Female athletes working overtime
Each morning LPGA player Andia Winslow rises at 4:30 a.m. and drives to the golf course near her home in Phoenix, Ariz. After 18 holes and a shower, she anchors herself in front of her computer and digs into her day as the head of her own multimedia company.
By midafternoon, she's back on the green or in the gym working out with a trainer. All told, the Yale-educated 28-year-old -- who hopes to make the Olympic squad when women's golf is reintroduced to the Games in 2016 -- works and trains about 50 hours a week.
"People assume pro athletes are privileged, but most of us aren't," Winslow said. "In terms of money and golf, the output is far superior to what you get in return. I have to work in order to play golf."
In Wilton, Conn., Erin Maxwell, 31, a member of the U.S. Sailing team, spends her days trading commodities for Louis Dreyfus, a Fortune 500 company. On the weekends, she's on a 470-class yacht with her sailing partner, Isabelle Kinsolving Farrar. The pair just missed an Olympic berth in 2008 and is gunning for a 2012 ticket, which they could earn this summer. Despite being one of the top-ranked female sailors in the world -- they won the 2008 world championship -- Maxwell maintains a 60-hour work week and often uses vacation days to travel for competitions.
While prize purses and smaller sponsorship deals are up for grabs in every sport, for most athletes, money is usually seen as more of a perk than a pivotal component. Nicole Kelleher, a 28-year-old professional triathlete who just graduated from the University of Virginia medical school, said she uses her race winnings to help pay off student loans.
"It's a nice bonus, but not a living," said Kelleher, who would typically rise at 4:30 every morning to get in some training time before her 12-hour rotations at a hospital, most of that time spent on her feet. She'll soon start a residency program in emergency medicine, a field she purposefully chose because it offers more structured hours, allowing her to continue to race professionally.
"I have to make this life work for me. And that may mean training on my own at odd hours or forcing myself out the door to train when I really want to sleep," said Kelleher, who placed third at the 2010 USA Triathlon Elite National race and recently finished second among all women at the prestigious Nautica South Beach Triathlon. "I have to rely on my own drive and goals to get up and go out the door."
For these women, the driving force behind their passion comes from much more than a paycheck. The fact that they're working so hard -- and sacrificing so much -- to maintain their status as professional athletes is strong motivation in itself.
"I'm living a dream that I've had forever. I may not go out a ton and I hardly see my husband, but it's all a means to a goal," said Maxwell, who has been married for two years and may go for weeks without spending more than a few hours with her husband, a business consultant who travels regularly. "But this is what's important to me right now, and I know it isn't going to be this way forever."
Kelleher echoed Maxwell's sentiments, saying she has a tough time keeping up relationships with friends and family. And forget about sleep: "Recovery is so important as a triathlete, and I just don't have time for it. I'm always trying to catch up on rest," she said. "Plus, I'm on my feet a lot [at the hospital]. If there's a chance I can sit down, I'll take it."
Stress and exhaustion aside, there is one big bonus to living this double-booked lifestyle. When balancing a high-pressured job with a professional sports career, these women appreciate the latter much more. After all, if you spend your days trading millions of dollars in commodities, balancing the budget of your own company, or bringing a patient back to life, going out and riding a bike or sailing a yacht seems more like an escape than an obligation .
"Mentally, I'm in a really good place when I'm sailing," said Maxwell, who has decided she'll retire within the next couple years so she can start a family. "I like my job and it's a great career, but there is something so wonderful about being on the water. It puts me at ease."
Winslow agrees. "As busy as I am with my job, golf becomes my outlet," she said.
Not to mention these ladies have a leg up on life after athletics -- whether it's retirement or an injury that makes them step away from their sports.
"Some athletes pour their entire life into a sport, then retire and wonder, 'Now what do I do?' Even if you win the Olympics, at some point you have to stop competing," Maxwell said. "It's important to have something to fall back on."
But before they kiss their competitive days goodbye, it's clear that these women are happy to ride out their athletic careers as long as they can and in the end, they say it's worth all the time, trouble and challenge.
"Being able to compete at the highest level of my sport is an amazing thing." said Kelleher. "And the fact that I am making money doing it is the icing on the cake."