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Tri pundits don’t want rookie pros to have it easy. But why not?
It all started when newbie 70.3 pro Danielle Dingman posted a GoFundMe on November 17. In it, the Branson, Missouri-based athlete asks for $13,000 to help fund her rookie pro season. On her calendar so far: six 70.3 events. “Because this is my first pro season, I do not yet have sponsors needed to fund racing at this level,” Dingman wrote. “This fundraising effort will kickstart the journey while I work to identify sustainable funds and sponsorships.”
The backlash was swift, fierce, and largely concentrated in replies to this tweet from Triathlete contributor and former editor-in-chief, Brad Culp:
The pros immediately responded:
And so did age groupers, with similar reasoning: Making it as a pro is rough for most pros, so it should be rough for Dingman, too.
But that logic is flawed. We’re constantly fighting to make things better and easier for the people who come after us. Take the 50 Women to Kona movement, in which triathletes are battling Ironman for equal representation of female and male pros in Kona. (Men currently get 50 slots, women 35.) The fight may outlast some women’s pro careers. But when it’s won (and it must be), you’d be hard pressed to find a retired pro who fought for equality lamenting how much harder she had to work to make it to Kona than the next generation of females.
To put it another way: Just because you had to walk uphill in the snow both ways to school doesn’t mean you’d want everyone else to have to do the same thing. (Unless you thought it was fun?)
How many pros’ parents have chipped them $13K over the years to help fund their tri dreams? How many of today’s pros would’ve gladly taken a $13K leg up in the beginning if they had the opportunity? What seems to chafe is Dingman’s brazenness—her willingness to so openly ask for help on a platform that allows strangers to contribute rather than scrap it together privately from close family friends, or take it out of the paycheck from her full-time job as a community wellness coordinator. A job that she spends 8 to 10 hours a week commuting to, though that’s beside the point.
“The main reason I created the GoFundMe was for friends and family who requested it, and people in my community—I have a strong support system here—who asked how they could be a part of this journey,” says Dingman, who qualified for the 2008 Olympic trials in the 3000m steeplechase, has raced as a pro cyclist, and placed third overall at USAT’s AG Tri nationals this year—her first year racing tri. She’s also working on building local sponsorships. “In the age of social media, it’s easy to post out there to direct people to.”
The move certainly isn’t without precedent. GoFundMe is filled with athletes looking for help funding their passions, each with varying degrees of success. This triathlete in the 30-34 age group raised $3,505 to race in the ITU World Champs this year, while the platform is a particularly popular option for elite cross country skiers, another sport where funding is hard to come by.
Perhaps this isn’t a case of a millennial asking for a handout. Rather it’s one of a millennial making use of modern technology—a crowdfunding tool not available to other pros when they embarked on their careers—to amplify her story and make it easy for those who want to contribute to do so.
As for the cold welcome Dingman’s received online, she says she’s shrugged it off, focusing instead on the good her campaign has brought offline. “Some really awesome people in the pro triathlon community have reached out to me,” Dingman says, “and given me a lot of great advice and insight from their experience.”