Jo Brigden-Jones also loves here work in the Balgowlah Paramedic unit. Picture: Adam Yip
Jo Brigden-Jones also loves here work in the Balgowlah Paramedic unit. Picture: Adam Yip

Top athletes who need second jobs to make ends meet

MOST people see being an elite athlete as a pathway to fame and fortune but often this could not be further from the truth.

Many top athletes are juggling their sporting exploits with second jobs to boost their incomes and ensure there is something else waiting for them when the final whistle blows on their careers.

Swifts player Maddy Proud, who also works as a children’s author. Picture: Richard Dobson
Swifts player Maddy Proud, who also works as a children’s author. Picture: Richard Dobson

Star NRL players can rake in millions a year and even fringe squad members earn north of $100,000, but these figures are a world away from the reality experienced by the majority of our leading sportsmen and women.

Netballer Maddy Proud is currently focused on captaining the NSW Swifts to victory, but in her downtime she has just completed her second children's novel.

Proud wrote her first novel, Grace on the Court, in between dedicating six days a week to training.

"In a way it's a career you can do on your own terms, it definitely works well with my netball commitments," she said.

Proud, 25, said wages for netballers had "come a long way" since she started playing but that most of the players still had another job.

"In my first two years of playing I pretty much worked full time. We do still have some girls who are either studying or doing something else outside of netball," she said.

"It's a hard one because … I almost thinking have training and a career to fall back on after sport is good.

"Of course we'd love to be fully paid to professionally play netball, but you also come out the other side in a better position."

Bull rider Troy Wilkinson has been competing professionally since he was 18.

He has won two Australian titles, has been NSW captain and represented the nation twice.

But when he is not competing he is busy building the Sydney Metro as a heavy vehicle diesel mechanic.

Professional bull riding champion Troy Wilkinson. Picture: Rohan Kelly
Professional bull riding champion Troy Wilkinson. Picture: Rohan Kelly

"It is hard to balance it all," he said. "I do shift work so I work 12-hour shifts doing either a week of nights or a week of days but it's just my mentality, I grew up on a farm so we always had to work for whatever we wanted.

"It keeps me busy and I enjoy working. I could probably pursue my bull-riding career full time but you can only train so much a day and I get too bored sitting around not working."

Troy Wilkinson in construction worker mode.
Troy Wilkinson in construction worker mode.

Some sporting bodies help out their athletes.

The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) provides direct financial support to enable them to focus on training and competitions to achieve successes at Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games sports.

And while this is welcome, the money is not enough to live on.

Athletes can be nominated to receive a grant if they achieve a top 1-8 position result at a recent world championship-level event and are expected to maintain that level of performance, or if they demonstrate potential to achieve a podium result at a future world championship-level event.

The funding is means tested, with those under the $60,000 annual income threshold receiving $17,500 over six months if they achieve 1st place, down to $7500 if they achieve 7th or 8th place.

Swimmer Matt Levy, 32, has been to four Paralympic Games, winning seven medals, and when he is not in the pool chances are you will find him at Westpac, where he works four days a week.

"Most days I train from 5.30am to 7.30am and start work at 8am until 3pm, then I'm back to training straight after in the water from 4 to 6pm," Levy said.

"Juggling a relatively full-time job is difficult, but I guess rewarding because I know I've got something behind me when my sport finishes so I can easily transition into a life after swimming."

Meanwhile Olympic kayaker Jo Brigden-Jones, 31, is working as a paramedic as she works towards her "dream" of winning a medal in Tokyo next year.


Olympic kayaker Jo Brigden-Jones. Picture: Bence Vekassy
Olympic kayaker Jo Brigden-Jones. Picture: Bence Vekassy

"Kayaking is not the most well-known sport, it doesn't attract sponsorship, payments or prizemoney so I've always had to work along with my sport career," Brigden-Jones said.

"I've wanted to be a paramedic since a young age and as an older athlete now you can't live off your parents, you have to take that step to look after yourself."

She works 12-hour shifts, fitting in a morning training session before a day stint or up to three training sessions before a night shift.

"I enjoy the work so much and I find being an athlete in an elite sport you're in a bubble … so it's good to switch off and achieve things in other areas," Brigden-Jones said.


Matti Clements, deputy director of athlete wellbeing and engagement at AIS, said there were many benefits to athletes working while they excel in their sport.

"Regardless of how much money an athlete would ever earn in terms of professional sport, there's still a huge value in them doing things outside of just training and competing," Ms Clements said.

"To be engaged in university, TAFE or the workforce is valuable because it rounds out their identity, their career as an athlete does stop at some point so to have other dimensions to them as people is important."