It’s not the thought that counts; it’s the thought plus some small-denomination greenbacks. Boulder-based Roll Recovery (they make those rolling muscle massagers) really dig runners, and running. On February 5, the small company announced they would reimburse all Olympic Marathon Trials qualifiers the $30 entry fee USA Track and Field charges to participate in this coming Saturday’s race, held in Los Angeles.

That would be the race that 168 men and 202 women qualified for by running a marathon or half-marathon within USATF’s stiff time standards, the one that USATF subsequently invited them to attend. But USATF being USATF, it’s sort of a BYOB event. These runners, the best marathoners in the country—most of them working stiffs—trained for several years with no support, met the time standard, paid their way to Los Angeles, ponied up for a hotel (USATF worked a sweet $300/night “discounted rate” at the downtown JW Marriott), oh and re-upped their USATF membership—that’s $30. All those hoops jumped through and boxes checked, and what’s this? Not so fast, hamburger—that’ll be $30 entry into the race you worked so hard to qualify for. Make check payable to USATF. With support like that, runners almost don’t need a kick in the teeth.

“It’s funny how that [decision to reimburse entry fees] came about,” said Roll Recovery sales and marketing manager Matt Hensley. “I coach some athletes who qualified for the Trials. They sent me the entry form and it had this $30 entry fee. These people had worked hard to qualify for the race, and USATF has significant revenue coming in from corporate sponsors and from NBC. The entry fee just seemed unnecessary. Thirty dollars isn’t a huge amount, but it was a perfect way for us to show our support. We are runners, we love the sport—this seemed like a good way to show it.”

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The company invited Trials participants to email them for either a reimbursement of the entry fee or a $30 credit on their website.

“My inbox has blown up,” said Hensley. “Within a day of the announcement, more than 100 athletes contacted us. But more than that, we were flooded with nice emails from athletes who said they wanted to donate $30 to another runner, from people just saying they loved what we were doing. It’s been very cool.”

The bill for this gesture of support could come to something over $11,000, which is significant for a small startup. “Yes, it could be a big number, but we’re supporting athletes, it’s great exposure, and we’ve established relationships with all these athletes,” said Hensley. “In the long run, it’s going to be great.”

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Asked why the entertainment in the NBC-televised Olympic Marathon Trials show were charged a fee, USATF Chief Public Affairs Officer Jill Geer replied via email, “Entry fees go to help defray the administrative cost of putting on the Trials. Entrants for all Olympic trials, including track and field, and race walking, have an entry fee.”

The Marathon Trials does have a hefty prize structure, with $80,000 going to the first place man and woman, down to $7,000 for tenth place. Of course, this is also the selection race for the Olympic team: The first three finishers will represent the US in the marathon come August.

But USATF is notoriously tone-deaf with regard to its constituency. They see absolutely no potential conflict of interest with getting more than half their operating budget from Nike. They’ve been criticized for spending profligately on their inner circle, while nickel and diming the runners they’re supposed to be serving. And they were recently sued by Olympian and business owner Nick Symmonds over their restrictive regulations that allow only one logo, Nike’s swoosh, on Olympic and World Championship attire.

Roll Recovery has stopped short of adopting Symmonds’s activist role. “USATF has not reached out to us, and I wouldn’t expect they would right now,” said Hensley. “But after the Trials, I hope they take a look at their policies. I mean, it wasn’t our intention to push for a visible logo, or to look for recognition of our support. We want athletes to focus on the race; we don’t want to interfere with that. The feeling they get about our company is greater than anything they might wear, so we’re really excited about that.”

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Hensley says Roll Recovery’s offer has struck a chord with runners who increasingly feel “nickel and dimed [by USATF]. Those were the very words we’ve heard from a lot from runners,” said Hensley. “I believe athletes have to unite to press for change. Without the athletes, there’s no sport to administer. We support athletes in their efforts to bring about change.”

photo credit: Getty images