Even though she’s the number one weightlifter in the country, Sarah Robles’ road to London has never been a sure thing.
That’s because the California native (who placed 11th at the weightlifting world championships last year, beating her fellow male and female Americans) has been living on just $400 a month, her stipend from U.S.A. Weightlifting. (Like many accomplished athletes, her intense training schedule leaves little time for a paying job.)
Unlike other female sports stars — think Lolo Jones, Natalie Coughlin, and Maria Sharapova — Robles, at 5’10.5 inches and 275 pounds, has been unable to secure a major endorsement deal because she isn’t an obvious choice for a national, televised ad campaign.
“You can get that sponsorship if you’re a super-built guy or a girl who looks good in a bikini,” Robles, 23, has said (via Buzzfeed). “But not if you’re a girl who’s built like a guy.”
As it is, Olympians who take part in under-the-radar sports have a tough time landing major endorsements; without those deals, sponsorships, and appearance fees, many competitors like Robles can’t make ends meet, even if they’re the best in their respective fields.
Still, the world-class athlete — who, on a good day, can lift more than 568 pounds — has slowly learned to accept her frame and appreciate the power it holds.
“When she got into sports, she came home one day and she said, ‘I finally feel accepted.’ That’s when she just kind of settled into herself,” mom Joy Robles says.
Since Time magazine wrote a profile on the champ, Robles’ story has grabbed the attention of sports fans all over the world — many of whom have generously decided to donate money to help her and her longtime coach, Joe Micela, train for and travel to London. (Robles’ mother was able to secure a grant for athletes’ parents to pay for her trip to watch her daughter compete.)
Fans have also taken to sites like Think Progress and Twitter to attempt to convince companies to endorse Robles; since they took action, the athlete (whose only prior sponsor was PowerBar) has landed another sponsor, Solve Media.
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