You'd expect a gold-medal snowboarder to be confident, outgoing, brassy, even. And Hannah Teter – who won the halfpipe competition in Torino and is competing again tonight to defend her title – is all that. What you might not expect is for her to donate her Olympic winnings ($25,000), plus all her other prize money since 2008 (almost $75,000 from some 10 events), to charity. While growing up in Belmont, Vermont, a town she says had "more deer than people," Teter, 23, developed a reverence for the greater world.
She won her gold medal at 19, an age she calls "an interesting time to peak," and immediately started looking for something more to do with her life. It was around then that she began sponsoring Kirindon, a Kenyan village of about 60,000, supplementing her contest earnings with proceeds from selling Vermont maple syrup and organic wristbands at hannahsgold.com. Because of her, Kirindon's residents should have consistent access to clean water by 2011.
She took time out of her training schedule (and from responding to the hubbub about her recent Sports Illustrated photo shoot) to answer our questions.
Q: Why the interest in Africa?
A: It's a humanitarian issue. Every 15 seconds someone dies of a water-related disease. Clean water is such a treasure that we take for granted in America. One of the goals is to equip all of Kirindon with sanitary water, using wells, boreholes, and rainwater catchments.
Q: Do you view humanitarian issues as environmental issues?
A: They are interconnected for sure. The earth is one big interconnected entity. If you hurt a piece, you hurt the whole. If you hurt the people, you hurt the environment. They end up polluting more. The issues swap back and forth.
Q: As a cold-weather athlete, are you particularly concerned about climate change?
A: As a winter athlete, I'm concerned, but I'm more concerned for reasons outside the snow-sport industry. I'm concerned for the global population, for everyone. No one is really paying enough attention. It's hard to make everyone aware of what's going on because of our unsustainable ways. Africa's tallest mountain, Kilimanjaro, now has no snow.
Q: Given your affinity for mountains, how do you feel about mountaintop-removal mining?
A: Ugh! I feel like we're still barbarians when I see mountaintops getting blown up and rivers being destroyed. They go in and coal is the only thing on their mind. Coal, coal, coal. If people were more aware of all the bad things that come from it, it would quickly be made illegal. It's unreal, but it's happening. Hopefully we can make it not happen. It just takes everyone wanting it and voicing their opinion.