LONDON (Reuters) - Her Olympic moment over, American weightlifter Sarah Robles prepared to return to the real world on Sunday more hopeful of avoiding a life of food banks, pity and prayers.
The United States’ strongest woman has made headlines not for winning a medal but her determination just to get to the London Olympics while surviving on a $400 a month award from USA Weightlifting -- a sum her U.S. Olympian team mates Serena Williams and LeBron James might spend on dinner.
Many athletes make sacrifices to realize their Olympic dreams but few on the U.S. team faced higher hurdles than Robles, whose desperate financial plight sparked an online campaign to find the 23-year-old some sponsorship and funding.
“It has been hard, some days I have had to say ‘I can’t come into training because I have no gas in the car’,” said Robles. “I think it is going to be a lot easier next time around looking for sponsorships.”
There have been few endorsement opportunities for a super heavyweight weightlifter struggling to get to her first Olympics with sponsorship dollars flowing to charismatic champions like swimmer Michael Phelps and gymnast Gabby Douglas.
An online campaign chastised major sponsors for ignoring needy athletes such as Robles before Solve Media, an internet advertising company, came to the rescue offering to support the weightlifter through the London Games.
Before that Robles had been getting by on $400 a month, supplemented by help from food banks and “prayers and pity” from family and friends.
”When you’re an Olympic hopeful nobody knows who you are,“ she said. ”Who wants to invest in you?
”But now that you’ve actually made the Olympic team, you’ve shown your presence, you’ve shown you’re competitive more people are willing to invest.
“Hopefully somebody is willing to invest in me and make me their little project.”
Robles came a creditable seventh in her event and now has two sponsorship deals in place to help carry her through the end of the year as she begins the road to Rio and the 2016 Games.
”At that time there was nothing I could do to reorganize things to make my finances better,“ explained Robles reflecting on her run-up to the London Games. ”There is only so much you can do.
”But I have received a couple of sponsorships and with the money that I have received and hopefully some money I will receive, I have a financial plan.
“When I go home I‘m not going to be left with nothing. I have a little bit of a cushion.”
Despite the hardships, Robles savored every moment of her Olympic journey.
”You plan your whole life for it, imagining how it might be and your opening ceremonies outfit stays in the back of your closet just like a wedding dress.
“Right now this is the pinnacle of my life.”
Editing by Nigel Hunt