For the U.S. Ski Team, raising money has always been a challenge. And as any 501(c)(3) organization knows, COVID-19 has turned fundraising on its head. For the Team, that’s meant no grand galas, no national championships and plenty of stress on corporate supporters. And, unlike its European competition, no traditional government support at all.
So when the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund stepped up to cover the entire budget for the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team in 2019 and through the 2022 Olympics, there was a collective sigh of relief in Park City and from Anchorage to Stratton, Tahoe to Steamboat Springs.
The Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund is partly administered by Shelby’s grandson Andrew Davis, who replaced his father on the USSA board of directors in 2012. The fund, established by the late Shelby Cullom Davis and administered by his children and grandchildren was, according to Andrew, the legacy his grandfather passed down instead of inheritances. And while funding was in place last season, it wasn’t until this year that “Davis” was added to U.S. Cross Country Ski Team in order to, Andrew says, encourage other potential donors to step up in the future.
“Andrew Davis and the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund have been tremendous supporters of U.S. Ski & Snowboard,” says Tiger Shaw, president and CEO of U.S. Ski & Snowboard. “[Andrew’s] passion and support for the cross country team as they prepare for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games has provided the athletes the opportunity to focus on reaching their full athletic potential.”
The funding provides coaches and techs with assurance that they won’t have to make the tough decisions that may face some of their counterparts on the snowboard and alpine side of the team. In short that means coaching, travel, training and technical support are 100-percent covered by the U.S. Cross Country Team.
“It’s a tough environment for finding funding at the moment,” head cross country coach Chris Grover said on the Cross Country Skier Podcast in late spring. “[This support is] really huge and it’s taken so much stress out of the planning and budgeting conversations that we’ve had over the last few months, because we haven’t had to make the really hard choices that we’d have to make in a tougher budget environment.”
In addition to being on the USSA board, Andrew Davis is president of Davis Selected Advisors, a financial firm founded by his father and based in New York City. Davis, 57, is a lover of sport, and though he’s not an avid cross country skier himself, through his own athletic endeavors, he gets it. We caught up him this summer to better understand his motivation to throw funding behind the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team. But first, we had to talk a little bike racing. —Adam Howard
The following is told by Andrew Davis in his own words.
I’m an avid cyclist. I hope in my next life to come back as a 155 pound Italian or, these days, Colombian, depending on how they’re doing in The Tour [de France]. You watch these guys who cycle professionally either in a classics race or at a tour or in a grand tour, you watch the way they suffer. I mean, they’re on a bike for three weeks, a hundred miles a day, 10,000 feet of climbing. I mean, just looking at the suffering they do is, for me, I just admire it. I just think that they are incredible athletes.
So, when I got to be a part of the Ski Team, the Nordic team [was] doing pretty well. I thought, my goodness, look how well these women are doing, for example. If they weren’t on the podium, they were near to it or they were top 10. And you look at the equipment they were saddled with. Whereas in cycling, they had these large buses where the teams go in and relax and rest. And [our team] was operating out of the van! They didn’t have a waxing truck like every other dominant team in the field. They had a van!
When I saw that, it was easy pickings. These guys are competing hard and well, and the playing field isn’t even level. And I just couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. I said, imagine how [they] might do if they were provided with the ability to train and be able to wax their skis as every other team does, as the Norwegians do. And the Russians do. And all the other dominant players in the field. Imagine how they might do? So, I got revved up about that. And I was an early contributor to get them a real wax truck and was pleased to be part of that. And the results that they [achieved], I mean, you saw America’s first gold medal of the last Olympics.
Then the next question was, all right, let’s take a look at the training. How much time did these guys have to stand out with a tin cup in their hand trying to raise money so they can train? Because, as you well know, the government doesn’t kick in anything. It’s all privately funded, and this team, once again, has been doing well with that arm tied behind their back. So, I got to talking with Chris [Grover] and the rest of the USSA team and said, “So what does it cost to get these guys to not have to focus on fundraising but to focus on their Olympic-caliber talent?”
That was a number that I was willing to do for their own Olympic assault that’s coming up for the next Winter Games, to allow them to be fully funded. And I’ve got to tell you, as philanthropy goes, that felt like one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. Because you have excellence, you have dedication, you have everything you want to see from an Olympic athlete, and yet they can’t find the funding to pursue [their dreams]. I wanted to allow them to pursue fully, 100-percent pursue versus OK, now, “I’ve got to go to this fundraiser and sit down here and, you know, beg for money.” All of which has got to be not only taking away training days but also taking away motivation. And that’s got to wear on your psyche. What I want them to do is focus on “I’ve got to get up that hill. That damn hill is steep, and I’ve got to get up [it] faster than that particular competitor. I’ve got to get up that hill.” I want their minds totally focused on that.
I’m proud to be a part of helping them pursue their excellence. I think it’ll be very exciting to see them compete at the next Olympics and to keep making progress toward becoming a true world power in Nordic ski racing.