Training to become an elite athlete requires sacrifice on many levels – physical, emotional, mental, financial. Athletes quickly learn that balancing a work schedule and a rigorous training schedule can be extremely difficult. Add in the desire to support a family and the need for a guide with whom the athlete can train, travel expenses, training equipment – and the obstacle of moving from athlete to ‘elite’ athlete status can seem monstrous.
DICK’s Sporting Goods, official sporting goods retail sponsor of Team USA, is helping lighten the load of 4 blind elite athletes and 2 guides by offering flexible work schedules and sponsorship opportunities. By helping alleviate one of the greatest stressors of becoming an elite athlete – financial support – DICK’s is making some athletes’ dreams of representing Team USA, a reality.
Since entering into a partnership with the United States Olympic Committee, the company has recruited more than 180 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Contenders to participate in flexible employment opportunities and sponsorship agreements. Of the 180 Contenders, member of the U.S. Men’s Resident Goalball Program, Abel Del Toro, and Paralympians Asya Miller and Lex Gillette, are the recipients of DICK’s support.
In October, Abel Del Toro moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana after he was selected by the United States Association of Blind Athletes to participate in the U.S. Men’s Goalball Resident Program. He began seeking employment to supplement the support he receives as a resident athlete. A flexible schedule was non-negotiable as Del Toro searched for employment opportunities. He joined DICK’s Contenders program in November.
“They very supportive of my training schedule and my need for time off to compete,” said Del Toro. “I’m grateful for the opportunity DICK’s provides.”
Del Toro trains 5 days a week with his teammates and also volunteers in the community. As a DICK’s Contender, Del Toro can focus on training, giving back, and support himself financially.
Four-time Paralympian and member of the U.S. Women’s National Goalball team, Asya Miller also appreciates the flexible schedule DICK’s offers. Miller and her partner, Jen Armbruster, who is also a member of the U.S. Women’s National Goalball team, have a 4-year-old son. In addition to raising their son, both Miller and Armbruster must find time to train, and support their family.
“Being able to work adds balance,” said Miller. “Gainful employment is a piece of that pie which includes training, families, etc.”
Miller has been working in team sports at the DICK’s store in Gresham, Oregon since September.
“As an athlete, I feel knowledgeable working in a sports store,” Miller said. “I help customers and restock the department when we have trucks come in.”
Miller helped her team win GOLD at the 2014 IBSA Goalball World Championships in Finland which qualified the Women’s team for the Rio Paralympic Games. She currently trains with other members of the Women’s National Goalball team in Portland.
In addition to offering employment opportunities in stores across the U.S., DICK’s has signed 11 athletes as sponsored athletes. One of those athletes is 3-time Paralympic long jumper, Lex Gillette. Gillette has been a ‘face’ for the partnership since Link will open in a new windowthe announcement, but was only recently brought on as one of their officially sponsored Contenders.
“[DICK’s] gives the support necessary in ensuring that you can really put time and focus into your sport,” said Gillette.
Like most athletes, Gillette has put tremendous effort into raising support for the pursuit of his athletic dreams. He sent letters and emails of support and picked up speaking engagements to support himself financially, all while training, traveling and competing.
“Having DICK’s as a sponsor alleviates that pressure. I can really be 100% committed to winning GOLD in Rio, and know that DICK’s will be in my corner every step of the way.”
Gillette defended his world title in the long jump this summer at the Toronto Parapan American Games with a mark of 6.38-meters. He currently trains with his guide, Wes Williams, at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center.
Link will open in a new windowOf the more than 170 Contenders working in 87 DICK’s Sporting Goods across the U.S., Tyson Gunter, Paralympic-hopeful in the long jump and high jump and guide runners Jerome Averyand Wes Williams also serve as DICK’s Contenders.