Should I Get Paid to Crew for a Pro Athlete?

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Dear Sundog: For several years I’ve crewed for a semiprofessional ultrarunner. He isn’t a very close friend, but I like working with him. Sometimes I pace him, and the aid stations are a good time. A few others also crew—we don’t get paid, or ask to be paid, but do it for fun. Recently he got a pretty big sponsorship. Now he’s getting paid for these ultramarathons, but he hasn’t offered to pay any of us helping crew. I’m not looking for a salary, but I think he could at least offer to pay our gas money. Shouldn’t he? —Free Labor

Dear Free: There’s nothing like money to spoil a good time. The work you’re doing for your friend hasn’t changed. Neither has the amount you get paid for it. And yet it’s no longer fun. Instead of doing something from your generous heart, with a few rustic perks chucked in, now you’re working for The Man, thinking, I slaved all weekend for this dude, and all I got was a bottle of Gu?

The crux here is this idea of “should.” Should people pick up their trash? Should drivers stop for pedestrians? Should my boss give me a raise? Yes, yes, and yes! But do they? No, no, and no. The road to hell is lined with shoulds. I think your sponsored athlete would be a decent fellow if he called you up and offered you some cash. But it’s not unethical of him to accept volunteer support on his path to fame. The point is, you don’t have control over what he does with his money.

Probably the best thing to do is simply ask him to pay you. You don’t need to lecture him about profit sharing or ethics, just ask. If he says yes, then problem solved. If he says no, then you get to decide what you get out of crewing for him and if there are intrinsic rewards—being outside, meeting great people—that make it worthwhile. If not, you can, as they say, take a hike.

In a recent column, Sundog was asked if it was OK to make a “pirate” descent on a river if a legal permit was unavailable. He replied that although running without papers was not particularly unethical, it was very illegal, with draconian punishment to boot. A reader, Kevin L., wrote to confirm:

I will admit I have, especially over the last couple years, thought very hard about pirating the Yampa or Lodore. I grew up in Craig, Colorado, the jump-off point for these two exquisite river trips. I have very fond memories of these trips as a kid. My dad and his good friend would take me and my friends, and now we are taking our children. It is a generational love affair with rafting and especially on the Lodore and the Yampa.

One of my sharpest memories was when my father and his good friend were caught pirating the Yampa River. Probably 25 or 30 years have passed since they were caught; however, I still remember it vividly. They figured they would use the cover of darkness to help in the operation. It was my dad, my stepmom, his good friend Bert, and three juveniles, (me being one of them). Bert and my stepmom were running the shuttle to Echo Park (they figured Echo Park would be inconspicuous), and my dad and I prepared boats at the launch. It was maybe 11 P.M. Suddenly, a ranger appeared and asked when we were launching. We were busted! My dad told the ranger tomorrow. “Great, I’ll see you tomorrow morning,” replied the ranger.

Bert and my dad discussed options: (1) Pack up and pretend like nothing happened, or (2) Get up really early and go. What would be the worst that could happen?  We opted for number two.  We got up around 4 A.M., and down the Yampa we went.

I believe that my dad and Bert were also frustrated with the permit system, especially in our backyard of Craig. It was a great trip, but there were a lot of people who met us in Echo Park four days later. The sheriff and multiple National Park Service officers were present. With a megaphone, they yelled for us to pull over immediately, which we did, Upon reaching shore they quickly handcuffed our parents and placed them in custody in the back of pickup trucks. They didn’t place my stepmom in cuffs (I think they wanted someone to take care of us kids). After some hustle and bustle, they released our fathers, but not before writing them a hefty ticket and a mandatory appearance in a federal courtroom in Grand Junction.

My dad thought it was important that I witness the justice system firsthand, so he dragged me to the arraignment. The government had evidence in the forms of photographs. One night during our pirated trip we had a spaghetti fight. The easiest way to clean up after a spaghetti fight on the river is of course a swim in the river. While we were swimming and cleaning ourselves off, a helicopter swooped down and took pictures of three nude boys washing the remnants of a spaghetti fight off in the river. We later learned the helicopter was on a fire patrol but was also informed of the pirated trip and asked to make contact with us if possible.

When all was said and done, my dad, stepmom, and my dad’s friend were all fined and banned from the national-park system for an extended period of time. The fine was nothing to laugh at either.

Another reader, David N., suggested:

1) Why not fly down to Mexico, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, etc., where the locals and regional governments actively promote outdoor recreation, have few permit restrictions, and have a lifetime of rivers to run. Many rivers in these countries are entirely unprotected and face a barrage of threats from hydropower, mining, and logging. Just by putting boots on the ground and blades in the water, you’ll be supporting an alternative path.

2) Buy a drysuit and go in the off-season.

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