Does Olympic skater Debi Thomas deserve your help after financial fall?

THE FINANCIAL LIFE of figure skater Debi Thomas, who won a bronze medal in the 1988 Winter Olympics, in some ways mirrors the stumbles she made at those games.

As the TV commentator said following Thomas' mistakes in her long program at Calgary, this was "not her best moment."

Nor is her situation today.

Thomas lives in a trailer. She has lost her life savings. In a recent appearance on the OWN network's "Iyanla: Fix My Life," she admitted to having a mental-health issue. Unable to pay her bills, Thomas has set up a GoFundMe page to solicit donations to help her and her fiance pay their household bills while they pursue certain career ambitions, including a reality TV deal.

What a fall for a once-heralded world champion who later became an orthopedic surgeon. She even opened up her own practice.

But her life eventually spun out of control.

She closed her practice after just two years to pursue new ventures, frustrated, she says, with the health-care system. She was also going through her second divorce. It was during this time that she managed to lose her entire nest egg.

I wrote about Thomas' situation in my weekly newsletter and, as I do every week, posed a question to readers: What did they think about her personal fundraising mission?

"I don't quite understand the sense of entitlement here," one reader wrote. "I am in my early 50s, living hand-to-mouth with nothing set aside for retirement. I teach full-time for a paltry amount and have two part-time jobs. I accept that my choices brought me here and that my choices may or may not help me in the future. But I'm able-bodied, intelligent, educated and I wouldn't dream of asking for a handout - not from strangers or from family."

A reader from Olympia, Wash., wrote: "Her sense of entitlement to the generosity of others when she is a highly educated surgeon, while others are so desperate for help with none of her resources, is contemptible."

"Being down and out is not the position to try some entrepreneurial experiment," wrote Rick Williams of Chicago. "Get a steady job and build your way back up to trying to make your own way. If you can't achieve and maintain gainful employment, why should the public trust you with their hard-earned funds?"

Although many people were sympathetic to Thomas' plight, as am I, they questioned her charitable campaign.

Sitrena Woodson of Richmond, Va., wrote: "Life isn't easy for any of us and is not about judging others who have fallen on hard times. Her issues are financial because she also has issues that are emotional and mental that need to be addressed first."

Another reader, Bruce Jaffe of Palo Alto, Calif., said he wasn't moved to donate. "She has not demonstrated that she can manage her finances to the best of her amazing ability," he wrote.

Thomas' story has persuaded more than 150 people to give in the last 10 months. So far she and her fiance have raised a little more than $6,000. Their goal is $10,000. Donations have ranged from $5 to $200.

I've often said that we shouldn't base our generosity on whether an individual is worthy of our altruism. Despite Thomas' educational background and former celebrity status, she is in need. So should her past wealth and admittedly poor decisions be held against her?

I read through the comments left by folks who did give. They showed a great deal of compassion.

"This is all I can afford now," one $25 donor said.

One person said she was giving $10 in solidarity with Thomas and in spite of all the "self-righteous" criticism she's received.

I remember watching Thomas during the Calgary games. I so wanted her to beat East Germany's Katarina Witt. And I hope she's able to rise above her current financial troubles.

But I'm not a fan of crowdfunding being used to solicit money for certain personal expenses. Want to go on a honeymoon? Save for it yourself.

I don't have a problem with helping folks start a new business, but should others pay for your cellphone bill while you work on the launch? I don't think so.

Most importantly, I have no idea if Thomas has addressed the underlying issues that caused her to stumble financially. As someone who works a great deal with people in financial need, I know that giving money isn't always what's best. Some folks have to fall hard before they do what they can to help themselves.