Olympic kayak hopeful turns to crowdfunding in bid for Rio 2016

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National Post | Vicki Hall | May 5, 2016

Sam Roworth crowdsourcingCALGARY – Sam Roworth graduated with a commerce degree from Ryerson University with a specialization in human resources management.

The 25-year-old kayaker clearly picked up some marketing savvy along the way. For on the heels of losing his funding as a nationally carded athlete, he turned to crowdsourcing for help in his quest to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

It felt like a big ask, but Roworth requested $5,400 via GoFundMe last October for a new boat to fit his 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame.

Five months later, the boy who grew up across the street from the lifeguard station at Toronto’s Woodbine Beach climbed into an individual kayak paid for by family, friends, classmates and even some long-forgotten acquaintances.

The name of every donor who gave $50 or more is etched on his boat as a public thank you.

“It gives me accountability,” Roworth said this week from Gainesville, GA., where he is attempting to take the next step toward Rio at the Canadian sprint team trials. “If I look down at my boat when I’m having a crappy workout, I know these people put their money into me and their faith into me. So I just need to keep pushing through it.”

In this country, athletes must meet Sport Canada requirements for national team carding – which can bring in about $1,500 a month for living and training expenses. The federal government, based on recommendations by Own the Podium, provides top-up funding for athletes and sport federations deemed to have the best chance at winning medals.

Roworth works part-time at Eddie Bauer in the Eaton Centre, and he receives some funding from the Ontario government. But he could never have afforded the new boat on his own.

And he isn’t alone in needing financial help. More than a dozen Canadians have GoFundMe campaigns up and running for Rio. Worldwide, that number is 100.

“It takes a lot of money and support to be able to train full-time for these Olympics,” spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said from California. “Platforms like GoFundMe give athletes the opportunity to tap in not just to their friends and family but the larger community to get funding easily and quickly for their causes.”

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With more than $11,000 raised online, Joni Lynn Peters, of Terrace, B.C., and her horse Travolta are competing this spring at qualifying events across Western Canada and the U.S. in hopes of representing Canada in Rio. Wrestler Steven Takahashi, of London, Ont., is at a last-chance qualifier in Turkey this week. His volunteer coach David Spinney set up a GoFundMe page to help cover travel costs. In one month, it raised more than $8,000.

“We have had a tremendous response and although we have not met our funding goal, the total donated has far exceeded my expectation,” Spinney wrote in an email from Istanbul. “Steven will personally thank all of the donors, once this journey is over for him. I want him to stay focused on the task at hand for now.”

Takahashi weighs in Thursday and competes on Friday. He must finish top-two to qualify.

Roworth and his K2, 1000-metre partner Philippe Duchesneau, of Sherbrooke, Que., face a more circuitous route to Rio. First, they need to win the sprint trials in a best two-out-of three race format. Then, they need to finish first overall at the continental qualifiers. Even if they pull that off, they still might need to excel at two pre-Olympic World Cups for the right to compete in Brazil.

“You can only go as fast as you can go,” Roworth said, philosophically. “I’ve never felt this confident and relaxed going into selection races.”

The lack of worry about money, for an aspiring Olympian, can feel priceless.

Curler Lori Olson-Johns broke down in tears during her lunch break Wednesday at Paul Kane High School in St. Albert, Alta.

The third for skip Val Sweeting works as physical education teacher, and she tried to focus on an afternoon of rugby and CrossFit. But Olson-Johns grew up in Fort McMurray, and couldn’t erase the images of her hometown burning to the ground.

“It’s pretty devastating,” she told Postmedia, her voice cracking. “Just seeing the footage on the news and hearing about people trying to get connected with their families – my thoughts and prayers are up there. I just want everyone to get out safely.”

Olson-Johns used to curl in downtown Fort McMurray at MacDonald Island Park, which served as the initial evacuation centre until the facility itself was deemed to be under threat.

“I don’t know much about the home that I grew up in,” said Olson-Johns, who returned to Fort McMurray to launch her teaching career after receiving her education degree from the University of Alberta. “My main concern is making sure all my friends are safe, and my mind is definitely with all the people of Fort McMurray.”

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The National Crowdfunding Association of Canada (NCFA Canada) is a cross-Canada non-profit actively engaged with both social and investment crowdfunding stakeholders across the country. NCFA Canada provides education, research, leadership, support and networking opportunities to over 1300+ members and works closely with industry, government, academia, community and eco-system partners and affiliates to create a strong and vibrant crowdfunding industry in Canada. Learn more at www.ncfacanada.org.

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