Drawing a Bead on a New Dream Having helped two sons to become world-class biathletes, a couple now address their own future.
(MONEY Magazine) – Jim and Betty Schreiner first bought skis for their sons Jim Jr. and Curtis when the boys were six and four years old respectively. Three years later, their dad began teaching them to pop tin cans with BB guns in the backyard of their home. Small wonder, then, that as teenagers, when the family went to watch the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., the boys were smitten with the biathlon, an event that combines cross-country skiing with marksmanship. Soon afterward they signed up for a free training course in Underhill, Vt. sponsored by the U.S. Biathlon Association. Now Curtis, at 19, is the strongest member of the junior men's national biathlon team, which is made up of competitors aged 20 and under, and is widely considered a hot prospect for the next Winter Olympics. He is already training full time for the U.S. trials in January 1988, a month before the $ Games in Calgary. Jim Jr., 21, a 1985 North American biathlon champ, has been sidelined for a year since injuring his neck in a spill while skiing. He is also an expert kayaker, however, and thinks he may recover enough to compete for a spot on the U.S. kayak team in the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul. He trains in the Great Sacandaga Lake, which is directly across the road from the Schreiners' property in tiny Day (pop. 656), in the heart of northern New York State's ski country. Over the years, Betty and Jim Schreiner have furthered the boys' athletic careers with little concern for their own long-term welfare. Both natives of Queens, N.Y., they fled the pressures of the city shortly after the birth of Jim Jr. in 1965 for the slower-paced Adirondacks. ''We wanted a better life style for our children,'' explains Betty, even though that meant giving up career opportunities and many of the material advantages of urban life. But now, while they have a year's breather before the Olympic trials, the Schreiners have begun considering ways to improve their finances. They rather fancy the idea of turning their log home into a bed-and-breakfast business. Eventually they might even expand it into a full-fledged lodge, with cross- country ski trails threading their 175 hilly, wooded acres. First, though, they must figure out how to raise the capital. And then they will have to master the challenge of starting and running a business, about which they know nothing. The Schreiners are not poor -- their land and home are valued at about $75,900, and they own what they estimate is $25,000 worth of antiques. But their $8,600-a-year income is so low that the family is entitled to food stamps. (They have decided, on principle, not to apply for them.) Jim Sr., 45, is trained as a rehabilitation counselor for the handicapped, but after being laid off by New York State in 1975, he has not worked steadily in the profession. The family's breadwinner is Betty, 44, who earns approximately $5,700 annually teaching cooking, reading and other skills to the blind. She also brings in more than $2,900 a year as a Petty Officer First Class in the Naval Reserve.
Student assistance The family makes ends meet by raising most of their own food on their land, which they bought a dozen years ago for $32,000. Their house is a three-level, eight-sided log cabin that they built themselves over six months with their own timber. Betty cuts her hair and that of her husband and sons, and she and her husband wear relatives' cast-off sweaters and pants. Boasts Jim, pointing to his tan work shoes, patched with rubber cement: ''I haven't bought shoes in 12 years.'' Curtis and his brother wear exercise and ski clothes donated by manufacturers. Jim Jr. is a junior majoring in interdisciplinary studies at the State University of New York at Albany, where his expenses of roughly $5,000 a year are met by a student loan, a grant and a tuition assistance program, which is funded jointly by the state and university with money that does not have to be paid back. He lives free of charge with an uncle in the nearby town of Burnt Hills during the week and comes home on the weekends. Curtis, training in Lake Placid, N.Y. with the national biathlon team, gets free room, board and transportation from the U.S. Biathlon Association out of money provided by the U.S. Olympic Committee. While in training, he also receives $600 a month as a private in the Army National Guard, a leading promoter of biathlon competition. Most of this money goes into a savings account. Eventually he plans to use it either for college or to buy a car. The Schreiner brothers have risen to prominence in a sport that is notably tough to master, demanding as it does superb physical condition, great exertion and keen mental concentration for precision shooting. In events, biathletes with rifles slung over their shoulders race around a course of several miles, stopping periodically to shoot at distant targets from either a prone or a standing position. A miss results in a penalty of additional loops to ski or, in longer races, minutes that are tacked onto a contestant's running time. To excel, a contestant must learn to control his pulse rate: after the exertion of skiing, he needs to calm his heartbeat instantly to get off a good shot. The sport is pricey too, especially for aspiring athletes who don't yet qualify for financial assistance from the USBA or National Guard. For example, the .22-caliber, seven-to-eight-pound Anschutz rifles generally used in competition cost $900 or more each. Dedicated trainees spend at least $500 a year on ammunition and usually replace their ski equipment -- $300 skis, $100 poles and $80 racing suits -- several times annually. Fortunately, when their sons took up the sport in 1980, Jim and Betty Schreiner were financially a bit better off than they are today. They were pulling down an extra $7,000 or so a year by peddling Lifetime Cookware at dinner parties. They were also creative in finding ways to minimize the boys' training costs. In the beginning, the boys practiced on their farm with 20- year-old Mossberg rifles lent to them along with free ammunition by the Office of Civilian Marksmanship, a U.S. Army agency. In 1980, Olavi Hirvonen, a member of the 1960 U.S. Olympic cross-country ski team who lives in the neighboring town of Benson, volunteered to coach them for free. And after the brothers won a number of regional races, a group of well-to-do Chicagoans agreed to pay for their ski equipment through earmarked donations to the USBA. The boys were able to trade up from the borrowed Army rifles in 1982 when a family friend traveling abroad got them a pair of the German-made Anschutzes at the discount price of $500 each. As the boys progressed and needed ready access to a biathlon course for training, the Schreiners turned to their own land. They gave up their direct- sales business, and Jim enlisted a couple of friends, one with a bulldozer, to help him create racing trails and a firing range. To help pay the costs, the Schreiners, by now biathlon enthusiasts, established a nonprofit biathlon club on the grounds in 1982. Using word of mouth, they attracted some 70 members who pay yearly fees of $20 to $35, depending on age. A year after its inception, the club, called the Saratoga Biathlon Training & Competition Center, scored a coup when it was chosen by New York State to act as host for the cross-country races of the prestigious Empire State Games, an annual statewide competition. After the Olympics, Jim plans to begin developing the bed and breakfast. He wants to turn a second-floor bunk room into four bedrooms, for a maximum of nine guests. Eventually he hopes to build small cabins. ''They'll be eight- sided, like our house, and we'll call the place Octarondack Lodge,'' he says. Jim believes the resort would be especially appealing to cross-country skiers and recreational biathletes.
A question of capital Less clear is the couple's vision of how they will fund the project. Loath to take out a loan ''for fear of jeopardizing what we've worked so hard for -- our financial independence,'' explains Betty, they are looking for investors. If Curtis or Jim Jr. goes to the Olympics, their father hopes the resulting publicity will increase his chances of attracting venture capital. Whether or not the boys are successful, both are likely to remain highly visible participants in the sport and perhaps try out for the 1992 team. Biathletes generally continue to compete well into their thirties. But the thought of having Curtis and Jim Jr. on their hands for some time to come does not dismay the Schreiners. ''We'd only need to support them when they're home,'' Betty points out, ''and then they're an asset because they're strong and can work around the place.'' Jim indicates a deeper feeling, the great pleasure the couple have taken in supporting their sons' talent. ''We're so involved in our boys' sport I don't think we'll ever want to give it up,'' he says. BOX: Low-cost living Their sons' sports activities cost the Schreiners about $130 last year, including dues to athletic associations and $45 for a permit so that Jim Jr. can practice kayaking on a nearby lake. That's big bucks for a couple earning less than $10,000 a year. Considering their means, though, Jim and Betty have a high net worth, chiefly because of the value of their 175 acres. They also estimate the value of their antiques, including a Limoges clock, Tibetan bells and an old barber's chair, at about $25,000. Income and outgo for the 12 months that ended Nov. 30, 1986:
Income Betty Schreiner's earnings $8,626 Car collision insurance benefit 745 Tax refund and earned income credit 477 Wedding anniversary gift 15 Checking account interest 13
Outgo Property tax $1,645 Mortgage payments 1,356 Car and truck repair 1,271 Car insurance 1,000 Electric and gas utilities 758 Food 500 Car expenses 485 Homeowners insurance 425 Loan repayments 404 Household supplies 370 Miscellaneous 363 Medical bills 360 Telephone 360 Life insurance premiums 168 Animal feed 150 Dues 87 Betty's FICA 74 Lake permit 45 Clothes 30 Gifts 25
Assets (as of Nov. 30, 1986) House and land $75,900 Personal property 25,000 '86 Ford Escort, '78 Ford pickup, '72 Chevrolet Nova, '68 Mercedes 8,175 Cash value of life insurance 7,000 Checking account 200
Liabilities Mortgage $2,724
Net Worth $113,551