Participating in sports is not cheap for young athletes, particularly in the High Country where so many sports require large amounts of gear. Even those involved in less gear-oriented sports like cross-country running can see costs increase as they attain higher and higher levels of competition. Joining clubs, attending training camps and participating in national and international competitions come with a price tag that some young athletes and their parents just can’t afford.
That’s what Joe Howdyshell hopes to change in Summit County. Early this year, he started the Summit Endurance Foundation, with the goal of supporting and promoting endurance sports by granting financial aid to young athletes, coaches and local sports programs.
“In my time growing up in clubs and growing up in high school teams, I’ve always noticed that there’s always athletes who miss out on opportunities based on financial reasons, no matter whether it’s getting into the sport at all or being able to take it to the next level, not being able to go to an important training camp or not being able to go to an important race because their family can’t afford it and the high school or the club or whatever it is doesn’t have the backing power to make it work,” Howdyshell said.
An athlete himself, Howdyshell spent four years as head coach and program director at the Summit Nordic Ski Club. In March, he stepped down and is now focusing on the SEF, he said.
“I absolutely love coaching, it’s a huge passion of mine, but I think this needs to be the priority for a while.”
For the moment, the foundation is focusing on the endurance sports of distance running, distance cycling, Nordic skiing and mountaineering racing. The foundation will not run its own programs, but will provide scholarships and grants to young athletes, coaches and local endurance sports programs.
“I see this county as having just incredible potential with endurance sports,” he said. “We have so many opportunities and so much culture here around endurance sports, and so I think we can get more kids into endurance sports.”
Costs of competition
Summit County parent Jeff Boyd is no stranger to the costs of having a young athlete. His 16-year-old daughter, Ruthie, competes in cross-country running, track and Nordic skiing. Last year, she qualified for the 2013 USSA Marriott Junior National Cross Country Ski Championships.
Boyd estimated that it cost around $3,000 to attend junior national competitions, “and that just covers your uniform and the coaching and the entry fees and usually includes housing,” he said. “So you’ve got that, plus air fare, depending on where it is, and then you’ve got parents who want to travel and support, and that’s part of it, too.”
The location for junior nationals changes every year. Last year, Ruthie and her teammates traveled to Fairbanks, Alaska.
“It was not exactly a cheap endeavor to get the kids up there and everything,” Boyd said. “It really straps a lot of parents.”
Jill Benbow, president of the Summit Endurance Foundation board, has seen firsthand the costs of competition, as a high school athlete in Steamboat.
“There’s always kids that want to do these sports but they’re so expensive, and it’s such a unique opportunity living in the mountains to be able to do them. We’re all working hard to live up here, and as a parent it’s a really expensive thing,” she said.
Her daughter is 5 years old, but Benbow knows it’s something she’ll have to consider when she gets older.
“I always joked with my friends who are Alpine racers, I hope my daughter doesn’t want to do that,” she said with a laugh, “because it’s so expensive.”
Neither she nor Howdyshell want to see lack of funds prohibiting an athlete from furthering himself or herself in a sport.
“Some kids want to (compete at a higher level) and some are happy to just do it for fun, and either way is fine,” Benbow said, “but for the ones that do want to do it on a competitive level and the ones that are looking for the college scholarship or the Olympic team, I think we should be there for them.”
The Summit Endurance Foundation will hold its first fundraiser June 12 at the Backcountry Brewery in Frisco.
“The idea, basically, is to get people together and get people excited about this idea and … about the foundation and just build some community support,” Howdyshell said. “You get enough people behind an idea and then … you’re not trying to ask 100 people for $1,000, you’re trying to ask 1,000 people for $100. If each person pitches in a little bit then these kids get supported and it’s not a huge amount of money.”
Benbow said she’s looking forward to the fundraiser, and her role as board president, in strengthening the connection between endurance sports athletes in Summit County.
“I think it will help bring the community, especially the endurance sports community, together in a fresh way, focusing on youth and sports,” she said.
Howdyshell shares her enthusiasm “I am so excited,” he said. “I just feel so good about it and it’s been so much fun ... If there’s one athlete that I can send to junior nationals who wouldn’t have gone already, that’s a success.”