Brendan Green has not had an easy go of it recently.
The Hay River-born biathlete suffered a herniated disk two years ago and, after several surgeries to repair it, said he has spent the better part of 11 months either on bed rest or in recovery, and not training as hard as he would have liked leading up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
But things are looking up. Not only is he back on track and working out, he was just awarded $6,000 by the Canadian Athletes Now (CAN) Fund, a charity dedicated to helping Canada’s amateur athletes achieve greatness.
“It means I can put more focus into this winter for training and preparing for the Olympics,” Green told The Hub. “I’m on a modified program, but I’m getting in the hours I need at the gym and hopefully I’m on track to compete in February.”
CAN Fund helps finance the dreams of athletes all over Canada who don’t compete in high-profile sports like hockey and, CAN Fund claims, are woefully underfunded.
“It’s an interesting charity to work for because, unlike disaster and disease organizations, we’re funding dreams,” said CAN Fund representative Conrad Leinemann.
As a former Olympic beach volleyball player, he understands the challenges facing amateur athletes in sports that are perhaps not the highest priority for financial support from either the Canadian government or private donors.
Leinemann said CAN Fund helped over 80 per cent of Canadian athletes who competed in Vancouver and London, and has received over 850 applications for help this year alone.
“To meet demands, we would need to raise $5 million every six months,” he said. “We never reach that, but we help as many as we can.”
Successful applicants get $6,000 to put towards living and training costs. To be the best at what they do, athletes spend upwards of four hours a day in the gym and other facilities, often in several sessions, so holding down even a part-time job is rarely an option.
The federal government does have a system that subsidizes development, but with the top-ranking athletes receiving $1,200 per month, and those deemed to be on a development card only $900, expenses soon outstrip disposable income.
Leinemann spoke of one skier whose annual fees to remain on the national team exceeded $27,000.
While Own the Podium, the federal scheme partly credited with Canada’s high medal tally at the Vancouver Games, spends money on athlete and team development, the program is highly selective.
“If you’re not a medal threat, you don’t get funding,” Leinemann said.
Although biathlon may be a popular sport in the North, it can hardly compete for major sponsors with the likes of men’s hockey.
Leinemann said funding disappeared after Vancouver for even the highest profile sports and CAN Fund has, in part, stepped into the gap, even helping many of the players on the national women’s hockey team.
Green knows well what it is to budget and save in order to commit to training full time, having moved to Canmore, Alta., to pursue his biathlon career. He told The Hub that the first few years there he couldn’t even afford a phone and had to use a pay phone to call home every few weeks.
“I think a lot of people think that, once you make it to a certain level, like the Olympics, you’re set and OK,” said Green. “And that’s just not the case.”
— Sarah Ladik