Okay so many of you may be wondering what the hashtags #wedemandchange and #rule40 are all about, or even worse may be wondering why I am one of the Olympians joining in in this movement and taking a stand. Here is why I, Maria Michta Team USA Track and Field 20k Race Walk, newly minted Olympian believe in the fight:
First anyone who knows me, knows that being an Olympian has been a dream of mine since I was a 10year old little girl. I have trained tirelessly over the years, poured my heart and sole into it, sacrificing a lot, being selfish and having others sacrifice so that I could follow my dream and become an Olympian, which in my opinion is the greatest athletic honor ever. I am proud beyond belief and feel that there is no greater honor than proudly displaying USA across my chest while competing here in the Olympic Games. The rush of emotion that I felt moments before stepping foot onto the track this past weekend at Opening Ceremonies are indescribable. I am forever thankful to each and every person who has helped me along the way. Whenever possible I try to acknowledge these people, after all it is these people who have helped me to reach this point that I represent most. I also proudly represent what it means to dream and what can happen if you believe in your dream, regardless of how big it is that you too can make it. I proudly represent every other little boy and girl back home watching who is like I was and still am during these magical few weeks that only occur once every four years, glued to the TV captivated in awe, inspired! After all this is why London chose the slogan: “Inspire a generation”. These feelings of pride and honor are what make all the sacrifice along the way worth it. And again I cannot express my gratitude enough to ALL who have made this possible.
So then why am I “complaining” about not being paid, not being able to recognize a sponsor or multiple sponsors if the idea of the Olympic Games is to proudly represent one’s country? Well first of all I have no sponsor, okay wait that’s not entirely true, I have no big brand coropoarte sponosor who gives me free gear, pays me a salary, and gives me a bonus for making it to events like the Olympics or rewards my spotlight in the media with another bonus check. No my sponsors are my family, my friends, my high school community, the family of race walkers around the country. My sponsor bonus comes from each and every dollar thrown in my bucket, every donation on my website, the spare change that the SEGVT girls got people to throw in at the carwash when cars waited at a red light. Those are the sponsors that I represent. And because of rules like #Rule40 and others I could not use the image of myself at Olympic Trials or the title US Olympian in any pictures, posts, or tweet to fundraise money to help pay for my travel expenses and get my family, the family that has sponsored me from day one, over to London to watch me compete.
The idea of the Olympics, was that the athletes who competed were amateur, not compenstated for their appearances, performances, or event paid along the way to get there. There are probably no more than 100 true amateur athletes at these Olympic Games. Technically I am not even ameture because I have received a whopping $7,000 in prize money for winning races this year. And let me just say if you race for a country where you live in a training camp, are fed, clothed and schooled for free while you train but do not receive prize money, you are NOT amateur.
I make a living off my graduate school stipend, a stipend that I am currently living without since I took a leave of absence late Feb to focus 100% on training to make the Olympic Team. In order to keep my graduate school stipend I had to work endless hours in the lab doing sciences experiments, generating data towards my thesis. A typical work week as a graduate student is 50-60hours in the lab, not your average nine to five. Do I love what I do in the lab, yes absolutely, but would I love someone to pay me, or fully cover my training expenses so that I could focus only on training at this stage of my life, without a question!
Going into the Olympic Trials, I was approached by a company that had interest in sponsoring me if I could wear it’s emblem on my racing jersey, unfortunately since they are not a recognized athletic manufacture or a pre-approved club I could not put them on my jersey and well they were nolonger interested in sponsoring me. It’s the smaller less well known athletes that rules like this hurt the most. My marathon buddy joked around before her Olympic Trials that duct tape was going to be everywhere because these athletes have to tape over the multiple sponsors on their jerseys. Many people do not realize that these athletes depend on these multiple small level sponsors to get by.
The only time I get free gear is when I make a National Team. Our USATF National Team is sponsored by Nike, and I am truly thankful to USATF and Nike for the free uniform and gear that I am fortunate to get. But this gear is not just handed out, it had to be earned. You don’t just show up to a trials race and make the team. No, a lot of work, time and money had to be invested to get to that point. The free Nike USA Team gear I get, was rightfully earned. Making the Olympic Team is by far the greatest gear rewarded Team, afterall it happens once every four years and is the hardest Team to make. I greatly appreciate Nike and Ralph Lauren for sponsoring Team USA, outfitting us in stunning uniforms for both the ceremonies and competitions alike. 99% of all the countries competing here have a national team sponsor. Don’t let some of the barefoot runners fool you, look closely and you’ll see the sponsor on their jersey, they choose to run without shoes, it’s not out of desperation.
If these summer Olympic Games were truly amateur and all I had to do was decline my small prize money earnings I would of course do it in a hearbeat. In fact if this were really the case, and you couldn’t live in a government sponsored camp somewhere in the world than I too would have a shot at medaling. It’s hard explaining to the media time and time again that I am not here to win the gold or even place top ten. Last year at Worlds I finished a respectible 30th out of 50! I doubt there was one other athlete who I competed against that had worked 60hours the week before flying over to the competition. If I could dedicated my entire day to training and also allow myself proper time for recovery then I too would have my eyes set on a medal. If the general public really wants to watch athletes proudly represent their respective countries, free of charge, with no finicial compenesation, no free gear, then fine but just don’t ever expect to see another Olympic or World Record ever broken. To be a world class athlete it takes a lot of investment in both time and money. Every competition costs money to travel to, every month another pair of shoes need to be replaced because the soles are worn through from the hundreds of miles trained. However, I guarentee if we started a poll today would you rather see the Olympics return to being amateur at the price of never seeing another record broken, or would you rather see the athletes fairly compensated, and fairly includes monetarily my bet is people would be infavor of paying the Olympians.
As I conclude this highly opinionated post let me once again state how proud I am to represent our Country the United States of America, how fortunate I am to have this oppertunity to do so, and how grateful I am to all the people along the way that helped me to make my dream of becoming an Olympian a reality. The reality is that I am a rare type of non-sponsored athlete who competes for the exhilerating experiences and the pride that ensues! I am an athlete who also feels it is time for change, the general public’s ideals of the Olympics and the reality of the Modern Games in this day and age are in discord. It is time that athletes are able to thank those that have helped them, every Mom, Dad, local pizza joint, and corporate sponsor along the way. It is time that we can freely tweet, post, and like these sponsors. It is time for we the athletes to be included in the behind the scences rule making process, to be included in the discussion. It is time we the athletes be heard and recognized. We the athletes do sport because we love it, it is a rush like no other, a passion that burns bright within inside, and also for the fortunate many they can say they do what they love for a living because in reality it is their job. A job that is not done for free.
This is why I proudly tweet #WeDemandChange