[author: Aaron Kase]
An Olympic gold medal, the award for reaching the pinnacle of athletic achievement on a world-wide stage, takes years of hard work, dedication and training to earn. In some cases, it also takes extreme financial sacrifice on the part of the athlete’s family.
Two of America’s most high-profile gold medal winners, gymnast Gabby Douglas and swimmer Ryan Lochte, made headlines this summer for more than just their performances on the mat and in the pool. Family members of both are facing financial difficulties requiring resolution through the legal system.
Douglas, the diminutive 16-year-old who earned the nickname “Flying Squirrel” for her high-altitude acrobatics, took first place for the individual all-around gymnastics event and earned another gold for the team all-around. The medals came at a price, though: Earlier this year, Douglas’ mother, Natalie Hawkins, filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in Virginia.
‘‘It’s my story, it’s part of me. I’m not even embarrassed about it,’’ Hawkins told reporters in London. ‘‘It shows that even though I didn’t like to have to do it, I’m glad there was something there for me to be able to protect my home.’’ Her bankruptcy filing lists $80,000 in debts, and should allow her to create a payment plan and hold onto her house and other assets.
As for Lochte, his five medals, including two golds, at the 2012 Olympics came hand-in-hand with the bad news that his parents are facing foreclosure on their Florida home, for which they owe $242,239 plus interest. Certainly puts a damper on the gold medal celebration.
James R. Meizanis
Training in a sport to reach Olympic level, it perhaps goes without saying, is expensive. Parents of precocious athletes shell out for elite-level coaching, equipment, practice fees, travel and more.
“The cost of getting to that next level is more than just putting in the time for the children,” says James R. Meizanis, a bankruptcy attorney in Virginia. “It’s supporting them financially every step of the way.”
Even just supporting an average child athlete on a Little League or school team can be an expensive proposition, so the commitment to reaching an elite level can be very daunting indeed.
“Given the open-ended nature of these expenses, it makes it hard for parents to plan or save while they’ve incurring these expenses for these children,” Meizanis says. “They don’t know how much it’s going to cost to get to that level.”
Douglas even had to move to Iowa for two years to continue her training. Fortunately, at least in the case of these two athletes, all of the hard work and untold amounts of money paid off, big time, even if it did send their families temporarily toward the brink. And the silver — or gold — lining: Douglas and Lochte should be racking up endorsement deals after their big wins, so hopefully they can help pull their respective families through their financial difficulties.
“Certainly seeing their children achieve the likes of what Gabby [Douglas] and Ryan Lochte achieved in the Olympics eases the situations a little bit,” says Meizanis. “They see their children succeed and they’re very proud of their accomplishments. And there’s the possibility the athletes will help their parents a little bit in support of their financial situations.”
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