As my oldest daughter and I watched gymnast Gabrielle Douglas hand-spring her way to an Olympic gold, my 11-year-old saw an idol.
I saw depleted bank accounts.
An intermediate-level competitive gymnast, my daughter ranked 15th nationally last year; this year, she came in first in New York State in the floor routine. She’s not necessarily Olympics-bound, but she’s doing great. On one level I’m proud, thrilled.
But if she continues, the cost is daunting.
My daughter ranks at the “copper level,” the first of four levels culminating in “gold,” which puts gymnasts in prospective Olympian circles. She only trains twice a week in two-hour classes (top-level gymnasts train daily, with one-on-one coaching).
The yearly cost of classes alone? $11,800. Then you have to factor in:
- Practice leotards cost about $40 each, five times a year = $200
- Team uniform, $350
- Entry fee for meets, $125 (five per semester to qualify nationally)
- National championship meet, $250
Total: about $13,500 per year. Add gas, airfare, hotel, and car rentals —and costs bump up to more than $15,000. Per year. For an entry-level competitive gymnast.
For a prodigy like Gabrielle Douglas—who can now earn potential millions via endorsements—the return on investment is clear. But it wasn’t always. The reality is that the families of most competitive American athletes struggle financially.
For Olympic hopefuls? Look to generous grandparents, say good-bye to vacations—say hello to carpooling.
Susan Gregory Thomas lives in Philadelphia, and is the author of "In Spite of Everything," a memoir.