Morgan House has the talent and desire it takes to be an Olympic paddler.
However, that may not be enough.
In order to train with the U.S. Sprint National Canoe/Kayak Team, the 23-year-old Gainesville High graduate needs to raise in the neighborhood of $30,000 between now and the summer of 2012, when the Olympic Games are held in London.
If House, who missed qualifying for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing by seconds, can’t come up with the necessary funds, his chances of realizing his Olympic dreams could be in serious jeopardy.
“It definitely adds a level of stress,” House said. “Some days, I wake up and tell myself not to worry about it, because everything will be fine. But it’s always in the back of my mind.
“I have confidence in myself and in the support of the Gainesville community. Without the people of Gainesville, this wouldn’t be happening.”
To raise money, House has created a T-shirt named after his website, which features 22 sponsors, most of which are local businesses. He sells the shirt on his website and, between its sales and sponsorship, he’s raised approximately $5,000. He’s raised another $2,000 from private donations.
But to get through the fall, he’ll need a total of $15,000. Currently, he’s with the national team in Hawaii, where he’ll be for six weeks as he trains for the upcoming World Championships in Poland in August.
When the team completes training in Hawaii, it will then travel to Italy for a final tune-up before Poland. The trip to Italy is just one of many cost-cutting moves the national team is making.
“It’s cheaper to train in Italy because the hosting country (Poland) will hike up the hotel prices by four times the regular price during the World Championships,” House said.
After the World Championships, House will fly directly to Oklahoma City to compete in the national championships the following week with his club team, Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club.
He’ll then take the month of September off before traveling to Mexico City for the Pan-American Championships, which is a critical event in House’s quest to become an Olympian. The Pan-Am Championships are known as a “second-chance” qualifier for the Olympics. The 2011 World Championships are the primary qualifier, and a top-10 finish there means a trip to London. However, if House can earn a top-five finish in this year’s Pan-Am Championships, he can compete in next year’s Pan-Am games for one last chance to qualify for the Olympics, though he’d need a first-place finish.
All the training, competitions and travel mean more money. House said here and there, the Sprint National Team will pick up the tab on a plane ticket, or maybe a hotel stay, but he can’t count on that because he’ll find out on short notice. Last year, House said the national team picked up the tab on all travel expenses.
But that’s not the case anymore, and Sprint National Team coach Guy Wilding said shouldering expenses is crippling the program and taking its toll on paddlers.
“It’s a big issue,” Wilding said. “One of our top guys from the World Cup Tour had to retire from paddling last week because he couldn’t afford to keep going. Most of the funding from the Olympic committee goes to sports that are winning medals, so our slice of the pie is very small.”
The men’s U.S. team hasn’t medaled in canoeing since 1992 in Barcelona, when Greg Barton earned the bronze in the K-1 1,000 meter event.
“It’s a catch-22 situation,” Wilding said. “We don’t get funding if we don’t medal, but we need the funding to prepare. Most of the competitions are in Europe and that’s where you have to be. If you don’t have the funding then it’s very difficult to go to the places you need to go and it’s difficult to train.”
Without sufficient funding, Wilding said the team can’t train in higher altitudes, which is more expensive. Other European teams have that luxury, which allows paddlers to increase their oxygen-carrying capabilities so when they return to a lower altitude, they can go harder and faster with less effort. Not training in a higher altitude puts the U.S. in a steeper disadvantage.
Despite the difficulties, Wilding believes in the team.
“I have a handful of guys that are determined, that have the fire in their belly,” Wilding said. “I know Morgan is selling shirts, doing some public speaking and fundraising to make sure he has enough money to do what he needs to do, but unfortunately, that’s more time and energy that could be spent training.”
House said the determination to gain funding can be a benefit to the team.
“It makes us all more competitive,” he said. “Once we make it to where we want to, it will be that much sweeter.”
House is accepting donations on his website at HouseKayak.com.