Debt Reduction and Elite Athletics

DH = Dear Husband
DD1 = Dear First Daughter
DD2 = Dear Second Daughter
                According to an an article posted by Investors Group July 2012, Canadians spend an average of $1,658 per year on their children’s athletics. According to a second article posted by Investors Group the same month, Canada’s elite athletes spend an average of $15,743 per year to train. So what do you do when you’re trying to get out of debt, and one of your children turns out to be an elite athlete? What do you do when two of them do?

 DD1’s Athletic Rise When We Were Strapped

                I remember the sinking dread I felt as DH’s hi-tech career came to an end (See “DEBT #2: The Story Behind aDead-Weight Debt”) just at the time when our first daughter was showing signs of promise in her sport. The idea of accepting circumstances as they were and allowing her to be cut off from her potential was unthinkable. Stressful as it was, and for me it required many steps outside of my comfort zone, we creatively financed her athletic pursuits. DD1’s coach gave her a great deal of training in exchange for odd jobs that she would do – like painting – and for her assistance in coaching younger athletes. I sought out sponsors who offered support with money and air mile points. There was a very fine balance of acknowledging tight financial boundaries, swallowing pride and seeking support, constant logistical planning, and hard work. For the most part, it was DD1 who made it all happen. And it did happen. She won significant championships; she traveled to fifteen different countries around the world for training and competitions; she forged rich bonds of friendship with other athletes and coaches. And she developed the traits of character that parents hope to foster in their children when signing them up for sports:  initiative, confidence, the pursuit of excellence, an ability to work with others as a team, and a lasting value of physical fitness.

 DD2’s Athletic Rise When We’re Getting out of Debt

                Things are different now. DH is gainfully self-employed and we are no longer in that limbo of paralyzing career and financial uncertainty. We just have a huge debt to pay off from our years in limbo (not to mention decades of poor financial management) and possibly only six years to go before we retire. So now that DD2 is rising in her sport, would it be wise for us to spend the thousands that we simply didn’t have when DD1 was rising in hers? In a Financial Post article entitled “Are your kids’ athletic dreams worth breaking the bank for?” (August 4, 2012) Gary Marr writes, “The hardest part of creating any sort of budget is deciding what to cut out. Now try and pinch pennies on your child’s dream . . . [T]hat’s the task parents of elite athletes face, designating tens of thousands of dollars of their household budget to help their child’s athletic career blossom, a sacrifice that impacts everything from daily spending to retirement. . . Where does it all end? . . . How can you say no?” (Marr, 2012)
                DD2 has been selected to take part in a winter training camp in Hawaii, and it will cost over $3,000. Last week-end, we held a fundraiser. People could either support through a tax-deductible donation to an athletics trust fund set up for DD2, or through a purchase of the services DH provides in his business, with the understanding that money paid would go to DD2’s training. Again, it was a significant step outside of my comfort zone. We were asking friends, family, and colleagues for money for our daughter’s training. Many of them are financing the pursuits of their own children. How would they respond?
          Dryly: “Well, I’d like to go to Hawaii too.” (Just smile and nod.)
          Enthusiastically: “She has got to go! I’m going to write a cheque. You must be so proud!”  (A great big “Thank-you!”)
          No response at all. (Were they put off by the invitation? No, I will not let myself worry about it.)
The combination of donations and of orders for DH’s business adds up to cover the air-fare and then some. DD2 is putting aside money from her part-time job, and she’ll be visiting
local businesses with her sports résumé and a request for sponsorship. She has at least one athletic grant coming her way. She’s headed for Hawaii.
                Getting out of debt doesn’t mean stifling your children’s dreams. It probably means that you have to get creative, and it might mean that you have to get uncomfortable. But there is also a good chance that it means your children will get more out of the experience than they would if you could hand it all over to them on a silver platter. DD2 is grateful for the efforts that we’ve made and for the people who are supporting her. And she is stepping up with efforts of her own. I believe that when she walks out of that airport into the sunshine of Hawaii, her appreciation for the opportunity will be all the higher because of her understanding of what it has taken to make it come about. A team effort is setting the stage for her to reach her potential. She’s focused and determined. Her dream is alive, and she’s going to run with it.

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