In addition to outlining my funding structure for the final four years of my career, I want to share a piece about my partnership with Thoughtforms Builders. I feel incredibly lucky that Mark and Thoughtforms came into my life, and I hope that all athletes can have as rewarding a relationship with their sponsors as I have had with Thoughtforms. For me, the money that came from the sponsorship provided a great deal of financial stability for my career. More importantly, I have gained a lifelong friendship with Mark and his family, and I have learned about corporate responsibility which has shaped my ideas about what I want to do in the future.
The International Ski Federation (FIS) regulates the size and the number of advertisements that can be displayed on an athlete’s race suit. Of the advertising spots that we are allotted, the US Ski Team sells all but one of them to corporate, team-wide sponsors. Each athlete is left with the one remaining spot to sell to a personal sponsor. We call this personal sponsor our title sponsor because the allocated spot is on our hat or headband, either above or directly adjacent to the US Ski Team shield. Our title sponsor logo can be up to 50cm2.
(Not every National Governing Body (NGB) leaves the title sponsor spot for the athletes to sell individually, and there has been talk within the US ski community that it might be easier and/or financially advantageous to lesser-known athletes to sell the entire team’s title sponsor spot as a group.)
This title sponsor position can be extremely valuable and extremely stressful for athletes. Because we are only allotted one spot, there is pressure to get a substantial amount of money for it. Of course the space on your forehead is extremely obvious, making it valuable but also making it a clear indicator of whether someone believes in you enough to fill that space. Cross-country skiing is not the most popular sport in the US, and it can sometimes be hard to find any sponsor at all to buy your title sponsor position. Several current US Ski Team athletes do not get any money, or get very little, for their title sponsor spot.
For the first six years of my professional ski career, I failed to find a title sponsor. Instead of getting paid for the valuable spot on my hat or headband, I put the National Nordic Foundation (NNF) or Caldwell Sport logo in that position. Both the NNF and Caldwell sport were giving me valuable support, but neither organization gave me additional funds for putting their logo on my hat.
I spent a lot of time and energy looking for a title sponsor. I went before the city council in Aspen, without success, to try to get the city to allocate marketing dollars for the Aspen Nordic Trail System (city owned and operated) that they could spend on my title sponsorship (and other Nordic marketing efforts). I approached numerous companies, to no avail, trying to sell my marketability as an up and coming Olympian. Older athletes with valuable title sponsors kept telling me that the best sponsors are the ones that come to you, not vice versa. Of course, when you are in need of a sponsor, that is a completely useless piece of advice.
Then, in the spring before the Sochi Olympics, I got an email out of the blue from Mark Doughty, president of Thoughtforms Builders. Thoughtforms builds high-end custom homes and is based in the Boston, Massachusetts area. I had never met Mark or heard of Thoughtforms, but in his note, he told me that he was a close friend of Austin Weiss, one of my high school cross-country ski coaches, and that he had become friends with Zach Caldwell, one of my current coaches. He said that Thoughtforms may be able to come on board as my title sponsor.
Of course, I was pleasantly surprised to receive Mark’s note, but I was also skeptical. What justification could a Boston-based home builder use to support a Colorado cross-country skier living in Utah? I was encouraged that Mark had already talked to Austin and to Zach about me, but it was also important to me that my title sponsor get something in return for supporting me. I was not looking for charity; I was looking for a mutually beneficial partnership.
Mark and I started talking, and as I learned more about Thoughtforms, the more impressed I was with the company. Thoughtforms expertly constructs unique, complex and incredibly cool structures, many of which only they could build. (I’ve had the privilege of touring some of the homes they built.) The company is also serious about its corporate responsibility to be a positive part of the community. It is a leader in sustainable construction and promotes healthy, active and community-based lifestyles.
Mark raced road bikes professionally in his 20s. After years away from endurance sport, he found cross-country skiing through Austin and another friend in Norway. Reaching out to me with an offer to be a title sponsor was his way of giving back to the sport. He and I devised a plan for me to add value to Thoughtforms’ marketing efforts. I would be a model of the active and healthy lifestyle they promote. In addition, I would come to Boston once or twice a year to connect with the Nordic community and to visit schools to talk about the perseverance, hard work and goal setting that helped me be successful in chasing my dreams.
My relationship with Thoughtforms became an integral part of my professional career. Not only has the company supported me as a title sponsor for the remainder of my career, Mark, his wife Pilar, his son Nathan and his daughter Anneka have become like a second family to me. The Nordic community in Boston has supported me as one of their own, and with the outlet to give back, I was able to find more purpose to my skiing than just focusing on results.