The US sprint canoeist explains how finding a flexible job has allowed her to pay the bills while still training and competing in her sport

While some people may take offence at being called a “jack of all trades”, for Maggie Hogan the title simply demonstrates how well she has been able to adapt and learn new skills throughout her career.

The sprint canoeist, who participated in her first Olympic Games in Rio last year, was a competitive swimmer throughout college at the University of California, Santa Barbara, but switched to paddling after working as an ocean lifeguard in San Diego. She has since participated in 21 world championship events across five disciplines of racing – dragon boat, surf lifesaving, surfski, canoe marathon and, of course, canoe sprint.

But as well as proving her adaptability at the elite level in a number of different paddling events, Hogan has also needed to be equally flexible in the world of work in order to fund her sporting career.

“Canoe sprint has had ‘spotty’ funding over the years,” explains Maggie. “Some years, the national team had race expenses covered and some years we had to pay to go to World Championships out of our own pockets, meaning some summers would cost me upwards of USD 10,000. In 2016, I had to fund my Olympic qualifier, and the Olympic lead-up for my coach and myself. Without a consistent job, I would not have pursued the Olympic Games Rio 2016; it would have been too much of a financial burden.”

With a degree in biopsychology, Hogan initially found a full-time job working in cancer research for pharmaceutical companies, but as her sporting career progressed it became more and more difficult to balance both roles.

“When I first started training in canoe sprint, I was working 40-hour weeks in the lab and getting three or four workouts in per day,” recalls Maggie. “I ran myself into the ground pretty quick, so I spoke to my manager at work and she let me move to part-time – working 20-hour weeks – so I could focus on training. I was very lucky to have such a supportive work team.”

But even working part-time soon presented challenges to Hogan, especially when the USA Canoe/Kayak federation relocated to a new training centre in Oklahoma.

“I continued to work in pharmaceuticals until it became clear that I needed to travel more for races and training,” she says. “I was no longer a good match for a stationary job. I needed work that was more flexible because of my travel schedule.

“I left my job in pharmaceuticals and started substitute teaching and tutoring high school kids in math and science. But when I started having trouble finding substitute teaching work, I reached out to Adecco.”

Through Adecco’s partnership with the United States Olympic Committee’s Athlete Career Programme, Hogan was connected with Angel Hall Bovee, an Athlete Career & Education (ACE) Career Coach who was able to help her find a more flexible part-time position with GE Transportation, which allowed her to work remotely from wherever she found herself for training or competition.

“Maggie possesses the drive and work ethic to succeed in any work environment; however, finding an employer that was willing to be flexible around her demanding training schedule was very challenging,” explains Hall Bovee. “Through their participation in the ACE programme, GE saw the value of bringing high performers into their workforce and identified a company need that could be filled by a remote part-time employee with Maggie’s skill set.”

For Hogan, the opportunity proved to be a perfect fit.

“At the time, my year was divided between California, Florida and Oklahoma for training, and then I was mostly in Europe for racing,” she recalls. “I explained my situation to Angel, and then she called me back with this remote position with GE Transportation. I had been cleaning bathrooms at the boathouse in Oklahoma City to earn money, so, needless to say, I was very excited about the opportunity!”

As part of GE Transportation’s Wreck Repair Team, Hogan can now work remotely for up to 20 hours per week, helping to coordinate the repair of locomotives all over the world. Since starting in the role, she has found it far easier to balance her dual career thanks to the flexibility that her new job has given her.

“Usually I’ll have one or two training sessions in the morning, starting at 7:30. I’ll then work for GE between 11am and 3pm, before going back to the boathouse for two more training sessions at 3:30pm,” explains Maggie. “I’ll tap back into work in the evenings or on weekends to make sure I’m on top of things. It’s a full day, but I work from a laptop so I’m off my feet and it’s good for recovery between training sessions. The best part is that when I travel to races, I bring work with me. Earning a paycheque on the road makes travelling for races and training much less stressful.”

According to Hall Bovee, Hogan is not the only beneficiary of the arrangement either; with GE gaining an athlete employee who has been able to successfully transfer her sporting attributes into the workplace.

“Maggie’s supervisor at GE raves about her work ethic, intellect and responsiveness on the job,” explains Hall Bovee. “She is an excellent example of why elite athletes often excel in the workplace. She is an intelligent, tenacious, out-of-the-box problem solver who is as dedicated to her job as she is to her sport. She is a high-performer who isn’t afraid of hard work to bring her dreams to fruition. It has definitely been a win-win for both Maggie and for GE Transportation.”

And while easing her financial worries has been one of the main benefits for Hogan, she believes that having another job to think about has also helped give balance to her kayaking career, in addition to preparing her for life after sport.

“I’ve always raced my best when I’m pursuing something else in my life outside of sport,” she explains. “I think balance allows us to grow as people and not get too focused just on sport. It also gave me the confidence to pursue my sport as an independent athlete, which had a huge impact on qualifying for Rio. I now have an MBA and some great work experience, which has set me up for the next phase of my life. No matter what happens with funding or other things out of my control, I am ready to succeed.”

Want to know more about how to pursue a dual career like Maggie? Check out the IOC Athlete Career Programme’s resources on EducationLife Skills and Employment.