Financial twists and tucks
Gymnasts Monique de la Torre and Victoria Esparza practice six hours a day inside Carter’s Gym, a slump-block warehouse in Mesa. Their 14-year-old bodies are hardened by countless drills on balance beams and uneven bars into sinuous muscles and disciplined minds focused on delivering peak performances at competitions.
Both are among the top athletes of 4 million young people participating in amateur gymnastics in the United States. Monique is a Level 10 gymnast, the highest standard in the world of gymnastics. Victoria is a Level 8, not far behind.
Jack Carter and his wife Erin are founders of Carters’ Gym. Jack is an internationally known gymnastics coach. Some parents have moved to the Valley from other states so Carter can train their kids.
Carter proudly says De la Torre is among the top 60 gymnasts in the United States. Monique has the potential to reach the pinnacle of the elite gymnastics world: The seven-member 2008 Summer Olympics team. He likens the odds of any gymnast making the team to that of winning the Powerball lottery – about 120 million to one. It takes expert training, relentless physical conditioning and lots of luck to reach the Olympics, he says.
Yet even as the young Latinas sweat through hours of grueling routines, their parents play a game just as stressful and demanding. They must figure out how to pay the high costs of coach’s training fees, competition fees, sports apparel prices, travel and hotel expenses to out-of-town meets, insurance, and medical bills when these young athletes inevitably injure themselves.
In other words, competing at the top echelons of amateur sports takes big money.
“More Latinos could compete in elite gymnastics, if it weren’t for finances,” Carter says.
Nor are expenses limited to gymnastics. High school golf, swimming, tennis, and hockey also involve big ticket costs. A student competing in interscholastic golf, for example, can pay as much as $1,000 for a set of golf clubs. Greens and range fees at a golf course or country club can cost up to $40 a visit, about the cost of an annual membership to the local YMCA. Then there is the pricey golf clothing, shoes and gloves.
For many lower- and middle-class Latino families, it takes jumping through some financial hoops to keep a talented son or daughter in elite competitive sports.
Pat, Victoria’s mother, estimates she and her husband spend an average of $850 monthly for her daughter’s gymnastics costs. She works two part-time jobs. One of her paychecks goes directly to her daughter’s fees, she says.
Marisela Benavides, single mother of star Westwood High School diver Jose Benavides, makes $1,400 a month as a maintenance worker. Paying for Jose’s swimming and diving costs takes a sizable chunk out of the family budget, she says. In addition, two other teenagers are involved in high school sports. Another son, Adrian, 16, competes on the Carson Junior High School football, wrestling and track teams. Daughter Maritza, 13, is a cheerleader.
Martin de la Torre and his wife Lisa both work two jobs to help pay for Monique’s training. Martin immigrated to the U.S. from Zacatecas, Mexico, and is a naturalized citizen. Martin says he doesn’t mind the extra effort because it gives his daughter opportunities he never had.
“In Mexico, this sport (gymnastics) is only for rich people,” he says. “Here in the United States, it is possible for Monique to participate.”
Lisa de la Torre adds that they consider Monique’s training costs an investment in her future. Lisa doesn’t hesitate when asked what parents hope their offspring will get from competing in elite sports: “A full ride scholarship to college,” she says. Carter says 83 of his former students have gone to college on athletic scholarships.
Victoria says her parents have told her not to think about the costs because it might distract her from the mental discipline needed to stay sharp and competitive. However, Victoria says she can’t help but think about the financial pressures her parents face.
“I worry about it sometimes. I know it’s hard on them,” she says. She recalls her mother crying when Jack Carter allowed Victoria to continue physical conditioning for free after expenses forced Pat to pull her daughter out of the full program for three months.
Carter says that he is aware of the financial pressure on his students’ parents. He says he adjusts his fees whenever possible, and sometimes provides “scholarships” that help offset the costs. Yet there is only so much he can cut because the costs of running an elite gymnastics facility with up-to-date apparatus can run about $10,000 a month.
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