In early 2021, two paths cross in the Arizona desert. Athlete Jaide Stepter on her quest for Olympic qualification, and pro photographer Aaron Anderson, following a personal mission to tell the stories of the nation’s untiring sportspeople. The images created on that day, and in other sessions, give a rare glimpse into what it took to get there for both parties, as well as their families and friends.
“I first met Aaron through Parity Now, an organization that’s fighting to close the gender pay gap in sport,” Jaide explains. “They partner professional athletes with sponsors and brands, so women can earn the money they need to fund their training, traveling and competition. They had set up a photo session, with all the expenses covered between the organization and Aaron, which I thought was amazing. We stayed in touch and vowed to do something else together during my qualification.”
That lack of an even playing field is clearly a subject that energized Aaron, and not just for female athletes. “Many of these competitors don’t have publicity, they don’t have any money, and they don’t have the resources that bigger stars do,” he explains. “It adds a level of struggle and complexity to what they’re trying to achieve. With that in mind, it really became my mission and journey to photograph their stories.”
“Through documenting these athletes,” Aaron continues, “I’ve met such an amazing group of people, and got to hear their tales, so it’s really something I’ve grown to concentrate my photography on. And there are so many. Here in Colorado Springs, for instance, we have the Olympic Training Center with some of the best athletes in the world. They’re gold medal winners and record holders, and when you can sit down and talk to them over a coffee, and hear the journey they’ve been on, it’s just amazing. That’s how it started with Jaide. We chatted, I listened to her story, and then I started working out how to tell it with my camera.”