Olympians love to give their all in sport -- and philanthropy
It's fitting that Valentine's Day, a day when people lead with their hearts, fell during the Vancouver Games. Olympians bring the same dedication to training and competing as they do to supporting their communities and the causes that inspire them. Here are some examples.
Alpine skiers competing in the men's downhill in Kitzbuehel, Austria and the women's super G in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy this season raised over $90,000 in online auctions for the bibs they wore during competitions. The bib from Swiss speed racer Didier Cuche of Switzerland fetched the highest bid ($16,209), Bode Miller earned top dollar among U.S. male skiers ($2,504), and Ted Ligety's went for $1,075. SI cover girl Lindsey Vonn raised the most money among the women ($4,000). Proceeds went to the American Red Cross.
A number of athletes have supported the relief efforts for the Earthquake victims in Haiti, including U.S. luge world champion Erin Hamlin.
U.S. figure skater Rachael Flatt is a spokesperson for Reading is Fundamental and has volunteered as a reader in local schools.
U.S. women's hockey team captain Angela Ruggiero visited troops in Afghanistan as part of a Goodwill tour. She is also an ambassador for Right to Play, the athlete-driven organization that has used 350 athletes from 40 countries to provide educational items, sports equipment, medical supplies and more to impoverished areas in 20 countries.
Halfpipe Olympic champ Hannah Teter began selling maple syrup called Hannah's Gold, tapped from trees near the Teter family house in Vermont, in an effort to raise money for underprivileged children around the world. All proceeds from the sales of Hannah's Gold benefit World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to tackling the causes of poverty. Teter's efforts have raised more than $170,000 for the village of Kirindon, Kenya, helping provide improvements for clean water access, sustainable infrastructure, school buildings and AIDS treatment among others. She has since set a goal to reach $300,000 by end of 2010. Ben & Jerry's recently launched an ice cream flavor in Hannah's honor called Maple Blondie. She is the first athlete to have an ice cream flavor named after her by B&J and a portion of the proceeds from Maple Blondie will go towards her charitable work. She will donate any winnings from Vancouver to Haitian relief.
In 2008, the USOC created the Team for Tomorrow fund to help the victims of the earthquake in China, where it provided more than a thousand disaster-relief tents. The fund also worked with Habitat for Humanity to help rebuild homes that were destroyed. It has since benefited domestic schools and hospitals, as a number of athletes have visited to speak to students and patients and donate Olympic medallions and electronic equipment such as digital cameras and laptop computers. The committee recently donated 25,000 items of athletic apparel to young athletes in Afghanistan and throughout Africa. Now the fund is contributing the relief efforts in Haiti. U.S. athlete volunteers have included speedskater Katherine Reutter, luger Tony Benshoof, skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace, bobsledder Curt Tomasevicz and paralympic skier Stephani Victor, cross-country skier Liz Stephen and various members of the women's hockey and men's curling teams.
U.S. biathlete Haley Johnson has adopted a fourth-grade class in her hometown of Lake Placid, N.Y., and is teaching them about recycling and climate change.
U.S. hockey player Molly Schaus regularly corresponds to kids through Save the Children fund. Her teammate, Caitlin Cahow, serves as coach and G.M. for a girls team that raises money for cancer awareness through its tournament participation.
The parents of U.S. soccer player Jozy Altidore were born in Haiti and the 20-year-old striker still has a number of relatives living there who survived the earthquake. A few years ago, he traveled to the island with Wyclef Jean to raise funds for poor families. He has mostly been promoting the American Red Cross through public service announcements.
Chris Plys, an alternate on the U.S. curling team, spent four years in Belize helping residents in the village of la Democracia to build homes, schools, churches and a soccer field. He also participates in a walk that promotes awareness for Downs Syndrome, a disease that afflicts his brother.
American Kelly Clark, the 2002 gold medalist in the halfpipe, has established a foundation to enable young skiers with financial needs to attend mountain academies such as Mount Snow Academy, which propelled her career.
U.S. Olympic gymnast Samantha Peszek performed in a TV show to promote breast cancer awareness, organized clothing drives for her school, performed in a dance marathon and has spoken to numerous students about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
Last year, U.S. distance runners Ryan and Sara Hall established the Hall Steps Foundation, funding programs to help youth in poverty throughout the country.
In 2002, U.S. snowboarder Chris Klug, a liver-transplant recipient, became the first athlete with a donated organ to win an Olympic medal when he captured bronze in the parallel giant slalom. Klug established a fund to reach out to find donors and educate people about transplants.
Animal lover Cat Whitehall, a member of the U.S. soccer team, regularly raises funds for animal protection.
Swimmer Margaret Hoelzer, a silver medalist in Beijing, is a spokeswoman for the National Child Advocacy Center. Last year, she courageously went public about the sexual abuse she endured as a child and has made numerous public appearances for child advocacy groups.
U.S. swimmer Peter Vanderkaay, a three-time Olympian, is involved in several organizations. He is a spokesperson for Blue Planet Run, a global water charity promoting clean water around the world. He also visits Mott Hospital, a children's hospital in Michigan, on a weekly basis. He is also the spokesperson for Michigan Dental Association's Children Dental Health Education campaign.
Retired ten-time Olympic swim medalist Gary Hall Jr. is actively involved in raising money for diabetes research. As someone affected daily by diabetes, Hall has held numerous fundraisers for research and spoken often to lobbyists and politicians on the Hill to encourage funding for diabetes research.
Three-time U.S. Olympic swimmer Aaron Peirsol, also an avid surfer from California, works with Oceana to promote ocean conservation. Peirsol acts as a spokesperson for Oceana, raising awareness about threats facing oceans. He created an annual open water race to raise money for the cause, called Race for the Oceans.
A number of members of the U.S. equestrian team support Horses in the Hood, an organization that has sent over 500 at-risk youth from the inner cities of Southern California to horse camps
U.S. Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones, a relay gold medalist in Beijing, is the chief spokesman for Make a Splash, a national child-focused water safety initiative that targets minority children and teaches them to be comfortable in the water.
When U.S. snowboarder Ross Powers learned of a young rider who declined a scholarship to the Stratton Mountain School because his family couldn't afford to tuition, Powers anonymously paid for much of the tab. He has since created a foundation to do the same for other aspiring athletes.
U.S. swimmer Eric Shanteau learned he had testicular cancer as he was preparing for the 2008 Olympic trials. He delayed surgery in order to compete, made the team and is now in good health. He has since become very active in raising funds for cancer research. Proceeds from an open water event in Atlanta support his efforts.
Olympic all-around gymnastics champion Nastia Liukin now has a series of events in her name that will help raise funds to assist gymnasts in financial need and promote a positive self-image for young girls.
U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte auctioned a swimming lesson to raise money for a muscular dystrophy organization.
Michael Phelps used his $1 million sponsor bonus to create a foundation that introduces kids to water safety. It was with that consideration in mind that he was first introduced to the pool as a seven-year old.
U.S. diver Laura Wilkinson, the Olympic platform champ in 2000, is raising money to build a new pool in Texas after the one she trained in for her entire career had to close. The facility would cater to elite-level athletes, but also provide free access to schools.
Nicole Davis, a U.S. Olympic volleyball silver medalist, is among 55 athletes participating in Who Cares? Racing for a Cause, a non-profit fund-raising campaign that has 60 athletes competing against each other in various activities and raising money for their favorite charities. To date, Davis has raised $7,600 from 370 donations to help prevent child abuse.