As the Sochi Winter Games approach, the great tragedy of many athletes’ lives is the struggle to meet the financial requirements needed in order to make their athletic dreams come true. One of the most dedicated and a unique athlete for fund raising is Megan Imrie.
Competing in the biathlon, her interest in the sport began at the age of six. The Canadian Biathlon Championships were in her hometown and she was quickly hooked. When Maryam Bedard captured the imagination of Canadian sports fans as she won medals at the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games, a young Imrie was part of an after-school group called the Biathlon Bears.
In addition to biathlon, she would also make her mark in other sports. In 2001, she was the Manitoba Ranch Rodeo junior champion in 2001. She was the provincial champion in cross-country running in 2000 and 2003 while she had the honor of bearing the flag at the 2007 Canada Winter Games (where she won two medals).
With the multi-million dollar contracts in professional sports, it is easy to assume that the golden goose is evident in all sports. The uncomfortable truth is that many athletes, especially female athletes, do not have such a luxury. Travel costs, team fees and equipment become part of the cost of competing.
Although the focus of their athletic endeavors should be focused on training and sharpening their skills, a huge chunk of their time is devoted to finding ways to earn money. The most famous resident of Falcon Lake, Manitoba, the 27 year-old Imrie has had to employ several methods in order to finance her dreams of competing in the Winter Games.
One was a recent horseback riding promotion in which an individual could pay to have the privilege of riding horseback alongside Imrie. The Rocky Mountain Soap Company introduced a brand known as “Megan Soap” as a way to support Imrie. Ads featuring Imrie can be seen online.
Compared to many European countries where funding for Biathlon is significantly higher, Canadian athletes have offered signed items and personal phone calls in order to make up for any shortfalls. As she spends close to $20,000 a year on training and equipment, Imrie also tapped into the influence of social media through the efforts of a website called Pursuit, where she successfully exceeded her fund-raising goals.
Heading into the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, the biathlon team took a rather uncommon measure in order to raise funds. Imrie and her biathlon teammates (Rosanna Crawford, Sandra Keith, Zia Kocher and Megan Tandy) were featured in a semi-nude calendar which was issued in 2009.
Titled Bold, Beautiful Biathlon, the calendar was a tremendous hit selling out very quickly. A sum of over $10,000 was raised via the sale of 6,000 units. Despite its popularity, a group of world-class athletes such as the five biathletes deserved much more funding, especially with the Games being on home soil.
There is no denying that Imrie is beautiful but she should not have to remove her clothing in order to raise funds. A world class athlete should not have to be admired for her body but for her athleticism and skill. With Sochi looming on the horizon, one cannot help but wonder how many other female athletes the world over are considering a calendar to finance their dreams of Winter Games glory.
The idea that biathlon did not have a title sponsor at the time of the calendar’s release was tragic. As a side note, the Whiteshell Trappers Association (of which her father Murray is a member) donated fur pelts to Imrie as a show of support for her Vancouver Winter Games goal. Dave Bewick of the North American Fur Auction also helped by sending a brochure to nearly 2,000 trappers in Manitaba with a special tag of Megan Imrie to attach to the pelt. With Imrie having grown up on trap lines, the gesture had tremendous meaning.
Every bit was essential as the good news was that Imrie qualified for Vancouver, competing in two individual events and the 4×6 km relay. Even though Imrie has worked hard in raising funds, she has also given back to her community. As an athlete-ambassador at Fast and Female in 2012, the Canmore, Alberta event featured Imrie and her teammates providing youngsters with advice on how to succeed as biathletes.
Sadly, 2012 also marked a crossroads in her career. Facing exhaustion and the possibility of over-training, she returned home to Falcon Lake to recharge the battery and sought comfort in the support of her family. Her return in 2013 brought with it personal bests in testing and training and the spark to succeed was rekindled.
The road to Sochi will be determined in 2013 as three World Cup races are on the horizon. A top-30 result in just one of the races will provide Imrie with the opportunity to compete in her second-ever Winter Games.
An admirable athlete armed with the perseverance to succeed, the reluctance to complain is nothing short of impressive. If any athlete had the right to be bitter, it would certainly be Imrie, but she quietly goes on with an ethereal serenity. Her hard work and dedication to growing her sport is an example of empowerment for women. Although no athlete should have to endure so much difficulty to raise funds, her tough as nails composure and remarkable dignity in the face of such adversity and overwhelming odds is what makes her a true sporting hero.