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Today we hear from a 23-year-old motorcyclist who tutors on the side. Although she might barely make ends meet as a female athlete in a niche sport, she does the homework of young male riders so that they can continue to train—and possibly go on to make millions.
I'm a professional motorcycle racer—dirt bikes. It's similar to motocross. Picture a track that you might see a cross-country runner on. It's woods racing. I've been doing it since I was five and went pro when I was 15. I haven't really found anything else that I'm at all passionate about. In fact, when I retire from racing, I'm not certain how it’s gonna go. I've invested so much of my life and personality into this that it'll be kind of like jumping off a bridge.
Even though I race professionally, it's not a super lucrative sport. If I have a good season, I can make money. This year I broke my elbow and had to have the whole mess pretty much replaced, and most of my money comes from prize racing. Because it's a sport where your career can end at any moment, I decided it was probably best after high school to continue on to college. It's going to end at a certain point, whether it's planned or unplanned, and I didn't want to be bagging groceries at a Walmart. I went to a four-year liberal arts college in Indiana. It was a rural area, so I could park my bike and go train after class. I've been out for about a year, and intend to go to law school eventually.
Though I wasn't myself, most of the kids in this sport are homeschooled—especially the male riders who have a lot of income potential. There's a gigantic gender pay gap in my sport, by the way, although I'm sure that’s pretty obvious. I'm actually one of the better paid riders in our sport at the moment, but I only get $1,500 a month for travel expenses and keep whatever's left over. The rest comes from performance bonuses; if I won every single tournament I competed in, I'd make about $40,000 a year. Compare that to the top male earners: They don't get baseball player money, but it's still millions of dollars. It's at least a lot of money for people from Indiana.
Anyway, at the training facility where I live pretty much full time, a couple of parents were talking about having to take their sons out of racing, because they weren't cutting it academically. I'm kind of an anomaly in my field for having an interest in higher education and wanting to read books in my spare time. That's not normal for most people who grew up racing, so there was definitely a niche I could fill, especially being hurt this season. I started tutoring middle and high school kids for $12 an hour.
At a certain point it becomes obvious that some of them are just not going to get it. There's this one poor kid, and I always felt so sorry for him. He was trying—he really was. But he'd sit there and do his problem and say, "Is it right?" And I'd have to be like, "No, buddy, we've gotta do it again." And we'd do that over and over. Well, that kid isn’t going to grow up to go to college. He's going to get a job as a construction worker or a farmhand.
I'm a big fan of Germany’s educational system, where they kind of divide kids up at an early age into different tracks. It seems like for all the effort and energy we would have to expend in order to explain to this kid the significance of Shakespeare, he's not going to use that. So why not rubber stamp him and just send him along? That's basically what I started doing for about half the kids I tutor—doing their work for them.
I worked out deals with their parents. With the first set, they subtly hinted that their son didn't actually have to do the work, and it later became an open thing where we were discussing when we needed to have the next assignment submitted by. For most of them, it was never a thing when they came right out and said it. It's kind of awkward, too, for me to go up to parents and say, "Hey, your son's really stupid, can I just do this for him?"
These kids' curriculum is all on a computer, and you just submit the assignments. I'm not even sure the kids realize I'm doing their work for them—I don't think they pay super close attention to school. I'm sure they think, Oh, I'm so much farther along in school than I thought I was, as opposed to, I wonder if my parents are secretly paying someone to do this for me. And I assume if they don't know about it, it's easier that way.
I do charge a slight morality fee of a couple bucks per hour, but it's also an efficiency thing. Racing might not pay the bills, but that's still my primary job. And if I only have so many hours per day that I can theoretically spend helping kids do their homework, I might as well work fewer hours and get paid slightly more by just doing it myself. I can spend that time training.
Ethically, I see this as a net good. The kids don't have to suffer through learning stuff they're not gonna use, the parents don't have to try and get it together for them, and I'm making money. There's a part of me, though, that feels like there's value in actually doing work, even if it's for something pointless. The best way of putting it, probably, is that I'm conflicted.
This account has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.