Dreamfuel: Crowd-Funding World-Class Swimmers

Photo Courtesy: Emily White

By Delaney Lanker, Swimming World College Intern

The Problem

The average U.S. Olympic hopeful’s annual income is only $15,000 a year. Just a few of these athletes have sponsors or the financial means to travel around the county and world to pursue their Olympic dreams.

Professional athletes with a high enough world ranking on the U.S. National Team are given a $39k annually for living and training expenses. As difficult as it is to reach this level, these athletes are fortunate. Athletes from other countries and sports don’t have the financial means to even get to the event to qualify them for such funding stipends.

“Swimming as a professional sport is in its infancy,” Finnish swimmer Eetu Karvonen said. “Most swimmers have no financial means to reach their potential but instead have to make a decision between having a financially stable life or doing what they love and constantly struggling.”

2015-mesa-eetu-karvonen-100-breast-finals

Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

In Finland, Karvonen created and hosted a swimming podcast called “Uintievoluutio” roughly translated as “Swimming Evolution.” He is a lecturer in many Finnish sports conferences, discussing athlete development and the future of sports training.

“One can be a top 20 swimmer in the world and finance their swimming career through bank loans while other individual sports constantly offer world cups or similar events to make real money,” Karvonen said. “My dream is to help swimming to change from a ‘once every four years’ sport into a true professional endeavor.”

Karvonen is also one of these athletes lacking funding for their training. He is training for Rio in 2016 and using Dreamfuel to raise money to finance his endeavors.

The Solution

Dreamfuel is an international crowd-funding platform designed specifically for athletes, founded by former Division I collegiate swimmer Emily White.

“Dreamfuel itself was born out of necessity,” White said. “Anthony Ervin told me he wanted to compete for the U.S. on the World Cup circuit but didn’t have a way to pay for it. Kickstarter founders told us they do not work in sports. We realized that crowd-funding was a viable revenue stream that athletes need, but no one was providing a specific sports vertical for them.”

And voila! Dreamfuel was born. Dreamful’s platform uses social media and a rewards system where athletes offer anything from “castings of their Olympic medals for fans, to writing a poem for donors,” White said. This creates a fun new way to support athletes and reach a large audience across the world.

“Everyone wants to work with an athlete who wins medals, but that doesn’t always mean they’re great with fans and many of the other elements that brand partners are looking for,” Emily White said. “Successful crowd-funders in any realm show that they work well with their audiences and know how engage with their fans.”

Schroeder Swim Team - South

Photo Courtesy: Alex Hallam

The swimmers of Schroeder Swim Team – South have ditched the typical “Swim-a-Thon” type fundraiser and have given Dreamfuel a try.

“By using social media, it directly involves the swimmers and we are reaching potential contributors from all over the country and even different countries,” Coach of Schroeder Swim Team – South Bob White said. “Because of the different tiers in the Dreamfuel campaign, the contributors are getting something back for their contribution instead of just writing a check and being done with it. Everything from a personal tweet to a lip-sync video made by the swimmers.”

The Schroeder Swim Team – South is the first USA club swim team to use Dreamfuel to fund their team. The money they raise will go towards operating expenses of the seven different facilities used for training, finding qualified professionals to run practices and will allow team fees to stay down allowing more young swimmers to become part of the program.

Dreamfuel’s modern way of raising money is helping athletes in all sports better reach their goals. All of these athletes’ stories are different but their reasons for starting a fundraising campaign are all the same: they want to pursue their dreams but cannot financially afford to get themselves there.

The Athletes

Hannah Saiz

Photo Courtesy: Tom Michelson and Amelia Armstrong

Hannah Saiz‘s, journey to become a U.S. national team member has not been an easy one. Last year, the 200 butterflier was tapered and ready for her race at Phillips 66 Nationals, but the day before the meet began she caught her hand in a lane line and fractured her third metacarpal.

“One of the things about accidents is that, rather than making me want to give up, they tend to reinforce my love of the water,” Saiz said. “Even when I wasn’t supposed to be making my hand do work, I’d come to the pool to hang out and kick. The idea of being forced to stop swimming tears me to pieces.”

So, this year Saiz is back in the water training to get a spot on the U.S. national team. However, without the financial means to get there, leading her to look at different crowd-sourcing fundraisers. As a platform designed specifically for athletes, Dreamfuel caught Saiz’s attention and the process has been eye-opening.

“Making yourself into a brand or a household name is work. Enjoyable, but what I think I’ve learned the most is that you have to learn to ‘get over yourself,’” Saiz said. “You have to become okay with putting your accomplishments out there, and learning how to ask for help.”

chad-ho-1

Photo Courtesy: R-Sport / MIA Rossiya Segodnya

Other athletes like Chad Ho, a South African open water swimmer, ran a Dreamfuel campaign to get to Worlds and is ultimately going for his fourth Olympics. This past Saturday, Ho won the 5k World Championship title and is the first South African to win the event. He is also the first Dreamfuel athlete to become a World Champion while actively running a campaign. With his campaign, Ho successfully raised all of the money he needed to pay for his trip to Worlds.

Photo Courtesy: Azaria Basile

Photo Courtesy: Azaria Basile

Another South African swimmer, Roland Schoeman is on the quest for his fifth Olympics, which would make him the only South African athlete to compete in the Olympics five times. Through his Dreamfuel campaign Schoeman is hoping to raise the funds to help him train and get to Rio in 2016.

“Heading into the Olympics next year, we (the South African swim team) may be faced with another situation where various trips may be partially funded,” Schoeman said. “Crowd-funding provides a unique opportunity for individuals throughout the world to identify with a specific cause or a person and help contribute to their project.”

Making the Olympics for a fifth time, Schoeman would be making South African history.

“Ultimately, I want to be able to be an example to other South Africans and swimmers throughout the world,” Schoeman said. “I’d like to show other swimmers out there that if you believe in yourself, if you pay attention to all the details, if you train hard and smart, that anything is possible. An Olympic dream does not have a sell-by date.”

As long as athletes continue to compete at a high level, they will need funding for their events. Campaigns like Dreamfuel allow athletes, donors and fans to connect on a new level while helping athletes reach their goals.

“I want more people to share in this amazing journey with me,” Schoeman said. “Not many people have the ability to be directly invested in an Olympics, or even an Olympic athlete. This is an amazing opportunity for all of us.”

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Author: Delaney Lanker

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Delaney Lanker is a junior at Northeastern University studying journalism. She is a butterflier and captain of their NCAA Division I team. Before college, she swam for the Colorado Stars.

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