December 11, 2011

Seth Wescott's team sponsors athletic dreams

Level Field Fund gives aspiring stars financial aid

By Mike Lowe
Staff Writer

Seth Wescott knows what it's like to depend on someone else. He remembers how difficult it was to get started in a sport, snowboarding, that wasn't considered traditional, even on the mountain.

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LEVEL FIELD: Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott is Maine’s ambassador for the Level Field Fund, a nonprofit program that provides grants to athletes in need of financial assistance.

Staff file photo by Jim Evans

So Wescott's trying to make sure no one else goes without the financial resources to compete in their chosen sport. The two-time Olympic gold medal snowboardcross winner from Carrabassett Valley is Maine's ambassador for the Level Field Fund, a nonprofit program that provides grants to athletes in need of financial assistance.

"There were definitely some tough years for me, now that I look back on it," said Wescott. "In each of those early four to five years, if I had had the (financial) ability to go to certain events, it would have made the jump to the world stage go quicker. It was something I experienced for a long time.

"There were a bunch of years when I was taking a Greyhound bus back and forth across the country. It was a seven-day adventure and it was tough to compete against other athletes who were flying when you were getting off a bus after seven days. Being able to make that entire process easier for these kids, helping them make that next step, is the goal of Level Field."

Creating a level field

The Level Field Fund began as the Ross Powers Foundation in 2000, when Powers, a two-time Olympic snowboard medalist (including gold in 2002) began offering financial aid to Vermont snowboarders.

After several years, Powers wanted to help more than just winter sports athletes. So Peter Carlisle, the managing director of Octagon Olympic and Action Sports in Saco, helped establish the Level Field Fund.

Carlisle pulled in clients from other sports, such as swimming's Michael Phelps and skiing's Daron Rahlves, to expand the fund's scope, enabling it to help more athletes in more sports.

"Often, there is a (financial) gap," said Carlisle, who is also Powers' agent. "This fund says, 'If you have the talent, we can help you bridge that gap.'"

According to Carlisle, Level Field has helped more than 250 athletes since it began. In the past year, 78 grants were awarded to 49 athletes in five sports -- snowboarding, skeleton, downhill skiing, judo and swimming -- totaling $225,000.

Carlisle said the average grant is about $3,000 annually. Some can be as small as $500, others as large as $20,000. Grants can be awarded to individuals for three years.

"Then you're over the gap," said Carlisle. "You've either qualified for a national team or you've picked up some sponsorships and you can support yourself. You're not disadvantaged anymore."

The money primarily is for travel and accommodations, though it can also be used for training purposes.

Funding Maine athletes

This year, two Maine athletes received Level Field grants: mogul skier Alison DiGravio of Farmington and snowboarder Alex Tuttle of Stratton.

Both are considered among the best young athletes in their sports. Both also say they couldn't continue without this help.

"With all the expenses I have for the season, it wouldn't have been possible to make that much money," said DiGravio, 20, who finished fourth in the 2011 national mogul skiing championship and is on the U.S. Development Team.

DiGravio, who graduated from Carrabassett Valley Academy two years ago, lives at home with her parents in the off-season and paints houses around Sugarloaf in the summer to earn money. The $2,500 grant she received will help her compete in eight NorAm events this year.

"Both my older brothers (Don and David) competed at a high level," she said. "Even with help from other people, they were not able to do all the training that they probably should have been doing."

(Continued on page 2)

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