyonce is involved.

So, ready to feel underwhelmed by your own accomplishments?

Here are the unexpected side jobs of 21 Olympians you’ll watch compete in the Rio games this year.

1. Equestrian Laura Graves was a hairstylist.

olympic athletes
via United States Equestrian Federation / Facebook

This Orlando-born equestrian quit her career as a hairstylist to pursue her horsey dreams.

2. Basketball player Angel McCoughtry is a musician.

olympic athletes
Woodlawn Post Sports / Facebook

This baller currently has a song available for purchase on iTunes called “Illusion.”

3. Boxer Nico Hernandez is a lube tech.

olympic athletes
via Breaking Wichita News / Facebook

He works with his father at a Wichita-area trucking company.

4. Kayaker Ashley Nee was an EMT — and now is an adventure kayaking instructor.

olympic athletes
via Innov-E Foundation Inc. / Facebook

Since the only thing more impressive than participating in the Olympics is literally saving lives.

5. Cyclist Mara Abbott teaches yoga.

olympic athletes
via USA Cycling / Facebook

You can catch one of her classes in Boulder, Colorado — where she also writes for the city’s Daily Camera and sits on the environmental board. Overachiever!

6. Diver Amy Cozad was a math tutor.

olympic athletes
via Drew Johansen / Facebook

Cozard worked as a math tutor at Indiana University — “although she took time off from that job in 2016 to focus more on diving,” according to her profile at Team USA.

7. Tennis players Bob and Mike Bryan have a band.

olympic athletes
via Bryan Brothers / Facebook

On top of claiming the title of “all-time winningest double team in the Open Era,” this set of twin brothers also has a band.

The Bryan Bros Band features Bob on keyboards and Mike on drums and guitar. And be nice — they’re expending enough effort elsewhere to get some slack on their band name’s creativity.

Their music was featured in an ATP Doubles Revolution TV commercial, and they’ve done “all the original music for the Tennis Channel program ‘No Strings.’”

8. Rower Meghan O’Leary was in TV production.

olympic athletes
via Meghan O’Leary / Facebook

“Before rowing took over my life, I was full-time with ESPN,” writes O’Leary.

But don’t think just because she took off time to train she’s ditched the rest of her career. She still works part-time “in freelance writing and some media/content consulting,” and also serves as InstaViser’s director of content.

9. Hurdler Kerron Clement is a model and actor.

olympic athletes
via Kerron Clement / Facebook

This track and field star is no stranger to the camera. He’s also “a model and actor, and once appeared in a music video for Beyonce.”

? ?

10. Shot-putter Michelle Carter is a makeup artist.

olympic athletes
via Michelle Carter / Facebook

Michelle Carter calls herself the Shot Diva, and for good reason: Girl looks fierce, if I do say so myself.

On top of her world-class athletic records, Carter is a certified professional makeup artist, and also founded a girls’ sports confidence camp called You Throw Girl.

I know her sport is track and field, but that name deserves a golf clap.

11. Gymnast Alex Naddour is a realtor.

olympic athletes
via Alex Naddour / Facebook

He’s licensed in Arizona.

12. Rower Steve Kasprzyk is a chemical engineer.

olympic athletes
via USRowing / Facebook

Because if you’re gonna go for Olympic gold, why make anything else easy?

13. Cyclist Megan Guarnier works part time at an engineering firm.

olympic athletes
via Wheel Sport Ladies / Facebook

She’s also an aspiring neuroscientist who “received the Rosalin Lieberman Riess Memorial Award upon graduation, which is presented to the senior who shows the greatest promise to contribute to the treatment or cure of severe mental illness.”

So… yeah, I’ve done nothing with my life.

14. Sailor Briana Provancha was a sales associate at Cole Haan.

olympic athletes
via Around the Rings / Facebook

And she got the job through the Team USA Career Program. Awesome!

15. Rower Seth Weil works part time at a juice bar.

olympic athletes
via USRowing / Facebook

You can catch him at his host family’s juice bar in Princeton, New Jersey — but not for long.

He plans to pursue a career in aviation once he’s done with his rowing career.

16. Shooter Enkelejda Shehaj owns and operates a restaurant.

olympic athletes
via USA Shooting – National Governing Body for Olympic Shooting Sports / Facebook

If you’re ever in the area, check out the Greek cuisine at Olympia Dining in Naples, Florida — it’s got great reviews.

17. Javelin thrower Cyrus Hostetler was a web and graphic designer.

olympic athletes
via Andy White / Facebook

Hostetler “worked for the project management team for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track and Field, where he did front-end web design and graphic design.”

18. Race walker John Nunn owns a gourmet cookie business.

olympic athletes
via Josh Nunn / Facebook

When he’s not race walking, Nunn helps his daughter Ella operate Ella’s Cookies, a gourmet provider that ships white chocolate chip red velvet cookies anywhere in the U.S.

Brb…

19. Marathon runner Jared Ward teaches statistics at the college level.

olympic athletes
via BYUradio / Facebook

Ward teaches statistics at BYU and runs marathons — so basically he’s good at everything I’m terrible at.

20. Rower Andrew Campbell, Jr. works at a fintech startup company.

olympic athletes
via World Rowing Under 23 / Facebook

This rower works at Quantopian, a Boston-based financial technology startup attempting to “level Wall Street’s playing field.”

21. Volleyball player Christa Dietzen was an elementary school teacher.

olympic athletes
via Badger Region Volleyball / Facebook

Before graduating from Penn State with her degree in elementary education, Dietzen taught abroad at Yapton Elementary School in southern England.

Feeling Inspired?

Now that you know how thoroughly you lack an excuse, maybe you’re ready to get started on a side gig of your own.

We’ve got some posts that will help! Check out our ultimate guide to (finally) starting the freelance business you’ve always dreamed of, or these 21 side jobs that pay more than $20 per hour.

With a little luck and determination, you might do pretty well — this woman made $40K from her side hustle alone… while still working full time.

And if you’re already in a fairly comfortable place financially? Maybe you should consider taking up a sport. Unless you’re talking gymnastics or figure skating, lots of Olympians start late in life — and you never know where you might end up!

Your Turn: Which Olympic event are you most looking forward to watching this summer?

Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Her writing has also been featured at The Write Life, Word Riot and elsewhere. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.

Kelly Smith, an editorial intern at The Penny Hoarder, contributed research to this post.

by Jamie Cattanach
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

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