Zina Kocher

3 x Olympian World Cup Medallist

Why Fundraising?

It’s a question I’m asked locally, a question asked internationally. Why on an Olympic year was I seeking funds? Sorry, you said “you pay to be on the National Team? You pay a fee to compete on the World Cup?”

Ah yes I do.

Thus, the simple answer of why I this summer fundraised through PURSU.IT - pursu.it, was because it’s not free for me to train and compete! I’ve decided to write this blog to help explain MY situation, a situation not unlike many other Canadian athletes…

I do Biathlon because I love it. I love my different aspects of training. I love being outside. I love being challenged. I love skiing, and I love the crazy combination with shooting that provides an exciting sport for athletes and spectators alike. And I am proud to have represented Canada at numerous World Cups, World Championships and 2 Olympic Games. 

But in Canada it doesn’t receive millions of spectators at events or millions of viewers on TV. There aren’t the huge numbers of athletes vying for A team qualification such as in Germany, Norway or Russia. In fact, here in Canada when I say I do biathlon, I sometimes get a quizzical look and a ohhh yah that’s running and biking right? Nope. We aren’t dominating the world in this sport, racking up World Cup, World Championship and Olympic medals. Although a few of us have made it to the podium over the last 20 years (just last year Jean Philippe Le Guellec won the first Sprint World Cup of the season), but it’s not a regular occurrence, just yet. And in Canada, that means funding gets lashed. I won’t go into the reasons, politics or start a debate about that one, but basically a sport needs to “prove” they are a medal contender to receive a more premium level of funding, primarily demonstrating that at World Championships and Olympics. So that’s the deal behind the high team fees for racing and training. In Europe, athletes look at me aghast when I say we pay to be on the team. In many European countries, making the National Team is highly prestigious. Definitely no fees, or costs associated with training or competing if you make it to that level. Athletes from some European countries have jobs with Customs, Police or the Military that they attend to in the spring and once retired from biathlon. Consequently, for many European athletes biathlon for them is more like a job (though a pretty stellar one!).

Over 13 years, my career has been funded in many different ways. First my parents were huge supporters, above and beyond. When I was 18, I spent 7 weeks in Basic Military Training to become a reserve force private out of Mewata Armories, with King’s Own. (A very different experience that I will never forget!) Biathlon with its history in military background, was a sport funded in the Canadian military. Thus many athletes started biathlon through cadet programs, or joined the military later as a way to both pay for their training, find a career post biathlon and represent Canada both in civilian and in military competitions. Unfortunately, Canada cut the funding to the biathlon military program in 2004.

Canada has a number of great grants out there for athletes to apply for, and I’ve been fortunate enough to receive some grants through out my career such as Calgary Booster Club and the CanFund.

In 2009, my female teammates and I put our heads together and decided to deal with our financial struggle as one. After a number of ideas, we came down with one thing that sells…ahem yes nudity. Jokes aside, what we actually wanted to capture was art showcasing muscular athleticism, strong sporty females, and the union we had as teammates working together. Thus Bold Beautiful Biathlon was born. Our calendar sales topped at 6000, and turned out to be an incredibly worthwhile venture. Not only did we offset our training expenses, we came together as teammates, had fun and learned a few things about marketing.  

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Another great source that helps numerous Canadian athletes is Sport Canada carding. This is seen as a daily living allowance and a privilege to receive if you have met the required criteria set by both the sport federation and Sport Canada. I was fortunate to make the criteria as a junior athlete and then as a senior for 9 years. The senior allowance is now $1500/month. Unfortunately, once you have received it for 7 years, you must be make criteria set not by the Federation but by Sport Canada, who sets a standard qualification for all sports. This standard is top 8 at a World Championships or Olympic Games. This could start another debate, first by stating that some sports have 30 athletes competing in a World Championships, whereas as Biathlon as 100+. But I’ll end it there. Bottom line is you have to prove that you deserve this allowance. Fair enough. Last year, I stumbled and struggled at our World Championships in Czech Republic, and did not meet my own personal goals, nor meet my criteria (top 8) for Sport Canada carding. And just like that there went my basic salary for the Olympic year. It didn’t mean anything that I had already met Biathlon Canada’s criteria for the Sochi Olympics (Top priority – 2x top 16 World Cup). So that was that. Thus I knew I needed to be creative and find funds via other means.    

In Alberta, athletes that receive Sport Canada carding can also apply to receive Podium Alberta, another grant supporting Alberta’s high performance athletes, to encourage athletes to stay and train in Alberta, enabling a high pursuit of excellence in this province. The maximum to receive is $6000. 

Then there are personal sponsors. I’ve had some wonderful and loyal sponsors over the years that have helped and supported me through my career. Some were financial, and others equipment suppliers. These are key for any high performance athlete. In biathlon, we have a lot of equipment – skis, poles, boots, rifles are the basics. But we also need dryland and training equipment – running shoes, road bike, mountain bike, skate rollerskis, classic rollerskis, ammunition, helmet… to list a main items! I’ve been fortunate to be an Atomic athlete since I was in my last year as a junior, and a Leki (poles) athlete since 2006.

Where was I? Back to the top: In the summer, after seeing how successful Pursu.it was for numerous athletes, I decided to launch my own campaign and offset all the costs that had accumulated with this training year – team fees, World Cup fees this coming season, training camps, equipment costs, and various sport therapy that is absolutely necessary when training full time (chiro, physio, massage, psychology etc). Oh and I’m a garburator (I’ve been told) so healthy food costs add up quick! As a high performance athlete, finding the time and energy to hold a job outside of training can be very demanding on an athlete’s energy. My normal day consists of training from 8:30-12, and again from 3:30-6. Between those times I need to eat, to nap (yes any top performing athlete will tell you sleep is incredibly important to them for recovery and performance), and some days my body needs a tune up from physiotherapy, massage, or chiro. And I also need to fit in time for psychology because the mental game is just as important as the physical!   

Although it took some time, energy, and talents I didn’t have (video making!), I was ecstatic with the process and the end result. Not only did I just reach and exceed my targeted financial goal, putting everything together re-ignited my passion for why I do biathlon, why I have my goals and dreams, why I’ve worked this hard everyday for the last 13 years and why I will be representing Canada at my 3rd Olympics this February. Furthermore, it helped me connect with a community of family, friends, and strangers creating a platform of vibrancy, enthusiasm, and a sense of accountability for me as I approach on my final preparations to the Sochi Olympics. Knowing that someone believes in you and is behind you 100% is motivating, inspiring and calming!

A million thanks to those that have helped me today and in the last 13 years!

SALUTE!

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