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Guest Blog: The female athlete experience

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

Hi friends,

We're so excited to welcome guest blogger Skyler Espinoza! Skyler is a Team USA cyclist, former DI rower and coach and works to empower (no pun intended!) women and girls in sport. In this week’s blog, she shares insight into what it’s like being an Olympic sport athlete, including some eye-opening info that you probably didn’t know. Follow her on Instagram and check out her blog for more.


Skyler (right) at the Cycling World Championships. Photo cred: Casey Gibson

Hi empowHERed fam! My name is Skyler, and I’m here to tell you about my career in sports –, a career that isn’t really a career at all.

I’ve been an athlete almost as long as I’ve been alive. I am so blessed that I grew up in a family of athletes, so being one was never viewed as a waste of time. My decision to pursue sports after school was accepted by my family, and celebrated by my inner circle. However, beyond competing, training, eating and sleeping, so little of what is required as a professional athlete is known to non-athletes. I certainly didn’t know what it entailed, and, like I said, I’ve been around athletes my whole life. I’ve been as surprised as the next person to learn, first hand, about the disconnect between what we think being an athlete is, and what it actually takes to reach the top, and continue to improve.

There’s so much fanfare around the athlete experience, particularly the Olympic experience, that we assume that once an athlete “makes it,” that things will be more or less taken care of. I think a lot of this misinformation comes because the athletes we see and hear about in the media are men, and they are paid accordingly.

Recently I was listening to the Athletic Women’s Basketball Show, which I love, and they started talking about Ace’s guard Jackie Young, who I also love. The hosts of the podcast talked about Jackie’s improvement over her years in the WNBA. They pointed to her time in Australia and her time in the sauna as the two biggest factors behind her improvement.

Jackie Young was the first pick of the 2019 WNBA draft out of Notre Dame. Her salary was around $40,000. Do you think Jackie could afford to have her own apartment, and then to afford to leave it to travel to Australia on that salary? Who is going to pay for her gym use, her trainer, her groceries, her car, her nutritionist, her weights coach, her health insurance, her physical therapy (often not covered by insurance), her rent, or her sauna time in another country? How will she get a visa to train there? Is her Australian team going to pay for it? The Aces?

And Jackie plays in one of the very few women’s sports where athletes actually get salaries! Like real salaries! I’m now a cyclist on Team USA, arguably the highest level of competition open to me. I get paid $750 a month, health care, and $200 a month towards my coaching fees (which are $500 per month). In the world of Olympic sport, that’s a huge amount of support. And it really and truly feels that way! Many of my friends on national teams get exactly nothing for that honor.

Photo cred: Casey Gibson

In order to be a successful female athlete, you have to be willing to work for little or no money, and you need to invest any money you do have on the resources that will help you improve. For Jackie Young, apparently that included time in the sauna. For me, that’s included bike fits, years of physical therapy, nutritionists, coaches and sports psychologists. It’s also included travel to races where I’ll get noticed, aerodynamic testing and don’t get me started on equipment. For my friends, it has included filing lawsuits for better training conditions, and arguing with management against cutting funding. Success as a female athlete means you are successful at juggling work, your training, and coordinating your life all while everyone around you is demanding excruciating excellence.

Jackie Young and I aren’t the same, obviously. Clearly my parents should have been basketball players instead of runners. But I have friends who are multi-time Olympians and can’t afford to pay their rent, and I think we need to name that. A professional career as an athlete remains an impossibility for so many athletes, especially for female athletes and athletes living with disabilities.

So the next time you read about a female athlete negotiating over maternity rights, or filing a safe sport accusation, recognize that this is a part of her job, not the exception. And as long as being an athlete is a career that men have, women should have it too.

---- Skyler

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