Friday, August 27, 2010

On the Fast Track with the USTAF Foundation: Q & A with Executive Director Tom Jackovic

This guest-post is from Jess!

Whether you’re training for a marathon or trying to tackle your 5k time, it’s simple to say that running is a lifestyle. Mileage is on the mind of many when the alarm goes off each morning and free time is usually filled with ways to get your feet moving fast.

But imagine if your feet were fast enough to take on the best in the country…or even the world? Running itself is universal, but running professionally takes a commitment incomprehensible to most. When running is your job—in the best of ways—and training is just another day at the office, there needs to be a means to competition. The USATF Foundation certainly serves as the means to that end.

Tom Jackovic, Executive Director of the USATF Foundation, possesses a passion for the sport, an understanding of the athletes and a drive to develop donations to support the dreams of track and field professionals. Below, Tom Jackovic gives insight into what the USATF Foundation is all about:

JC: Tom, what is the overarching mission of the USATF Foundation?

TJ: Since its creation five years ago, the USATF Foundation has made its mission to support all things under the broad umbrella of track and field. From emerging elites, to America’s youth, the Foundation aims to serve as a vehicle for those with a passion and a means to fund opportunities to compete.

JC: Who makes the decisions regarding funding at the USATF Foundation?

TJ: We have been fortunate at the Foundation to attract a 22-member Board of Directors that truly serve as the core of our efforts. All funding decisions come down to the Board, which includes influential individuals ranging from our Chairman and NASDAQ CEO Bob Greifeld, best-selling author Nicholas Sparks, Hollywood director Frank Marshall and Olympic champion Bruce Jenner.

JC: Who would be your dream Board member then?

TJ: Besides making monetary decisions, the Board members also make major monetary donations themselves that keep the Foundation’s engine running. That being said, Phil Knight of Nike, if you’re reading this, we’d love to have you at the Foundation! However, anyone else with a strong passion for track and field who wants to become hands-on within the sport and feels they have what it takes to sit on our Board, please email me at

JC: What does “supporting” elite athletes actually mean?

TJ: Seeing our athletes compete on a world-class level equals success. Athletes who have the ability, but maybe not the bank account, to compete globally need the Foundation’s support. We ask all elite candidates to fill out our online application in order to be considered for a stipend. As I said before, the Board of Directors makes all final funding decisions, with about 50 athletes getting grants each year.

JC: How long do the grants last?

TJ: We ask athletes to renew their grants on a yearly basis since the field is so competitive. Once an athlete receives funding, there’s no guarantee they’ll continue getting money each year. Improvement certainly helps, but for us at the Foundation, success—no matter the level—means seeing grantees compete. Participation proves greater than results to us.

JC: Besides grant monies, how else does the Foundation support elites?

TJ: We really strive to help these athletes from start to finish, and in addition to the grants, the Foundation’s Elite Athlete Jobs and Mentor Program has been a huge success. We essentially try to help elites in three ways: granting stipends to compete, finding job assistance to increase income and allow for flexible training, and providing mentorship guidance during post-competitive years. Our jobs program has recently expanded, with over 30 companies now participating in providing opportunities.

JC: How does the Foundation raise funds outside of the Board?

TJ: Educating people who want to participate is key, so all of our promotional efforts are aimed at increasing awareness and informing potential donors. The Foundation really wants to broaden its scope of donors in years to come, and it’s important to stress that we are not government supported. These elite athletes make up America’s Olympic and World teams, and the people of our nation truly can serve as team “owners” through their generous efforts.

JC: Are there any major capital raising events for the Foundation?

TJ: We haven’t been event focused in the past, but in 2011 and going forward we have some big things brewing. A “Race with the Stars” charity 5k is currently in the works, where runners would have a chance to toe the line with top athletes and celebrities. Given the depth of our Board, you can only imagine the reach we have with the celebrity crowd!

Also, we are sponsoring a VIP trip to the 2012 London Olympic Games, hosted by Board member Bruce Jenner. This once in a lifetime opportunity will allow people to spend a week meeting and mingling with track and field elite at the Olympics, all while supporting Team USA’s track and field stars.

JC: Who are some of the Foundation’s biggest success stories?

TJ: Stephanie Brown Trafton and David Oliver medaled at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games—you can’t really ask for much more. Steph truly embodied the essence of what the Foundation is all about: a competitive, but low-key athlete rising to world-class success after being given the means to compete. Her unexpected discus results in Beijing wholeheartedly stayed true to the “story” of the Foundation.

JC: What is the hardest part of your job?

TJ: I can honestly say I love my job. I work with a Board of Directors that are head and shoulders above any other non-profit’s. Even though the recession has certainly made dollars fewer and farther between, the Foundation has been able to continue doing what it does best: giving America’s athletes a way to reach their top potential.

JC: What’s your outlook, Tom?

TJ: I’m so proud that the Foundation has been able to facilitate the funding for athletes to live their dreams and love their sport. I’m more than optimistic that the Foundation will continue to grow under its great leadership, which holds countless opportunities for us. Believe me, the best is yet to come. Thank you Jessica.