Like many Olympians, Susanne Grainger has counted on the Canadian Athletes Now (CAN) Fund to navigate tough financial waters.
“As an amateur athlete, I’ve found it’s been there when nobody else is,” the 29-year-old Londoner and national women’s team rower said from her base in British Columbia. “Everyone comes out of the woodwork for that final push (before the Games) but CAN Fund is there when you’re in the trenches and people aren’t paying as much attention.
“It relieves some stress when you’re in the dark depths of training.”
Grainger has been granted support from the Fund, which has raised more than $40 million since 2003, three times in the last five years. It aims to deliver $6,000 to each successful applicant and has assisted hundreds of elite athletes, including the majority of Grainger’s rowing mates, local pole vaulter Alysha Newman and St. Thomas-born diver Celina Toth.
The Rio eight-boat veteran was so encouraged by the fund’s support goals, she became its rowing representative a couple of years ago and, for the past two months, has helped with behind-the-scenes virtual work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the rescheduling of the Tokyo Olympics to July, 2021 and the ongoing health and financial crisis has put a ton of heat on the CAN Fund. Donations have dropped to 50 per cent of a normal year.
“It’s crunch time and I’m an anomaly among athletes in being able to fit part-time work around training,” Grainger said. “Typically, the fund would focus on summer athletes leading into the Games, then turn to helping those in the winter for 2022, but they’re overlapping now. We’re into a fifth year of training because of the delay and we’re lucky to still receive (government) carding, but personally, I pushed back a number of expenses into this year assuming the Olympics would be done and I would be making more money at this point.
“There have been a lot of unknowns and it’s a difficult year with so many people struggling.”
In normal times, the CAN Fund’s foundation had created an ingenious way of connecting donors to athletes. In the past, an auction might offer a ride in the coach boat on the lake with the rowers or the chance to play host to a “pre-game meal” that had invited athletes sharing their experiences.
“Having to make everything virtual was potentially a way to reach more people,” Grainger said, “but it makes it a bit more difficult to bring everyone together and find that special inspirational moment that gives people the feeling of wanting to donate.”
Three years ago, fund founder Jane Roos drove an initiative to start a network of support from women, for women. There have been 249 female athletes able to receive $6,000 each through the ongoing CAN Fund #150Women campaign.
“The idea was to give women an opportunity to share their talents and success, while also supporting female Canadian athletes,” Grainger said. “For a $150 donation, you become part of the CAN Fund women’s network (currently over 700 strong) and have this big group where someone is always in your corner. During quarantine, the “Be Epic” talks started, which were evenings held by members with an opportunity for athletes and donors to get on the call together.
“It was really cool to hear from women who have reached their goals and it’s been an amazing tool to bring people together.”
The hope now is that if someone is seeking a last-minute gift, purchasing a private membership and a connection to a possible Olympic medal contender would be a special way to celebrate the holiday season.
“You get a tax receipt and you’re able to know directly where your money has gone,” Grainger said.
Then, you root for your athlete in the home stretch before an unprecedented Games. Grainger aims to be back in the eight (which finished fifth in Rio four years ago) or in the equally competitive four-boat.
“The women’s sweep group has the eight, four and pair qualified,” she said. “I love rowing in the eight, but my dream is to win a medal at the Olympics, so I’ll take any opportunity I can get to represent Canada on the world stage. This fifth year (of preparation) was a lot for people to swallow, but once everyone made their choice to come back, we used it as an opportunity to make a lot of changes we wouldn’t have had the time to do had the Games happened.
“We took it all as a positive and everything is heading in the right direction.”
CAN Fund #150Women
Info about the CAN Fund #150Women Campaign:
- Campaign was launched November 2017 to invite women to support and celebrate female athletes who compete for Canada.
- CAN Fund #150Women is a diverse network of women from all walks of life with over 700 women, coast to coast, as members.
- For every donation of $150 or more, donors find out the name of the female athlete they are supporting and receive a tax receipt.
- The youngest supporting member is 18 and the oldest is 85.
- Anyone can purchase or gift a CAN Fund #150Women membership to an epic woman. Donate $150 or more and email CAN Fund with the name and address of the woman to whom you want to send the membership.
- More info: https://canadianathletesnow.ca