Skills to Pay the Bills
For many of the world’s top athletes, including a small handful of the elite competitors at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, money flows as easily as Gatorade.
But what of Cyrus Hostetler, a 2010 UO graduate and America’s top-ranked javelin thrower who is representing Team USA at his second Olympic Games? Well, put it this way: It’s lucky that he also happens to be a talented graphic and web designer.
That’s because Hostetler, like many Olympians, doesn’t enjoy the same salary, prize money, and endorsement deals that some top athletes do. He has relied on his modest income—and, when necessary, food stamps, unemployment and the kindness of friends and strangers—to make his Olympic dream come true.
Hostetler has fought and clawed his way to the top as a professional, starting in 2011—one year after becoming the first college graduate in his family—when he placed third at the USA Championships and finished second at the Pan American Games. In 2012, he overcame a broken javelin and a rolled ankle at the Olympic Trials to make the team for London.
Unfortunately, despite being the third-best thrower with the Olympic standard at the trials he finished fifth overall, missing out on a medal. That was uniquely frustrating, because one of his graphic design jobs had been designing those very medals while working for TrackTown USA.
An injury-plagued 2013 cost him a place at the World Championships, but his six competitions internationally in 2014 included one meet record in Andorf, Austria.
Those performances led to an invitation to train at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, where Hostetler received free accommodation, meals, and medical care while he began his quest to make the U.S. team for Rio. That opportunity should have propelled him to even greater heights, and made the talented thrower even more of a force on the world stage.
Only, his body—and USA Track & Field—had other ideas. Hostetler tore his rotator cuff and labrum, ending the 2015 season after just four meets. In response, USATF asked him to leave the training center, determining he no longer had a shot at winning an Olympic medal in 2016.
All of which brings us to this year. Paying his own way without the support of his own sport’s governing body, Hostetler threw a lifetime best of 83.83 meters (275 feet) in May during a meet in Arizona, achieving the Olympic qualifying standard.
At the Olympic trials, held at Hayward Field, he headed into the fifth round in second place overall. He led the sold out crowd in a chant of “U-S-A, U-S-A,” then hurled his javelin 83.24 meters, setting a trials record and winning the title outright.
Hostetler outran the men's 5,000-meter runners, including Galen Rupp and Eric Jenkins, down the home stretch during his victory lap after winning at the Olympic Trials.
The trials title and berth on the 2016 Olympics team was the culmination of four long years of work for Hostetler, an Olympic cycle that saw him, at times, collect unemployment benefits and use food stamps while paying his own way to competitions sometimes for as little as $225 prize money.
The two-time Olympian estimates he has never made more than $3,000 in a year after expenses; an amount which, if converted to an hourly wage, equates to earning less than than $2 per hour. And Hostetler’s expenses are many. Access to the Olympic Training Center now costs him $200 per month; physiotherapy is $100 per hour, and groceries are an additional $300 per month—the latter a remarkably low number, considering he consumes up to 4,000 calories each day while training. Each javelin costs $1,400, specialized shoes are $200 per pair, and every meet entered means airfares, accommodation, and luggage fees need to be paid for.
These are expenses he foots himself, all for the honor of representing the United States of America at the Olympic Games in front of a worldwide audience of billions. And, for all of that, the United States Olympic Committee and USATF reward him with… well, not much, really.
Despite the Olympic Games being viewed by more than double the number who watch the Super Bowl and triple the number who watch the World Series in the U.S. alone, and the USOC and USATF enjoying soaring profits, just 8 percent of USATF's budget goes toward directly supporting athletes through prize money and tier funding, a far cry from the approximately 50 percent the NFL and NBA pass along to their stars.
So how, then, can top track and field athletes earn a living?
Hostetler prepares to throw during the 2012 London Olympics (photo courtesy cyrushostetler.com)
For Hostetler, the bills are paid by decidedly old school and new school means. He still works as a graphic and web designer, though he is unable to take on many clients due to the number of hours he spends training or competing in various meets around the country. One such client though? His massage therapist Joshua Mack, who provides Hostetler with vital therapy sessions in exchange for a website the Olympian is currently designing—Hostetler is, quite literally, bartering his way to Rio.
He’s also coaching his way there. Aspiring javelin throwers who would like to have an Olympian give them feedback can get exactly that from Hostetler. For a nominal fee, he will evaluate video footage sent to him and give valuable feedback based on what he’s learned in his decade as an elite athlete.
Beyond that, Hostetler is also one of a number of Team USA members who have turned to crowdfunding for support. Almost 150 Olympians set up GoFundMe pages to offset Games-related expenses this year, while Hostetler’s personal website—cyrushostetler.com—includes a page breaking down his expenses, giving fans an opportunity to aid him in whichever areas they choose. That means supporters can do anything from helping him pay for a physiotherapy session to becoming his exclusive sponsor.
“That was something I’d had in mind for a long time,” he said. “People want to give and support certain things. Like with taxes, people would like to be able to choose [where the money goes].”
Hostetler began his quest for gold on August 17. Is he a long shot to win the gold medal in Rio? Yes, if you only look at the 2016 marks, where his season best is almost eight meters (26 feet) behind world leader Thomas Röhler of Germany.
But people would do well to not count Hostetler out. He is first college graduate in his family; a man who has sunk his life savings into his sport, relying on his art skills, food stamps, and unemployment benefits to get to Rio; and who one year after being counted out by his own federation won the Olympic trials to qualify for his second Olympic Games.
Cyrus Hostetler has made a habit of overcoming obstacles when the odds are against him. Röhler and the rest of the javelin field in Rio are just more to be checked off the list.
- by Damian Foley
2016 Olympic Games javelin schedule (all times Pacific):
August 17 • Qualifying A • 4:30 p.m.
August 20 • Javelin final • 4:55 p.m.
August 20 • Medal ceremony • 6:40 p.m.
For more information:
Image on UOAA August news page of Hostetler marching in the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony courtesy cyrushostetler.com