How This Olympian Dug Himself Out of $220,000 of Debt

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — As his race times improved, Jayson Jones was invited to run in more races, some of them bringing him abroad to Europe. The sprinter began amassing a larger portfolio as his winnings rose but was quickly spending more than he was earning.

Part of the problem was that Jones, whose talent would later enable him to run representing Belize in the 200-meter for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney and the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, received his winnings from European races solely in cash.

By the time Jones arrived at his next European city, often half of that cash had already been dissipated and found itself in the hands of local restaurants and stores - not to mention the expenses he paid for trainers, hotels and airfare.

By 2008, Jones has been running professionally for eight years but was working as a trainer in Coral Springs, Fla. He realized he was in trouble and owed $220,000 in student loans from receiving his master's degree in information technology from Florida State University, credit card debt and several car purchases. Right around the same time, an Olympic sponsor also asked him about his five-year plan, and Jones obviously lacked one.

"My life was not where it needed to be athletically or professionally," he said. "It clicked in my head. I blew through my money. I wanted to change, and I knew I had to figure something out. It took me time to build some traction."

After establishing a plan to pay down his debt and turn his life around financially with the help of his new Olympic sponsor, a wealthy businessman who became his mentor, Jones founded Olympic Star Financial Group in Fort Lauderdale to provide coaching and advice to professional athletes and other people.

"The best life to live is to live a debt-free life," he said. "I believe in it. We can teach athletes from this financial playbook – a step by step process to live within your means."

Now Jones, who has been a professional sprinter for 15 years, is on track to pay off his debt by the end of the year and is training for the 100-meter and 200-meter for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, the 2015 World Championships in Beijing and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

"In my mind I feel like I can still do it," he said. "The ultimate goal is to stay healthy. I am extremely confident I can succeed."

While athletes receive rigorous training in their sport, most of them do not receive any education about managing their money, Jones said.

"As long as you are an athlete, you are taught to follow rules," he said. "Once you become a pro, that is when the game changes. The most important thing is to be a good person and to be a good steward of your money."

Since undergraduate athletes often receive scholarships, they are trained not to worry about money, Jones said. They also receive a multitude of support to succeed, including a nutritionist, coach, chiropractor, meal plans, supplements and a training facility.

Once an athlete turns pro, he learns that the things he took for granted now come with a hefty price tag, he said.

Over 75% of professional athletes have filed for bankruptcy five years after their career has ended because they think the income will never stop, he said. Instead, athletes need to change their mindset and start with setting up a rainy day fund for emergencies and live off their endorsements only and save the income from their salary for retirement, Jones said.

"Athletes don't realize that your career will end soon," he said. "I know too many guys from college who just made really poor choices."

Athletes also have to learn how to properly pay down debt every time they receive a paycheck, Jones said.

"There is a way to do it," he said. "It comes with money management and financial discipline."

Accruing debt was simple, even though between 2004 to 2009 he was often running 15 to 18 races annually and earning $75,000 to $80,000 from the races and sponsorships.

"I didn't have a backup plan, and neither do most athletes," he said. "Professional sports require you to focus only on the task at hand and not about the future. You have to have delayed gratification and have to have discipline."

At this point, Jones was footing the bill for training and competing. Several hamstring and an Achilles injuries set him back.

"The experience humbled me," he said. "It has given me a sense of pride and ownership."

Jones is familiar with athletes trying to live in the moment, and he is trying to help them shift that mindset. He advises them to plan from the beginning of their career so their money lasts until they reach retirement age.

"If you don't take that money to change your life, you have erased that life," he said. "You have to realize that money has power. When you don't respect money, the easiest thing to do is to spend money. You have come into this financial blessing for a reason – not just for yourself but for other people. For whom much is given, much is required."

Jones hopes his personal story and mistakes will teach athletes and other clients that discipline is the key to managing money.

"You have to have the same discipline when it comes to money management," he said. "You can't say you are a disciplined athlete but you have no discipline over your finances. The bottom line is that I made a lot of money, but it doesn't show it."

He is also mentoring several high school and college students to teach them about finances and responsibility.

"I know the pressure and responsibility," he said. "It's my calling. They need to learn about money as soon as possible. The sport is either going to use you or you are going to use the sport."

--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet

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