- Olympic silver medalist Lauren Gibbs tried out for the national bobsled team on a whim at age 30.
- She ended up competing with the team for eight seasons around the world, including in the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics.
- Though the sport pays very little, she was able to cobble together a six-figure salary through gigs like public speaking.
Olympic silver medalist Lauren Gibbs, 37, who recently retired from an eight-season career in bobsled, was always an active kid. "I climbed out of my crib at eight months old," she jokes. She played soccer and did track and field growing up and ended up playing volleyball at Brown University, where she went to college.
Still, it never occurred to her to pursue athletics at the professional level. "I graduated from high school in 2002, and there just weren't a lot of opportunities for professional sports for women," she says, adding that even now "you definitely can't make a living wage doing it."
Depending on the sport, professional female athletes make as little as $8,333 per season.
After college, Gibbs went straight into a career in sales and eventually was making six figures. It wasn't until the age of 30, after she got her MBA and was living in Denver, Colorado, that a friend threw out the idea of bobsledding.
"I was, like, 'That's not a real sport. That's a 1990s Disney movie,'" she says, referencing the popular 1993 Disney film "Cool Runnings."
Still, not one to turn down an opportunity to do something out of the ordinary and curious to see the Olympic training center where early tryouts for the national team would take place, Gibbs decided to go for it. That was in August 2014. By November, she had made the team.
During her eight-season run in the sport, she won two world championship medals, 17 world cup medals, and a silver medal at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics. She didn't make the Olympic team this year, but Gibbs has no regrets. She's now vice president of partnerships at health training platform Heroic, launching this April. And, with a little bit of creativity, she's making six figures again.
As a freshman in college, Gibbs needed to find a way to make money between semesters. She ended up getting a job at knife company Cutco setting up appointments to do demos for potential customers. "It was like a sport," she says. "There's a little bit of adrenaline with every sale that you make."
That first five weeks in between semesters brought in $5,000. Gibbs continued working for the company throughout college and parlayed her experience into a career in sales. She sold a variety of products including server warranties and men's apparel.
By the time she was 30, she was bringing in six figures. Still, "something isn't right," she felt. "Life is supposed to be more fun than this."
That was the impetus to go to business school. Just after completing her degree, she discovered bobsledding.
Initial tryouts for the team do not involve a bobsled, so even if you've never stepped in one, which was the case for Gibbs, you could still qualify. For Gibbs tryout activities included a 45-meter sprint, throwing a shot put ball, and a standing broad jump.
"Once they collect all those scores, the top scores get invited to a rookie camp in upstate New York," she says. That's where they teach you how to push and ride in a bobsled. A few more competitions and trials later, you're on the team.
When Gibbs made the national bobsled team that November, there was no time to spare before the season officially began. "We don't generally get Thanksgiving as a bobsledder because you're usually competing," she says.
The team has two races in North America, takes a break over Christmas and the holidays, then heads off to Europe for four to eight weeks. "The national team every year competes in eight world cups and then at the end of the season competes in the world championships except for the year of the Olympics," she says. "Then they compete in the Olympic games."
The season usually lasts from November until March. Athletes continue to train during the off season then must qualify again before the next season begins. They must also qualify to be on the Olympic team.
Asked what it feels like to compete in a bobsled, Gibbs says, "Oh, it's like being kicked off a cliff in a trash can."
Despite the thrill and excitement of being part of the national bobsled team, the finances of being a professional athlete were challenging.
In her first off season, Gibbs worked part-time in sales at a start up in New York City. "I took every sales appointment that the reps wouldn't take," she says. She "sold like half of my stuff on Craigslist," she says, which brought in $5,000.
Participating in the Olympics brought in more opportunities to earn. "After I won my medal, I was awarded a top stipend and that was $2,000 a month," she says. She partnered with brands like online marketplace Parity to do public speaking engagements.
Eventually, she got back to that six-figure annual earnings she'd seen before leaving sales.
Gibbs was notified on January 17 that she wouldn't be going to the Olympics this year. But she has no qualms about the end of her athletic career.
"It's been a pretty incredible ride," she says.
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