Hannah Teter: Olympic silver medal, heart of gold

Snowboarding's Hannah Teter won silver in the halfpipe Thursday. The famous Vermonter also shines in the charitable world, supporting numerous causes with her prize and endorsement proceeds.

Hannah Teter smiles after winning silver in the Winter Olympic halfpipe competition on Cypress Mountain near Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday.

When Hannah Teter tells the assembled media to check out sweetcheekspanties.com, she is serious. At least, as serious as Hannah Teter can be.

For a smart-mouthed Vermonter who manages to get a reference to her family’s maple syrup business into every conceivable answer, what is serious and what is thinly veiled mockery of the straight-laced media is always open to interpretation.

These are facts:

After Thursday’s women’s halfpipe finals, she is a two-time Olympic medalist – with a gold from Turin and Thursday’s silver behind Australian Torah Bright – and she is starting her own line of women’s underwear (hence the website).

But that doesn’t begin to tell the story.

For every pair of Teter’s Sweet Cheeks underwear, $5 will go to Doctors Without Borders. Since the earthquake in Haiti, she has donated all her winnings to the relief effort – and will do the same here in Vancouver.

And, being a famous Vermonter, she has her own Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor, of course – Maple Blondie, from which part of the proceeds go to her charitable foundation, Hannah’s Gold.

Olympics a path to broader action

To be sure, snowboarding has been very good to Teter – to the tune of $1 million a year in prizes and endorsements, according to Forbes magazine. But Teter belongs to that family of Olympic athletes for whom sport and the Olympics have merely been the means to engage in a much broader sphere of action.

Her efforts might not yet have matched those of Norwegian speedskater-turned-humanitarian Johan Olav Koss, who founded Right to Play, or American speedskater Joey Cheek, a Darfur activist, but her charity work is a motivating factor in her life.

Her Hannah’s Gold foundation, in association with the charity World Vision, has adopted a town in Kenya and raised $178,000 to help establish access to clean drinking water.

Even her much-discussed maple syrup supports a cause, with the proceeds going to orphans of AIDS in the Kenyan community she has adopted.

"I'd just like to see athletes awake. And aware," she told the Los Angeles Times. "There's so much going on and so much to know. . . . We stay in our little boxes and don't think much about the outside world.”

On the slope, she doesn’t immediately give the impression of the budding philanthropist. She is a snowboarder through and through, and her press conferences almost seem rehearsals as much as interviews.

Teter is always on and rarely predictable. While bronze medalist Kelly Clark talked about how her medal was a token of the hard work she had put in, Teter talked about how she “ate it” in every practice run and was grateful just to land upright on her jumps.

The youngest of five children and the only daughter, Teter speaks of growing up in a world where she just wanted to follow her brothers snowboarding. Family values were shaped by collecting maple syrup together – “maple syrup makes you strong!” – and eating from the family’s organic garden.

To this day, that homespun Vermonter background still animates her character: she is still a vegetarian and one of her brothers is her coach.

She’d love to go to Russia for the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014: “I’ve never been to Russia.”

But she’d also like to keep winning to keep that prize money coming. “I’m motivated to keep going to keep making a difference in people’s lives,” she said.


Follow Mark as he tweets throughout the Games.

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