When Canadian aerialist Warren Shouldice soared to victory at a World Cup in his hometown in Calgary this past week, he very nearly competed with the advertising space he had for sale on his skis empty.
That's because the veteran athlete has been unable to come up with a personal sponsor this season.
But Shouldice decided to place the CAN (Canadian Athletes Now) Fund's logo on his skis to help publicize the non profit organization and its holiday drive – where athletes are helping athletes. Each dollar raised up until today will be matched. The total so far is about $48,000.
Shouldice's gesture is a reflection of the great appreciation athletes have for CAN Fund, which can supply them up to $12,000 a year to help pay off expenses not covered by their national teams.
The organization has raised a total of $13 million since 1997 and it helped 80 per cent of the athletes who wore the Maple Leaf at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. The list of recipients is truly a Canadian Olympic Who's Who.
Shouldice knows how much that money can help. When he suffered a compression fracture in his back six weeks out from the 2009 world championships, the money he had from CAN Fund went towards treatments that enabled him to come back and win a courageous bronze medal.
Those making donations get to find out exactly which athletes receive their money and maybe even develop a personal rooting interest. About 650 athletes recently applied to the fund for 2011.
It's clear from talking to athletes over the years and from what they've written on the CAN FUND website, their own blogs and tweeted that the extra money plays a big part in their Olympic preparations.
They're not eating filet mignon with it, but they're eating better and nutrition is a big part of it. More than anything, it helps them worry a little less – and that can be huge when you're prepping for the biggest event of your life.
As gold medal swimming hopeful Ryan Cochrane puts it: "CAN Fund is an invaluable resource for Canadian Athletes; without it we wouldn't be able to attend certain training camps, wouldn't be able to compete against the best in the world, and wouldn't be able to accomplish the international success Canadian athletes are truly worthy of."