An Olympic fencing star who aims to compete in the 2020 Summer Games is fundraising to get there, and, along the way, highlighting the monetary struggles many athletes face in order to represent the U.S.
Monica Aksamit, a 29-year-old New Jersey native who won a bronze medal at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, has so far raised more than $25,000 from hundreds of donors to bankroll her journey to Tokyo, and she says athletes who participate in "niche sports like fencing, taekwondo and judo" are in the same boat as her financially.
“No one hears about them, but I am definitely not the only one 'struggling,'" she told the New York Post.
Aksamit launched a GoFundMe in September, seeking to get $21,000 to fund her journey.
“I’m embarrassed by [the fundraising], but there isn’t anything else I can be doing. Most part-time jobs are physical. Waiting tables, you are on your feet all day long and then you’re too tired to train,” Aksamit said.
The Penn State graduate detailed her exhausting training schedule, which she says hampers her availability to work so-called normal jobs. She trains at a gym in Freehold, N.J., in the morning, then commutes to New York City, where she practices at the Manhattan Fencing Center.
She said she's “applied for a few part-time jobs [in retail] and been honest about my schedule," but is routinely turned down by employers seeking "someone who has more availability."
Aksamit wrote online she's earned money "through small social media campaigns," but that has largely gone to paying off the debt incurred by qualifying for the 2016 Summer Games — about $16,000.
Olympic medalists do take home a solid chunk of change for their wins, however, according to USA Today. The U.S. Olympic Committee awards thousands to winners, including $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze. The monetary awards athletes receive is taxed.
In addition, many prominent athletes represent companies and products with endorsements. Gymnast Simone Biles, for example, had a net worth of $2 million, mainly due to her endorsements, before she even made her debut at the 2016 games, E! News reported in 2016. Famed swimmer Michael Phelps, the 28-time Olympic medalist, has an estimated net worth of $60 million and has had endorsement deals with Speedo, Under Armour, Wheaties and more.
Aksamit said she figured after winning a bronze in 2016, she wouldn't "have to worry about how I am going to the next competition. I will find an agent and endorsements because I am a medalist."
But when the fencer spoke to agents she came up empty, with one allegedly telling her: "There are 121 medalists. Why should I pick you?"
The 2020 Summer Games are scheduled to be held from July 24 to Aug. 9 in Tokyo, Japan.