Article, photos and video by Annie O’Sullivan
Adam Rotbart and Logan Witte, two teens from Long Island, are working hard to try to fund their dream: to compete in the 2020 Olympics.
As members of the USA National Junior Karate team, they compete in tournaments around the country and the world. To be eligible for the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020, they need to gain points from the various competitions.
Not only do Rotbart, from Central Islip, and Witte, from Islip Terrace, need to train several days a week, but they have to pay to attend each competition, including airfare, hotel, food and an entry fee that might cost hundreds of dollars.
“Adam and Logan, with their teammates, are training hard 6 days per week–over 10 hours a week,” said their sensei, or teacher, Elhadji Ndour. “They are very focused on their goals. All they talk about is how proud they will be to make it to the podium of a world stage event. They show a lot of respect, discipline, courage, morale, and technique to the younger kids who are looking up to them at the karate school.”
In 1978 the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act was passed, granting the United States Olympic Committee exclusive control over representing American athletes and all terms associated with the games.
The government does not fund the committee, or its athletes. The USOC must raise money to pay its staff, maintain training facilities, secure sponsorships and help send athletes to the Olympics.
Prospective medalists and other world-class athletes may be able to secure sponsorships and win cash prizes, but the long journey to join the team and get a shot at the medal does not come cheap, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Athletes require years of training and qualifying competitions. In karate athletes need to be ranked in the Top 5 among American competitors to compete in the Olympics.
On the USA Junior National Olympic team, no money is available for expenses, not even for a chaperone that younger athletes are required to have. The cost for traveling to one competition can be as much as $5,000 per athlete.
In addition to training, these young athletes attend high school, hold down part-time jobs, and participate in clubs or other sports teams. Many of them set up GoFundMe pages or rely on the help of family members and friends. Sometimes, though, they need to get creative, as Rotbart and Witte have done.
Rotbart, 17, and Witte, 16, started handcrafting and selling Christmas decorations. They would find fallen trees in the woods and pull scrap wood out of garbage cans and dumpsters. They saw it and sand it. Then they assemble tiny reindeer and , as well as North Pole road signs standing roughly six feet tall. (They also sell snowmen dressed for Hanukkah.) The smallest items sell for $10, the largest for $75.
Starting small, they now sell at craft fairs and online through a Facebook page. It’s turned into a full family effort: Rotbart’s sister Alexis paints Grinch faces on some signs, and their mothers help sand the wood and assemble the figures, spending hours drawing faces and gluing scarves on snowmen. They’ve filled custom orders like personalized North Pole signs painted with children or family names on them, and have personally delivered the products to their customers.
“The boys work so hard for this. We work at Logan’s house outside from right after school until, well, past dark. It’s actually probably kind of dangerous,” Rotbart’s mother Jennifer said. “But we’ve been able to cover a few trips so far, so it’s worth it.”
Any free time the boys can find is dedicated to crafting and selling. They come home from school, do their homework, and get to work, often spending six hours a day cutting, sanding, assembling and painting. At Witte’s house, they work outside on the covered deck lighted with string lights and an exposed bulb. The deck is filled with planks and old fence pieces. Rotbart’s house is filled with partially assembled crafts, paint cans, buttons, ribbons and hot glue; an entire room is dedicated to finished products.
Most of their sales come in November and December. The rest of the year Rotbart and Witte keep training, and when they have time, they replenish their army of snowmen and reindeer.
“I’m so blessed to have Adam and Logan in my karate school,” said Ndour. “They understand what is karate all about–not just a sport or martial art, but it’s a way of life.”