Lucky Number 13
The following is a guest post from Monique Riddick. Mo is the head throws coach at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
As a student at Montclair University Monique won Three Division III NCAA National Championships in Shot Put. She transferred to Indiana University and won the Big Ten championships and became NCAA Two Time Division I All –American in Shot Put.
For many people, the number 13 is synonymous with luck. Good, or bad, that number holds weight for many people. For myself, that number is the place I finished at the 2016 Olympic Trials for Track and Field in the Women's Shot Put. That number was just one spot away from allowing me into the Olympic finals and a chance to try and make the Olympic team.
So now that I've caught your attention with an awesome title and first paragraph let me introduce myself. My name is Monique Riddick, some of you know or know of me, many don't, and most could careless about who I am. I decided to write this article (which is my personal story) not as a sob story, but to give the public an idea of what it's like to be 13th best in your country, in one specific event, in a sport that receives very little press unless it's the Olympic year.For many people, the number 13 is synonymous with luck. Good, or bad, that number holds weight for many people. For myself, that number is the place I finished at the 2016 Olympic Trials for Track and Field in the Women's Shot Put. That number was just one spot away from allowing me into the Olympic finals and a chance to try and make the Olympic team.
Most people wonder what it’s like to be 13th best in your country in a sport; really its just questions being asked about how much money you are making and who is sponsoring and endorsing you. Well, at 13th in the country, there is no line waiting to sign you to a big shoe contract, no big time coach wanting to work with you, no access to a state of the art training facility, or top notch medical staff. Instead, there is a long road ahead of trying to get your training in, your rehab done, traveling to those big name meets to get a big mark, all awhile working a full time job, just to get a chance to be the absolute best in your sport and represent your country in the Olympics Games. Now my journey isn't unlike most, but I believe the public only sees the “struggle” that is depicted as the down trotted athlete, fighting for their biggest break, to only then “make it big time” in their sport. I would like to be one of the very few, to be extremely transparent and let the public know, that many of us never really “make it big”, instead, we sometimes come up short, or in my case 13th place.
Let me just give you a brief overview of my athletic accomplishments that led me up to the point of realizing I wanted to chase the Olympic Dream. In my first two years of college at small Division 3 University located in New Jersey (Montclair State University for anyone interested or wondering), I captured Three NCAA National Championships in the Women's Shot Put throw; two indoor titles and one outdoor title. With the permission of my head coach, I decided to transfer out to a larger university, preferably a Division 1 University, after an extremely successful two years. The university I choose was Indiana University, and while there I was able to go back to NCAA National Championship for both indoor and outdoor and became a Big Ten Conference Champion. At the end of my college throwing career, my furthest throw ever while in college was 16.66 meters, or for those that don't understand the metric system, 54ft 9in. It wasn't a massive throw to attract an agent to represent me or get a contract by a shoe company, but it was far enough to keep up with the best in the nation.
Now here is where the true journey begins as a post collegiate Olympic sport athlete! Because coming out of college I was not considered one of the top prospects for my sport and that meant some of the resources that are given to those already in the Top 10 would not be at my disposal. Resources such as training and living at the Olympic Training Center or continuing my training at my University with a small part time job to pay the bills, a training staff on hand with medical help/medical insurance, having an agent to help get those big time shoe company contracts and into what us athletes call “money meets” to win prize money. Instead, in order to pursue this goal/dream of mine, I had to move back home to be with my parents in order to be able to afford the cost of training, as well as just living with the basic necessities one needs in life.
The moment I arrived home, within a month I got a full time job, to just afford some of the basic needs in life, such as gas, car insurance, health insurance, and other things the average person needed, which did not include the needs to be a “professional” athlete. Once the job portion of this journey was taken care of, I needed a coach to help out with my training. Now, most people don’t know that, if you don’t stay at your school to continue to train with your college coach for the Olympics, you will have to pay a coach to take you on as their athlete. Some times those coaches will not only ask for you to pay them to coach you, but if you do by any chance, win some prize money, will ask for a small “cut” of prize money. I was lucky enough to be able to reach out to a semi local college coach who had recruited me as a senior in high school, to take me on as a post collegiate thrower. Coach Abraham Flores, of Monmouth University gladly took me on as his athlete and under his wing as a coach in training, in exchange for my time as a volunteer for his team, and to help out at any of the local meets they went too.
In this past year and a half leading up to the Olympics, a very typical day for me looked like this; waking up at 5:30am, working from 6am-2pm, driving almost an hour to practice with Coach Flores from 3pm to 5pm, driving back up an hour in order to get to the gym by 6pm to lift, getting home by 7:30pm(or even 8pm) in order to prep for the next day or two, and then finally going to sleep by 10:30pm. In addition, I very rarely took days off or vacations in order to save the time for the meets I wanted to participate in and all of my money was being saved for equipment, meets, travel, and hotels. Most of the Top 10 athletes in my sport, DO work part time jobs in order to help out with their bills and training fees along with some of the doctor fees. But a large majority is taken care of by USA Track and Field grants, shoe company contracts, and sponsorship/endorsement deals. The average salary of a Top 10, REALLY and HONESTLY, the Top 5 Professional Track and Field runner is, and this is just a guesstimate I am making, around $45,000 to $60,000. As a field event-er, you're looking at the average of $25,000 to $35,000? Now of course there are always others that are making way more than the average, and are just “raking” in the big bucks. But just let that sink in for a minute, just one spot out of the Top 10 of the USA, misses out on some of those perks and rewards. Even some of the Top 10, namely places 6 through 10 don't get nearly what the Top 5 get. But for myself, and many of us outside of the Top 10, we need to work in order to survive and live, not to only train. For example, medical insurance, if I don’t have a full time job with medical benefits, I will not be covered by medical insurance, which ultimately means my rehab and making sure my body is ready to go for my meets doesn’t happen.
In the last 9 months leading up to the Olympic Trials, you could say I caught a “break” when it came to my training and being able to afford all of my expenses. A guy by the name of Dane Miller who I had met twice and who happens to be the owner and founder of Garage Strength and EarthFed Muscle, decided to sponsor me after seeing me throw at one of the small meets he held at his facility. In my sponsorship deal I received protein and all EarthFed Muscle related products, (I know really raking in the big bucks). Along with Dane giving me my break, Dick’s Sporting Goods decided to give Olympic Sport athletes right outside of the Top 10 a break as well. They rolled out a pilot program to hire and finically help some of the up and coming Olympic hopefuls, such as myself, to have the best chance possible to make the team. Luckily I was chosen to be apart of this program to relieve some of the stresses of being a non Top 10 athlete deal with. Now, even though this program was going to be a HUGE help for me, I still took a 200 dollar pay cut from my previous job and lost medical insurance, which is just something many of us athletes go through. But it was well worth it, to be able to finally have a chance to level the playing field, in my mind, with the Top 10.
Now here’s where everyone who is probably reading this, is expecting the sappy, feel good ending to my personal story, as well as similar stories of being top in your country for a sport. Well most of our stories don’t end with happiness; many of our stories end with heartache and unanswered questions. At the Olympic Trials, the day I had been waiting and working towards for 4 years, ending with complete heartache, tears, and feelings of being a failure. Let me elaborate on how all these feelings and things came about. The day of the Women’s Shot Put Prelims, both my parents flew out from New Jersey to watch me compete, and this was extremely special for me because my father had not flown in 18 years, let alone watch me compete in my post collegiate career. I, along with the rest of the Top 24 in the country, was given 3 throws to try and move on to the Finals and ultimately fight for the Top 3 spots to represent our country. After the first two throws, I was sitting in the 12th position, the absolute last slot to be taken to the finals. And, in a blink of an eye, as I wanted back into the tunnel to gather my gear to now prep for the final, I heard a loud roar of cheers. In that exact moment, I knew I had been bumped out of the final. I was pushed from 12th place to 13th place. Everything I had worked for and strived for felt like was in vain; was all for 13th place.
My story and article may seem as some sob story but it is not meant to be a sob story, in fact I am extremely proud of what I've accomplished given the resources at my disposal. This article, my story, is meant to give you an idea of what it’s like to be 13th in your country for a sport; to paint a picture, of what it’s like for the rest of the elite athletes in the track and field world that straddle the fence of being right outside of the Top 10. Now, I’m not saying the Top 10 best athletes don't have their struggles or aren't having a hard time like the rest of us, but their path to continue and stay in the Top 10 is much easier than those just right outside. For most of us, the Top 15, the Top 20, we compete and keep trying because we love the sport and a good challenge. We thrive on being the underdogs, vying for that coveted spot in the Top 10 and knocking out one or even two of the Top 10.
For many people, the number 13, is just that; a number. For myself, the number 13 is a culmination of 4 years of all my hard work. It represents long work days, frustrating training days, sleep deprived weeks, making a salary under most people my age, and still succeeding despite all those factors. I am 13th in my country for Women's Shot Put, and I could not be happier or prouder of that number.