Funding dreams on credit: Bike champ

Part 1: Gene Hamilton charged up mountains, fueled by desire, credit cards

Gene Hamilton, bike racer

Mountain biking

Gene Hamilton
Gene Hamilton

Kenny Golde
Kenny Golde

Geir Ness
Geir Ness

Jeremy Jones
Jeremy Jones

Michael and Michelle Ware
Michael and Michelle Ware


Dreamer: Gene Hamilton

The dream: Being a professional mountain bike racer

How used credit cards: During each racing season, he paid for gas, hotels and airfare with his credit card, racking up as much as $10,000 in debt each summer.

How he paid off the debt: He worked two jobs in the fall and winter to pay off the debt his summer debts and save up toward the following season.

Advice for others: Before you put anything on a credit card, make sure you have a plan to pay it off. Always pay at least the minimum, and make your payments on time.

The back story: Gene Hamilton rode his mountain bike to stay in shape, but dreamed about going pro. At the time, in the mid-1990s, the top professional racers were making six-figure salaries, but most got by only on whatever prize money they could win.

"I really thought one day I was going to make it big -- that was my dream, and I was out there chasing it," Hamilton says.

For five years, Hamilton spent summers racing. Sometimes, he slept in his Toyota minivan to save money. In winter, he paid off his credit card debt and saved about $2,000 for the following season by working two jobs, putting in 70-plus hours a week. One winter, he worked as a snowboarding coach by day and a DJ at night.

He says he never missed a payment: "I've got phenomenal credit," he says. "I don't recommend this for someone who's not responsible with money."

He never made it big as a pro racer: He earned $2,900 in prize money in his best year. But he eventually used his racing skills to open a mountain bike coaching company, BetterRide. "I'm not saying I ever became a great racer, but I became a great coach," he says.

See related: Main: 5 who funded their dreams on credit, Should you fund your startup business with a credit card?

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Updated: 03-21-2019