The Cost of Being an Unorthodox Olympian

Written by Darryl Payne, Jr.

Unorthodox Olympian

What are the chances that an unorthodox Olympian appears on the United States Olympic team in a sport people barely know? Laughable. It is number 1 on the top 5 list of the hardest things in the world to accomplish. It’s more difficult than public speaking, building a rocket to carry humans to Mars, brain surgery, becoming CEO, or winning the US Presidency. Why? Because all these feats have a progress chart to follow: you start from the bottom, build skills, present them, then you’re given the opportunity to put those skills to test, and everyone (mostly) agrees that you’re fit for the task. 

What happens when an athlete decides to become an Olympian? Normally, they go through childhood, high school, get recruited for college, maybe go pro, and make it from there. That’s an orthodox Olympian though. I said unorthodox. There are other sports besides basketball, track, swimming, gymnastics, or wrestling that are contested in the Olympics. Can you tell me about Skeleton? How do you play Handball? What’s the difference between the Nordic Combine and the Biathlon? How do you even get into contention for Badminton? Even if you have the elite athleticism to play each of the sports just named, your chances of becoming an Olympic athlete are slim to none. Like so many of the Black men and women decades before I was even born, my dream is to be a pioneer in sports; to be an inspiration to the youths that look like me.

The cost of an unorthodox sport

Think of the most popular sports in the Olympics. Everyone knows what they are, and they are easily accessible to every community. That also makes these sports very marketable. For an athlete to become a great swimmer, they just need to find a body of water. A fast sprinter: an open field or a pair of mailboxes in their neighborhood to race between. A basketball phenom: a basketball and hours to dribble and shoot. After they master the sport, they try out for a team or post a video on Instagram, and the possibility of becoming a sensation is plausible and it only costs a few dollars, maybe $50, to pay for what is needed to get to the top.

Let’s look at Skeleton though — specifically me. As a track athlete, my only necessary expense for the sport are my shoes, and since I live in Austin, entry fees for track meets. A whopping $500, at the most, per year. Oh, but Skeleton is a different story. Just the start-up cost to jump on the ice track is enough to make someone cancel their flight to upstate New York or Utah. The sled cost $2,800, the helmet cost $350, the shoes cost $300. Let’s say time is spent in Utah instead of New York, which is basically mandatory, there goes $200 for the season. Traveling is absolutely necessary because no two tracks are the same in Bobsled/Luge/Skeleton. Round trip, with all fees included—because you already know that sled is oversized and overweight—that’s a solid $600-$700. Anybody doing the math? I got it for you: that’s up to $4,350 for the first season ALONE. In many sports, sometimes after you get over that first hump, the following costs can be easier to bear. Skeleton doesn’t follow that logic. I’ll break down the recurring costs later. 

Why me?

Let me be clear, in order for an athlete to become an Olympian, regardless of how elite he is, in a sport that is considered to be very niche, there will be a sustained financial hardship so difficult that it will seem impossible. That is unless there is already a system of wealth in place or a constant financial backing from friends, family, or sponsors. In all modesty, I have already demonstrated myself to be a superior athlete to those currently in place. The reality is that a huge area of opportunity for USA Skeleton sits in the caliber of the athletes. The last piece of the puzzle is for me to spend more time on ice. That’s what separates me from the top 3 sliders in the US. That is what separates Team USA from the European countries that dominate the sport. More time on ice means more time away from home and work. And time is money.

I work a job in Austin that requires me to be face to face with people. I’m mainly a personal trainer and sometimes a chef. Clients rely on me to get them fit, to order their steps in the right direction towards their goals, for fitness advice, and for accountability. I rely on them to get paid and earn money, first, to take care of bills, and second, to put money towards training for Skeleton. And since I can’t be in two places at once, when I’m one place, the other suffers. 

If you follow me on any social media, you’ll see that I’m full of discipline. Failure is embraced as an integral part of my training, but committing to something being impossible is a foreign concept to me. Impossible is a word that I take seriously and use once in a blue moon. I may admit that the odds are not in my favor, but that’s still a green light in my eyes. Listen to me when I say this: the only thing stopping me from lifting Team USA to the podium consistently in both world and Olympic championships is a financial infrastructure focused on my Skeleton career. 

Join my team

No Olympian, whether they are from Team USA or the Refugee Olympic Team, will ever tell you that they made this journey alone. Somewhere along the way, help was provided, coaching was given, a flight was paid for, an opportunity knocked. We all hear the call and we all answer, but the journey is too great a burden to bear alone. The stress, the emotions, the weakness, the blood, the finances! Thankfully, I have an amazing support team in place to take care of me in my athleticism and my daily performance. Financially, I’m overly grateful for the support currently in place—friends, family, foundations—but they just aren’t enough. Skeleton is costly. I need multiple people on board to give monthly. I need local businesses to support a Texas athlete trying to compete as a winter Olympian. 

What’s in it for you? The opportunity to form a source of inspiration for young minority athletes through the financial equity you help provide. You’ll be able to legitimately say you helped me get to where I am when you see me on that TV accepting my medal. You’ll be a visible member of my team when the world sees your brand on my sled. You’ll be part of history when I become the first black man to compete in Skeleton on the Olympic team for the US. You’ll be part of showing new opportunities to represent Team USA for athletes exploring new sports. 

The vision I have extends past some selfish ambition to win some medals and go home a star. There’s a community of youths in this country that look just like me. Their ability to contribute to the success of Team USA could remain untapped without a face for them to see and follow. I plan on being that face — like Michael Jordan was to Lebron James, like Floyd Mayweather watching Muhammad Ali. I offer progress in the diversity and athleticism of athletes throughout Team USA. 

Practical Matters

As for those recurring costs, take a look at this breakdown. You’ll understand how there is an underrepresentation in this particular sport, why I’m asking for your help, and why a solid financial infrastructure backing me is very important to make this dream happen.

  • Home costs ($2500/month)
    • Rent
    • Car
    • Utilities
    • Insurances
    • Cell phone
    • Gym/Coaching
    • Groceries
    • I don’t even have WiFi!
  • Skeleton (~$7000/season; Oct-Mar)
    • Flights 
      • Domestic
      • International
    • Oversized/weight baggage 
    • Rental car
    • Air BnB
    • Track fees (tracks charge PER RUN)
    • Sled maintenance
    • Meals 

Now that you’re ready to jump on my team and support me through monthly financial contributions, visit to learn more. There you can select a predetermined package and send a donation every month without even thinking about it.

Thanks for your support. Your contribution to the greater pool can and will create some great waves. I appreciate you beyond belief.

Want to train with Darryl whenever he’s not flying headfirst down some ice? Book your free consultation and first workout with Darryl or another of our personal trainers today.