Elena Bruckner: Juggling Discus and Deadlines - My Dual Life as an Athlete and Professional

Graphic saying Elena Bruckner, Discus over her picture posing with a discus

Superfeet is proud to support elite Track & Field athletes on their journey toward the 2024 Paris Olympics and beyond. Everyone from sprinters and hurdlers to discus throwers and pole vaulters all trust Superfeet to help them perform at their best, and each have a story as unique as their sport. Here is their story in their own words.

Written by Elena Bruckner


I often have a hard time figuring out how to label myself as an athlete competing after college. In track and field, we don’t have any official leagues to be drafted into, what makes you a professional is kind of up to interpretation. The labels of being a post-collegiate or a professional athlete are often thrown around interchangeably due to the fact that few track athletes are able to support themselves financially from their sport alone. The disparity in earnings between sprinters vs. jumpers, or discus throwers vs. hammer throwers, or even the world champions vs. a 12th place is so vast that making a livable, or even a consistent wage within this sport is rare. I am unfortunately not one of those athletes, I have a full time job alongside my intense training schedule.

That being said, even if I were one of the tippy top athletes who could make a living in our sport, I honestly believe that I would still work. So here’s some perspective I have to offer to the world of sport and work.

When I first graduated college, I decided I wanted to continue my sport, but I had no idea where to start. In track and field, after you graduate college, you compete in what is called the “open division”. This term captures a wide range of abilities and age groups. You could have an olympic champion competing alongside someone who picked up the sport for fun with some work friends (it doesn’t happen often, but if you find yourself at an early season all comers meet, you might just witness this). So essentially, competing in track post-collegiately is fair game, it’s up to you, and anyone can do it!

I packed up my apartment in Austin and decided to move back home to the Bay Area. In classic Bay Area fashion, I moved home and lived in a studio apartment above my parents garage. I cannot stress how lucky I was to be able to have their support in my first year out of college. Not only would a full-time job take away from my training, but I was getting settled with a new coach who happened to live and work an hour and a half away. With a daily commute like that, there was no room for anything but training and train-ing (I took the bart train to save on the brain numbing traffic you encounter in The Bay).

My first year out of college was rough. My new coach, Coach Mo, spent the first year stripping my technique to its core. My throw was bare bones. This was all in an attempt to reset me to my natural abilities. While this was a worthy cause, it left me struggling to see any improvement in my numbers in that first year.

Throwing was my life, my income (if you could even say that - I had only earned about $2,000 in grants to fund my whole season), and all that I did with my life. To have my life built on something so wholly put a lot of pressure on me mentally. I had a really hard time. I was questioning my whole decision to give throwing the discus another shot. There was even a point in the season that I threatened to stop competing. I was honestly too embarrassed to keep going. I wanted to shrink back into the shadows and train until I was ready to re-emerge.

I had decided to count this as a transition year, but I knew things needed to change in a big way for me to see better results in year two. I needed to be closer to my coach - I could not continue traveling 4 hours a day, 4 days a week. I needed to move to Berkeley. But in order to afford Berkeley rent, I needed a job. And not just a part-time gig at Chipotle. I needed a real, full-time job and tech was where it was at. The summer in between year one and two, the time I saved by not competing late into the summer like most of the successful pro’s was spent applying to (what felt like hundreds of) open roles. I had a few phone screeners and one in person interview, but they all led to that dreadful “thank you for your time, but...” email. Until one day I was reached out to by a recruiter who was hiring for a sales role at a company I had had my eye on. Even though almost all of my work experience from college was in sales, I was hesitant to bite because of the reputation sales has in tech as being a major boys club - home of all the frat bros that talk fast. Thankfully I gave this company a shot, and was pleasantly surprised by their diversity, initiatives, and the female manager who was hiring for my role. Everything lined up and I was offered the role!

Now here’s the question all of the athletes want to know the answer to: “Did you tell them about being a professional athlete when you were interviewing?” I have heard enough stories of people in my position, athletically, being turned down from roles because the company doesn’t want to take on the risk of a wild schedule and split commitments. When I was interviewing, I did share my passion for track and that I was actively competing - but I did not get into the details of the travel or intensity of the level I was training at. This was, in part, because I was not at an Olympics performance level - having missed out on the US National Championships in 2022. So while I was training at the highest levels, I was initially seen as someone with a fun hobby. Now that the cat’s out of the bag and pretty much my whole company of 500 people knows I am actually a very serious and successful athlete, things have changed. It has officially set in how intense my life is outside of work. But instead of it being seen as a negative, it has been a massively positive attribute added to who I am as an employee. My company is so massively supportive of my athletic endeavors and whether they know it or not, most of my travel and meet days are fueled by the snacks I sneak out of the office on my way to the airport.

My current role is hybrid so 3 days in office and two remote every week. My training doesn’t typically impede upon my work outside of the winter months when I have to get a bit creative with the fleeting sunlight. Thankfully, as someone working in sales, my role carries a quota. With that monthly standard and benchmark for success and productivity, hitting my quota matters more than the amount of hours I work on a daily basis. On training days, I work around 6.5 hrs before heading out to the track. On off-days, you can often catch me in the office closer to 9 hours. If I’m traveling to a weekend competition, I always do my best to fly super early in the morning and then work remote from the meet location, or I will fly late at night to avoid missing too much work.

I take no more time off than your average employee, my time just happens to be spent competing at the highest levels of sport. I will be honest and express that it does weigh on me mentally, that I don't really get a break... EVER. It feels as if whenever I am not throwing, I am working. And whenever I am not working, I am throwing, traveling and competing. But having a job and a good income is so much more freeing than where I was when I first started, before I had a job. And while it is utterly exhausting at times, I couldn't be more grateful for both my sport AND my job. The mental release I’ve experienced by having a fulfilling career outside of my sport has truly allowed me to love my sport again. And it has led to so much success that I don’t think I would have found it without taking the risk.

Now to leave you with a few final thoughts...

What do I wish my work world knew about my sport?

  1. I have always been a very competitive and driven person, this is natural for athletes - and is a key reason why people like to hire athletes into sales roles. But as a currently competing athlete, I am not looking for ways to redirect my competitive spirit. In fact, if I try to be competitive at work, it actually drains my competitive resources and takes it away from sport. I have to decide where I am going to allocate my drive. Does this mean I’m not a good employee or I am below average at work? No! In fact I still excel at work and am still commended for my drive and high bar for myself, but from my perspective it is at a much lower level than it might be if I were not still competing in sports.
  2. I won’t know if I made the Olympic team until June 27th. Yes, I know that’s very close to the Olympics. Yes, it is terrifying... but it is also so exciting.

What do I wish the sports world knew about discus throwing?

  1. How little I get paid and how I actually make my money, AKA how much work I have to do outside of my sport, just to keep doing my sport. There is grant money that few people are lucky to receive, and there is prize money at meets that are often thousands of miles away and incredibly difficult to get accepted into. With so few meets that provide prize money, every thrower is trying to compete in the same meets. This means that typically only the best throwers or those with the most politically connected agents are allowed to compete - making it really hard for throwers like me, who have made the World Championships as a member of Team USA, but are not THE best - to get the opportunity to win money. Even at the highest level it is really dang hard for women throwers to afford to only throw.
  2. I am so much more than a thrower! When I am training and competing, I am 100% there as an athlete! When I am at work, I am at work! And when I am with my friends or at church I am just another girl in the group! Working and competing has allowed me to get really good at compartmentalizing my life for better or for worse.
  3. I like working! Competing at such a high level really takes a toll on your mental health and having something that I’m passionate about and that can support me outside of track really helps take off the pressure. By not having to rely on sport income, I am able to view the sport as more of a passion that I happen to get some money from.

In closing, I am a huge advocate for pay equity and pay transparency, so in an effort to lead by example, here is how much income I brought in in 2023: I made $92,659 from my office job and $20,366 in grants, prize money, and sponsors (like Superfeet!) from track. To my girls out there - keep fighting for what you deserve in the workplace and on the field!!!!!!!

June 18, 2024