Last week in Germany, Olympic hero Simone Biles became the most decorated gymnast in world championship history — garnering well-deserved international press coverage and, no doubt, potential moneymaking endorsements. It’s been reported that the star was worth $2 million after the Rio Olympics.
Meanwhile, in Morganville, NJ, Olympic medalist Monica Aksamit cheered as her GoFundMe haul hit $11,500.
The 29-year-old fencer — who won bronze at the 2016 games in Rio — needs to raise $21,000 to fund her path to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. It’s emblematic of the reality for many elite athletes, especially in less prominent disciplines: Olympic dreams aren’t just paid for in sweat.
“There are athletes struggling in niche sports like fencing, taekwondo and judo,” Aksamit told The Post. “No one hears about them, but I am definitely not the only one.”
According to a 2016 Inc. magazine article, more than 100 Olympic hopefuls used GoFundMe to raise cash in the lead-up to the Rio games.
“I’m embarrassed by [the fund-raising], but there isn’t anything else I can be doing. Most part-time jobs are physical. Waiting tables, you are on your feet all day long and then you’re too tired to train,” Aksamit said. “I have applied for a few part-time jobs [in retail] and been honest about my schedule. They always say, ‘Yeah we are interested in someone who has more availability.’”
When she isn’t traveling to competitions, Aksamit’s hectic schedule includes high-intensity morning workouts at a gym in Freehold, followed by a commute to the Manhattan Fencing Center on West 37th Street for practice.
And that means it’s not easy to earn a living. She receives a $300 monthly stipend from US Olympic Committee and makes money refereeing tournaments, handing out paraphernalia at marketing events and posting the occasional sponsored photo on Instagram. She has picked up a few fitness-modeling gigs. From 2012 to 2017 she taught fencing but had to quit because of her unpredictable schedule.
It’s all barely enough.
“[In September] I was down to $150, and that’s when I knew I had to [fundraise] again,” said Aksamit, who lives rent-free at home with her mother and 17-year-old sister.
Getting to dress up for The Post’s fashion shoot was a rare treat, given her limited disposable income. “I loved all of the clothes in the shoot — I felt super fancy,” said Aksamit. “I would wear that Rebecca Taylor plaid coat! I actually looked it up online, but yeah, I definitely couldn’t afford that.”
Before the 2016 games, Aksamit maxed out her credit cards and raised about $16,000 via crowdfunding for training and traveling. But after she won a bronze in the women’s Saber team event, she assumed her struggles were in the past.
“When I medaled, I figured [getting to] Tokyo would be easier: ‘I won’t have to worry about how I am going to the next competition. I will find an agent and endorsements because I am a medalist,’ ” she recalled thinking. “[But] when I spoke to an agent, he said, ‘There are 121 medalists. Why should I pick you?’ ”
It was a reality check for the daughter of Polish immigrants. Aksamit and her sister were raised by a single mother in Matawan, NJ, and she picked up fencing at age 9, through a Polish organization.
“I did well at my first competition at the North American Cup,” she explained. “I finished sixth, then third in the next one.”
Aksamit went on to compete at Penn State, where she was a three-time All-American and earned a degree in kinesiology with the hopes of becoming a physician’s assistant.
She had knee surgery after her senior season to deal with a cartilage issue and decided not to make a run at the Olympics. However, her mother convinced her to take a shot. “She said, ‘If you don’t, you might regret it down the road,’” Aksamit said.
The Jersey girl, who is single, traded her dream of working in the medical field for Olympic glory. Now her first qualifying tournament for Tokyo is Monday and she will know by April 20 if she is going to the 2020 games.
Aksamit hopes to this time parlay success into an endorsement deal or modeling campaign, specifically with a sneaker company or Calvin Klein.
“It would be awesome to work with them and be able to represent an athletic female body,” she said.
While she is still stressed about her bottom line, Aksamit has seen an unexpected benefit from crowdsourcing.
“When people donate, they say really nice things,” she said. “When I have a bad day, I just think that complete strangers believed in me and wanted me to go after my dreams.”
Photos: Tamara Beckwith/NY Post; Stylist: Emma Pritchard; Hair/Makeup: T. Cooper/crowdMGMT using ECRU New York; Location: The Loeb Boathouse, Park Drive North, E 72nd Street.
By Kirsten Fleming