There’s a common misconception that once you’re an Olympic athlete, you’re set for life. In reality, lucrative sponsorships are extremely few and far between, and many Olympic hopefuls are struggling to get by while chasing their Olympic dreams.
I know this from personal experience, and that’s why I’m encouraging Americans to show your support for our Olympic team. Today marks one year from the start of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, and you can join “the team behind the team” by donating to the Team USA Registry, a program that allows you to pick the perfect symbolic gift for Team USA to help fuel our athletes’ Olympic journeys.
My Olympic dream began when I was a kid growing up in the Bronx. It was already a struggle – my parents were Puerto Rican immigrants with little money trying to get by supporting five children. Once we realized I had a chance of becoming an Olympian, my parents and siblings took on multiple jobs to help me afford training at a gym that we had to drive 30 miles to and from every day. During competitions, we couldn’t afford hotels, and my parents would sleep in the front seat of our car so that I would have enough room to lay a mattress down in the back.
It was incredibly difficult for my whole family, but thanks to the unwavering support and sacrifice of my parents, who have always believed in me and have done everything in their power to support my dream, I’m one of the lucky ones who beat the odds and worked my way up to the Olympic team.
Once we realized I had a chance of becoming an Olympian, my parents and siblings took on multiple jobs to help me afford training at a gym that we had to drive 30 miles to and from every day. During competitions, we couldn’t afford hotels, and my parents would sleep in the front seat of our car so that I would have enough room to lay a mattress down in the back.
It gave me the opportunity to represent the U.S. in the London 2012 Olympic Games, and being able to stand among the best athletes in the world and compete for my country was indescribable. Unfortunately, the reality is that a significant number of our best athletes will never get that chance because they don’t have enough money for training.
That’s why programs like the Team USA Registry are so important to us. No athlete should lose the chance to represent our country because he or she doesn’t have the means. The Registry provides a simple way for fans to help offset some of the common expenses we face to get to the Games – from ice packs to training equipment to Paralympic guide dogs. On the website, you pick a symbolic gift for Team USA, and your donation goes directly to the Team USA Fund.
This support is more important than ever because, unlike most National Olympic Committees, the United States Olympic Committee does not receive money from the government, and countries that do are able to invest far more in their athletes. While the USOC does everything it can to help pave the financial road for us to reach the Games, it relies on generous Americans who make donations at every level to help us remain competitive with the rest of the world.
To mark the one-year countdown to Rio, take a moment to remember all of America’s Olympians and hopefuls who are in the gym today, training hard to represent this incredible country in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. My hope is that you will join us in our dream of helping the best athletes get the support they need to make it to the Olympics and bring home gold for U.S.A. Donate and become part of the “team behind the team.” We’ll do our best to make you proud. America doesn’t send its athletes to the Olympics, Americans do.
John Orozco is a member of Team USA's men's gymnastics team and competed
in the London 2012 Olympic Games.