WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hannah Teter has led such a charmed life that the Olympic snowboard champion even has an ice cream flavor named after her: The Maple Blondie.
The easygoing, 23-year-old Vermont native has fame and fortune, and concedes that making a living doing tricks on a snowboard is not a bad way to go through life.
Yet social awareness has a big place in the soul of the 2006 Olympic halfpipe champion, the youngest of five siblings, who began snowboarding at the age of nine.
“I’ve always felt really lucky and really privileged with my life, how I grew up and the opportunities I’ve had,” she told Reuters in a recent telephone interview.
”From a young age I knew if I were ever to make it big in the world that I would want to be somebody who was going to give back and be a positive role model.
“After the last Olympics, it was a prime opportunity to do something.”
After reaching the top of the podium at the 2006 Turin Olympics, Teter embarked on a charitable mission through her website Hannah’s Gold (www.hannahsgold.com) to help an impoverished town in Kenya to acquire basic necessities.
“The slogan is, ‘A world that works for everybody, including everybody,’ We’re starting with Kenya, getting them clean water, and then hopefully branching out,” the American said. “I’ve got a lot of my sponsors on board.”
Despite her time-consuming charitable work, Teter maintains her focus on defending her title at this month’s Vancouver Games. Four years after winning the gold, Teter knows she will have to be even better this time around.
“It’s definitely going to be a whole different ball game because there are so many good athletes from around the world who really want it,” she said.
”Whoever goes the biggest, does their tricks the highest -- with style -- is going to bring it home that day. I have some stuff up my sleeve.
“I know the judges love girls who can do everything really high in the air, so that’s definitely in my mindset. It’s a matter of doing what I already have big, and then throwing some new stuff in there.”
Teter is expected to face her stiffest challenges from compatriots Kelly Clark, the 2002 Olympic halfpipe champion, Gretchen Bleiler, who won the silver in Turin, and Australian Torah Bright.
Regardless of where -- or if -- Teter lands on the podium in Vancouver, her work aiding the less fortunate will continue.
Her newest sponsor is Samsung, the electronics giant which has joined Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s ice cream among the companies helping with the Olympian’s charity work.
Teter laughed about The Maple Blondie ice cream -- named because Hannah’s Gold makes money from the sale of Vermont maple syrup, and Teter is blonde -- but said it paid dividends.
“All of the proceeds I make from Maple Blondie go to my charity, and you can read about the charity on the back of the pint,” she said. “It’s really cool. It’s an amazing thing for my efforts in Kenya.”
There is more. After finishing second in a grand prix event in Utah last month, Teter donated her $10,000 winnings to the earthquake victims in Haiti.
“I’ve always wanted to make an impact,” Teter said of her philanthropic work.
She visited Kirindon, Kenya, last October and said it “fueled the fire” to continue giving.
”You don’t really get the full grasp of something until you see it for yourself,“ she said. ”You can’t really wrap your mind around it.
“To see the tragedies, the kids with AIDS, the kids that are sick. The people have nothing but are still happy. They smile and want to hug you. It was a huge eye-opener for me.”
Editing by Clare Fallon