As all athletes know, sometimes being among the best in the world at your chosen sport isn’t enough to pay the bills. That’s why many have to work regular day jobs alongside their gruelling training regimes to help fund their sporting dreams. Here, we take a look at what some of the Olympians who competed at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 do when they’re not striving for medals.
The Iranian-born taekwondo athlete fled to Belgium as a refugee in 2012 and now works there as a postwoman.
“I work in a post office, I run from house to house delivering letters,” explains the 27-year-old, who won a silver medal at the 2010 Asian Games and bronze at the 2016 European Championships.
After gaining Belgian citizenship in April 2016, she competed for her adopted country in Rio, where she beat Panama’s Carolena Carstens in the preliminary round before losing to eventual gold medallist Jade Jones in the quarterfinals.
The rugby sevens star represented Colombia at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, having previously played for the USA at the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens, but when she’s not dodging tackles on the field, she’s busy making deals in the boardroom for Twitter. The 35-year-old works as a sales account manager in San Francisco for the tech giant but managed to take a five-month leave of absence to prepare for Rio.
“Juggling work and rugby has been part of my reality for so long that I’ve just accepted that it is that way,” she said.
Having been named as an alternate for the Olympic Games London 2012, US gymnast Alex Naddour finally made his Olympic debut in Rio, where he won a bronze medal in the pommel horse. But while nailing his landings in the Rio Olympic Arena is a far cry from his day job selling luxury properties as a licensed real estate agent in Arizona, the 25-year-old believes there are parallels to be drawn between his dual careers. “Selling real estate also takes a competitive edge,” he explains, while adding that the regular travel of an international gymnast hasn’t hampered his budding business. “Since you can now close real-estate deals online, I have been able to work on sales contracts when I am on the team bus or competing in other countries.”
The 26-year-old fencer won an Olympic bronze medal in Rio as part of the quartet that claimed the USA’s first team foil medal at the Olympic Games since 1932, but he could just as easily be spotted on the catwalk as the Olympic podium. That’s because when he’s not lunging and riposting on the fencing piste, he’s strutting his stuff as a runway model for international brands such as Ralph Lauren and has even appeared at New York Fashion Week. “I like modelling – especially the runway, because it’s such a rush, like fencing,” he says.
After finishing ninth at the Olympic Games London 2012, the slalom canoeist from Japan felt he needed to find a more stable job to make a living and found his second calling as a Buddhist priest.
“I never had the intention of balancing the two,” he says. “When I started as a Buddhist priest, I had decided that my main job would be as a priest and that my life as a canoeist would be done in my spare time.”
But after winning the Japanese national championships in 2015, Yazawa divided his time between learning the prayers and rituals required of priests at the historic Zenkoji Daikanjin Temple in Nagano and training for Rio, where he competed in his third Olympic Games.
The long-distance runner competed in both the 10,000m and the marathon in Rio – becoming the first Canadian woman to do so at an Olympic Games – but despite the thousands of training miles she had to complete ahead of the Games, she still dedicated plenty of time to her career as criminal defence attorney for a law firm in Tennessee. “Running is my priority,” she says. “But there’s a time limit on being able to run at this level, and I’m well aware of that. So I really want to keep practising law because, well, that’s what I’m educated in. And I’ll need something to keep me busy for when I’m not training anymore.”
After narrowly missing out on a place at the Olympic Games London 2012, the Australian shooter considered quitting the sport to pursue studies and work. But after vowing to continue pursuing his Olympic dream, the 23-year-old has now enjoyed the best of both worlds, having qualified for Rio 2016 while training to become a registered nurse. He began working at a hospital in Brisbane shortly before the Games, and had their full backing to balance work and shooting. “They’re very supportive and they’re working around my training schedule at most times,” says Adams, who finished 19th in the skeet event in Rio.
Are you an Olympian interested in pursuing school or employment while continuing to compete at the highest levels?
If so, the IOC Athlete Career Programme is a must to check out. From education to employment to the lifeskills that will set you up to succeed both inside and out of the competition arena, the Athlete Career Programme has you covered.
Or are you a retiring athlete transitioning into a new career?
The IOC Athlete Career Programme also has been thinking of athletes transitioning from their sporting careers to the opportunities and challenges that come next. Many of the characteristics that made you a top sportsperson can also help you succeed in your career after sport. We developed an e-learning course to help make your transition a successful one. Visit onlinecourse.olympic.org