by William O Roberts MD, MS

Medical care and support is an issue that is often forgotten in the decision to pursue a professional running career. A health care system to provide medical support should be a primary consideration in your decision tree. While runners tend to be healthy, a primary care physician to advise and direct health decisions and direct injury care can be a great benefit.

A critical issue for a post-collegiate distance running athlete is remaining injury free given the marked increase in training volume and intensity that is inherent in the professional program. A readily available network care of providers coordinated by a primary care physician (specialty physicians, athletic trainers, physical therapists, massage therapists, chiropractic providers, podiatrists, nutritionists, sports psychologists, and personal trainers) can optimize training and performance for the young professional.

Support

Bobby Mack at USATF Cross Country Nationals In addition to finding a coach, training partners and a place to train, two important considerations for an athlete thinking about becoming a professional distance runner are 1) how do I make a living, and 2) how do I stay healthy.


Financially, athletes generally have the following options:

• Obtain a shoe contract that provides a stipend, travel money and equipment (see information in the Representation section).

• Join a training center that provides support in the form of stipends, housing, travel expenses and/or work (see information in the Training Centers section).

• Find a job that is flexible with limited hours so there is time to train.  The USATF Foundation's Career Support program offers career mentoring and job search assistance for part-time roles that are flexible to an athlete's training and travel.  For more information about this program, go to www.usatffoundation.org/elite/career_development_programs.htm

• Seek out grants, sponsorships, and special funds.

• Do well at competitions in order to win prize money and perhaps secure an appearance fee.


To stay healthy, athletes need to try and replicate the support they enjoyed in the collegiate environment, as follows:

• Have health insurance – even if it has a high deductible - in order to cover costs associated with a serious or ongoing injury, both in terms of treatment and rehabilitation.

Find trainers and medical personnel such as doctors, physical therapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, etc

Eat healthy foods, follow good nutrition and get necessary rest.

• Obtain a fitness club membership or gain access to a school’s weight/training room.

• Follow a coach’s training program and keep lines of communication open regarding health.

• Make sure the training situation is a comprehensive, positive and supportive environment.



Grants, Sponsorships, Special Funds

There are a number of grants, sponsorships and special funds available to track athletes and to distance runners. While some of this funding is designated for those athletes who have achieved a high performance level – such as the world or U.S. Olympic ‘A’ standard in their event – other sources help to support the developing athlete. Certain grants and funds are available only to distance runners. A general, but not all inclusive, listing follows:

RRCA Roads Scholars. The Road Runners Club of American (RRCA) has awarded over $330,000 in grants since 1996 through its Roads Scholar program to assist American post-collegiate road runners who show great promise to develop into national and world class road running athletes. Grants in the amount of $5,000 per year have been awarded to four to six athletes annually since the program’s inception. The driving factor in the creation of this program was the goal of improving the state of long distance running in the United States. The program is directed towards runners who are U.S. citizens, have graduated from college, plan to pursue elite distance running as a career, and expect to earn less than $30,000 from all sources during the calendar year. Applications are due each year in April. RRCA was founded in 1958. Go to www.rrca.org for more information about the grant program.

Elite Athlete Development Grant - USATF Foundation. The purpose of the grant program is to support the pursuit of world-class performances by American post-collegian track and field athletes who have met minimum performance standards and have compelling individual financial needs. For an application to be considered, an athlete must rank in the Top 10 in the USA in his/her event in either or both of the past two years, have achieved at least the IAAF “B” standard (though most grants go to “A” standard athletes), not exceed track and field related income of $50,000 (with possible  exception for very highly ranked athletes who have experienced a temporary  setback in income due to injury, maternity leave, and/or sponsorship  reductions or cancellation), be a USA citizen and a college graduate. For more information about the Elite Athlete Development Grant visit the USATF Foundation site at www.usatffoundation.org.

 

Post Collegiate Scholarship Fund. To qualify for this USATF fund, athletes must have exhausted their collegiate eligibility within the last two years and have achieved the current IAAF World Outdoor Championship “A” standard at the time of application. Athletes qualifing for the program attend the Emerging Elite Athlete Symposium conducted by USATF each year during its annual meeting. The application deadline is in the fall. Learn more about the scholarship at www.usatf.org/groups/HighPerformance/AthleteSupport/PostCollegeScholarshipFund.asp

Elite Athlete Medical Support Program. The USATF/St. Vincent Sports Performance Elite Athlete Medical Support Program assists qualified injured athletes by providing primary care or a second opinion and working with the athlete’s local medical support to create a recovery plan. St. Vincent is a nationally recognized hospital system and health network.  Athletes will need to travel to Indianapolis to receive medical services.  Eligibility is based on Tiers with athletes qualifying for this program based on a first come, first served basis.  Tier 1 athletes have medaled in the most recent Olympic Games and have a Top 10 World Rank; Tier 2 athletes placed Top 8 in two most recent world championships or have Top 20 World Rank; and Tier 3 athletes are immediate post collegian in the first or second year out of college and have achieved the "A" standard for their respective event.  See www.usatf.org/groups/Highperformance/Resources/tierCriteria.asp for more information about the USATF Tier System.  Go to www.usatf.org/groups/HighPerformance/AthleteSupport/SaintVincent.asp for information about the St. Vincent program.

 



Legal and Tax Considerations

It’s a good idea to seek out both legal and financial advice before signing contracts that will be required by a shoe company, agent, sponsor or training center to make sure you understand your contractual obligations. An athlete who may have more than one contract will want to make sure that the obligations do not conflict.

Financial advice will assist a professional athlete with how to prepare tax returns and report prize money, stipends, grants, wages and other sources of income.



Track and Field Athletes Association (TFAA)

The Track and Field Athletes Association was formed by peers in the sport – both current and former – to support the professional track and field athlete. For complete information about TFFA, visit its web site at www.trackandfieldathletesassociation.org. The organization’s basic focus is on:

Collective Bargaining. Having the ability to stand up for other athletes in the event they are treated unfairly but also to approach sponsors and governing bodies about possible opportunities with a united voice that is stronger than that of the individual.

Mentoring System. Providing mentors to answer questions and to pass on information to the next generation of professional athletes.

Revenue Generation. TFFA will be organizing fundraising events to raise money to fund its primary goal of returning value to its members.

Health, Disability and Life Insurance. TFFA has partnered with New York Life to help athletes find health, disability and life insurance that makes the most sense for the professional athlete. TFFA hopes to eventually match contributions to health insurance premiums, much like employers often do. Currently, TFFA offers certified, experienced advisors who can get athletes on the right track without paying a fee.

Retirement Package. One of TFFA’s biggest initiatives is to establish an investment vehicle that protects an athlete’s long-term interests. The organization plans to request matching donations from USATF and other groups to provide members with long-term financial security.



USATF Athlete Support Programs

USA Track & Field provides a variety of resources for its athletes based on a Four-Tier system.  To view the 2012 Athlete Tier System criteria, click here.  According to the USATF website, the programs include:

Accident Insurance. USA Track & Field has purchased an Excess Accidental Medical Expense and Accidental Death and Dismemberment Insurance policy for its athlete members. This insurance coverage is secondary to other insurance such as health coverage, disability or similar, government plan or program; or coverage provided or required by any law or statute and Workers' Compensation.  For more information, click here.

Team USA Careers. The USOC has been working diligently since early 2009 to create a program to replace the Olympic Job Opportunities Program (OJOP) which employed many Olympians, Paralympians and hopefuls at The Home Depot and other companies throughout its 30+ year history. While the OJOP was beneficial for athletes from an income-earning perspective, the Team USA Career Program has been created to better serve qualified athletes both while they are training and competing and when they transition from sport.  To view the parameters of the program, eligibility criteria, and guidelines for qualified athletes, click here.

USATF Foundation Programs. The USATF Foundation is proud to offer the Elite Athlete Grant program.  Since its inception in 2006, the program has provided financial assistance to almost 150 athletes.  For more information, visit the USATF Foundation website here.

USOC Athlete Career Programs. In response to the growing need for career-related programs and services among America's elite athletes, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and its Official Career Management Services Sponsor,  Adecco, have created the Athlete Career Program (ACP). Through the ACP, athletes can receive personalized career management resources and services, programs and services including personal career assistance, job placement assistance, and a variety of career management seminars.  For more information, click here.