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Figure skaters get creative to cover massive costs

Canadians Hayleigh Bell and Rudi Swiegers pay about $100,000 a year to compete as professional figure skaters. Footing the bill takes some creativity and a lot of hard work.

How pair Hayleigh Bell, Rudi Swiegers pay to compete as figure skaters

New figure skating pair Rudi Swiegers, left, and Hayleigh Bell are turning to non-traditional means of paying to compete in their sport. (Darron Cummings/Canadian Press, Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Figure skating is always a good news/bad news scenario. The good news for me is getting to watch elite athletes at their best. The bad news is, for the skaters at least, that this is a very expensive sport and someone needs to pay.

The costs can be staggering.

From ice time to training to travel, equipment and costumes; it all adds up.

Pair skaters Hayleigh Bell and Rudi Swiegers, who will compete in this weekend's Rostelecom Cup Grand Prix event in Moscow, only joined forces in May 2015. At this stage in their new and untried partnership, all they have to show for their hard work is potential. But potential alone isn't enough to qualify them for Sport Canada funding, also known as carding, which provides a stipend to offset training costs.

To raise money, Bell and Swiegers started a crowdfunding campaign they call Team Hot Rod — Hayleigh Bell and Rudi Swiegers. To date they've raised $4,060 — $20,940 short of their goal.

They also work.

"Dylan [Moscovitch] and Lubov [Ilyushechnkina] did a crowdfunding campaign last year and it was a big inspiration for us to try it," Swiegers told me. "In addition, I have the support of friends and family and I coach part-time. I freelance at two Calgary-area clubs, do harness lessons (for jump technique) and partner dances on test days."

Bell, meanwhile, works part-time as a cooking assistant at a cooking school at a local grocery store.

"I usually work eight hours on the weekend and try and pick up additional shifts on evenings during the week," she told me.

Grants from Skate Canada are also sometimes available.

Costs on the rise

"I would say there have been cases where assistance has helped [the skaters] advance," said Michael Slipchuk, Skate Canada's high performance director.

"We're rarely been in a position where funding has been the make or break factor for a skater. Sometimes it's helping them get a new pair of skates. Sometimes we may not fund a dollar value where having the right outfit or helping them get the right choreography may make a difference. It is exciting that there have been a few situations where those investments have been worthwhile ten-fold."

Slipchuk, who competed at the 1992 Olympics in figure skating, acknowledges the rising price tag in his sport.

You have to be selective with how you spend your money.- Michael Slipchuk, Skate Canada high performance director

"I think it all goes hand in hand. In the time when, like in my day, skating cost less and going to university was less but making money in a professional way for figure skaters was also less. There are more opportunities to make money now, although the cost of skating now is also more."

Some of those money-making opportunities including skating in shows beyond just the Stars on Ice mega tours. Local skating clubs across the country will pay $1,500 and up for guest stars to appear in their annual skating shows, depending on the rank and prestige of the skater.

Being realistic is important.

"Sometimes you can only afford what you can afford and you need to maximize what you can do," Slipchuk said. "You don't want to leave the sport bankrupt but you have to be selective with how you spend your money. It can be done on a tighter budget if you watch what you do."

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