Website offers athletes unique way to attract funding | Sports | CBC Sports

Website offers athletes unique way to attract funding

Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2012 | 10:35 AM

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Alpine skier Larisa Yurkiw is one of the Canadian athletes seeking sponsorship money through the website pursu.it. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press) Alpine skier Larisa Yurkiw is one of the Canadian athletes seeking sponsorship money through the website pursu.it. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

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Most high-performance athletes these days are forced to find creative ways to fuel their dream. Some are forced to dig into their family's pocket. Others work full- or part-time jobs while juggling the demands of training. Very few, and only those at the very top of the ladder, enjoy the benefits of corporate sponsorship.

Enter a new way to directly fund athletes called Pursu.it (www.pursu.it).
The intangibles involved in every high-performance athlete's success are too numerous to name. Desire, passion, ambition, diligence... the list is a mile long and well beyond that.

But the bottom line is not negotiable. Money is required. 

There are travel costs, coaching salaries, physiotherapy requirements and entry fees, just to name a few of the expenses each and every athlete encounters along the way to pursuing his or her career.

For most of these sports men and women, the ledger is always in the red.

Government funding, while generous, is not fully sufficient, and that means finding creative ways to fuel the dream. Sometimes athletes are forced to dig into their family's pocket. Others work full- or part-time jobs while juggling the demands of training. Very few, and only those at the very top of the ladder, enjoy the benefits of corporate sponsorship.

Enter a new way to directly fund athletes called Pursu.it (www.pursu.it).

It's a web-based approach designed by Julia Rivard - a Canadian canoe-kayak athlete who competed at the 2000 Sydney Olympics - and former competitive gymnast Leah Skerry, and operated out of Halifax.

The idea is to provide a platform whereby fans and potential supporters of a specific athlete can provide a helping hand over the internet. In return, no tax receipt is given, but rather a promise by the athlete to provide a "give-back" according to the level of funding.

So far there are five Canadian athletes involved in the first run of the platform's test to see if Canadians will support it. They include snowboarder Alex Duckworth, triathlon's Andrew Yorke, golfer Jeff Bishop and two-time Olympic 1,500 -metre runner Nate Brannan. The most response so far has been garnered by alpine skier Larisa Yurkiw of Owen Sound, Ont.

Yurkiw is a rising star on the Canadian downhill team but is still working on a comeback after a devastating knee injury that caused her to miss the 2010 Olympics. She's been a medallist at the world junior championships and has cracked the top 10 on the World Cup circuit. In other words, she has potential. That being said, her team fees for this season amount to $20,000, and in the absence of a corporate sponsor she's got to pay the freight herself.

Her fund-raising goal on the Pursu.it page is exactly $20,000, and Yurkiw is more than halfway there. Her givebacks to supporters range from printing the name of her sponsors on the ski suit she'll race in at Lake Louise "so we can cross the finish line together," to hand-crocheted toques, to promising to wear a personal or company logo on her helmet for the balance of the season if the gift reaches a certain level.

"I've made so many connections with people who want to support my career and my comeback," Yurkiw said of the Pursu.it experience so far. "To think that they want to be a part of that wild ride that last two minutes is heartwarming. It's endearing."

The approach is unique and very personal and breaks new ground in the sports funding model in Canada. It hopes to take advantage of a desire by fans to become involved in the journey or story of an athlete they can identify with.

"In the past there hasn't been a way to directly support Canadian athletes," Skerry points out. "This is a personal and direct investment in an athlete and, in effect, by supporting them, you become a part of their team."

Three weeks into the test run, Skerry noted the response to Pursu.it has been positive but it has yet to pick up steam. She hastened to add that, while the platform is there, athletes should not expect to receive generous support without giving something in return.

"Athletes have to come up with unique ways to connect with sponsors as Larisa Yurkiw has," Skerry said. "It's also a new way for them to think about performing. It's 100 per cent on them to drive it and give back and earn their support."

"There's no doubt we're playing with fire," Yurkiw said of the risky career she pursues as a ski racer. She's bright and articulate and will no doubt be prosperous once her athletic career is done.

For now she's bridging the gap with the help of pursu.it. She's making a connection with her fans who want to ignite her journey to success.

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